Marmaduke - The Reality of Choosing a Great Dane, Part 2

Health and Nutrition


Photo (c) Kennedy Morgan, 2010Last month we talked about some goofy, beloved, famous Danes — Marmaduke, Astro and Scooby Doo. This month we’ll dive into more serious matters — wellness and disease.

Pet lovers know how easy it is to fall in love with those uber cute puppies in the window, and I’m equally guilty of perusing pet ads and wanting one of everything. The lesson to be learned here is to approach pet guardianship with our minds ahead of our hearts. My hope is that after reading this, you’ll have more “tools in your toolkit” when it’s time for your next addition. The more knowledge and insight you have, the less you’ll be at risk of heartache, disappointment, and unexpected financial hits.

Knowing the health risks common to the breed of a potential new canine family member is extremely important — whether it changes your mind or not. One of my favorite proverbs is, “forewarned is forearmed.” The lives of Great Danes — and most purebreds — are fraught with potential for disease and physical challenges. Further, Great Danes and giant breeds have a shorter life expectancy than smaller canine companions. A great resource to become familiar with risks and realities unique to different breeds is the AKC website. Following are some common health risks by type.

Heart - The Story of Nova


Early in 2009, Kim took Nova to the University of Pennsylvania for a workup on his heart (U Penn’s DCM research is sponsored by the Great Dane Club of America). The workup led to Nova being diagnosed with early-stage DCM. Nova’s symptoms didn’t appear until early this year; by then he was in chronic heart failure, and within two weeks this sweet, 7½-year-old boy passed on, leaving his mom heartbroken.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is common to many breeds and always fatal. Danes affected with DCM are often 3 to 7 years old. The best way to detect DCM is through regular echocardiograms by a qualified cardiologist. However this is costly, and may not show definitive results until it’s too late. Other afflictions of the heart are sometimes found in the Great Dane also.

Joints & Bones

Hip dysplasia is common in dogs, often caused by breeding animals with poor hip conformation. As you can imagine, bad hips and deformed joints on a three-foot, 150-pound animal is a bad combination. This dog will struggle up from lying down, be more easily knocked down while playing, and could be in pain all his or her life. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals certifies the hip structure of dogs for correctness from x-rays taken by a qualified veterinarian at age two or later. If OFA certification is recommended in the breed you choose, check your breeders’ dogs’ results on the OFA website.

Severe Hip Dysplasia.jpg

Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is another health risk for Danes. While not remarkably common, potential guardians should still be aware. HOD affects large, rapidly-growing dogs, usually in more than one limb, and usually prior to six months of age. The dog will experience swelling in the growth plates of the leg bones, most commonly the long, lower leg bones. Males are affected more often than females. Dogs may require extended monitoring with veterinary supervision. Some may never recover.

Panosteitis occasionally occurs, but unlike HOD, usually runs its course without long-term ill effects. Instead of affecting the joints, Pano causes pain in the mid-section of the bone. No real cause of Pano or HOD is known, but some theories point to nutrition, which we’ll discuss later.

“Wobblers” may sound like a child’s toy, but I assure you, it is far from fun or funny. Experts indicate Wobblers can be congenital or caused by injury, and results in a dog in pain and unstable on his or her feet. Wobblers is common in Danes and other breeds, affecting them at different stages of life. There is no cure, and veterinary help is the only hope for managing this disease.

Gastric Issues


As large as they are, Great Danes tend to have very sensitive systems. Take, for instance, Clancy, who recently celebrated his fourth birthday. Mom treated him to a can of mackerel with lunch, and as quickly as it went down it came right back up. Danes can have sensitive tummies, and guardians must beware. Management can be as simple as a veterinary-recommended, sensitive-system diet. Sometimes, though, it can be a daily battle to get the proper nutrition into your dog to keep him or her growing and healthy.

Gastric dilatation and volvulus, commonly known as bloat, is the number-one killer of Great Danes — who are the most at-risk breed for it. To date, there is no confirmed preventative for bloat, but there is a step that helps the killing thing bloat causes: torsion, or twisting of the stomach. Gastropexy is a tack procedure that affixes a portion of the stomach to the body wall. Any veterinarian familiar with giant breeds should recommend gastropexy at the time of spaying or neutering — which is why a “routine” spay or neuter can cost three to six times (or more) as much for a Dane than another breed.

If bloat does occur, torsion can restrict blood flow, leading to organ damage due to the buildup of gas and subsequent pressure on the major vein running underneath the spine. An emergency bloat surgery can run upward of $4,000.



DukeWe all hate the dreaded “C” word — whether concerning people or pets. Unfortunately, most cancers are not preventable. The types most seen in Great Danes are osteosarcoma and lymphoma.

Three members of the Portland Great Dane community have been diagnosed with cancer in the last couple of years. Hero was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and died just days later. Winston was diagnosed in August and lived only to December. Clara has been fighting lymphoma for 18 months, undergoing many rounds of chemo. Her mom Andrea says, “It was totally worth it to do the chemo.” Clara recently started agility classes. She is a ray of hope for all who know her.

The scariest part of some of these afflictions is their unknown causes. Veterinarians have theories and researchers are seeking, but little is certain. The question you must ask yourself is: Are you prepared to deal with any of these eventualities? Are you entering guardianhood knowing the maladies that may affect your new family member at some point? Will you be able to bear the expenses? Are you prepared for surgery? Chemo? Even the eventuality of losing your beloved pet is a greater consideration with a giant breed. Something nobody wants to talk about but that is a valid concern: euthanasia, or cremation, costs more. We must be prepared.

Feeding for Health


Nutrition is extremely important for every living thing. For Danes, proper feeding is imperative. While much is still unknown, one thing holds true: rapid growth causes problems. Slow, steady growth goes a long way toward ensuring a healthy, pain-free life.

While many breeds reach full size around the one-year mark, Danes continue to grow through age two or three. I remember watching Vegas grow. One week her body was too long, the next she seemed too tall. A bit like Gumby, she stretched this way and that. Can you say potential for growing pains?

Because they grow so much larger than many dogs, Danes don’t eat like most other dogs. They need food lower in protein (<24%) and fat (<13%) than most puppy foods. Your giant breed pup may even need adult food. Additionally, puppies may prefer being fed smaller, more frequent meals. We must be prepared to be able to meet this need, too.

Special nutritional considerations are not unique to Danes. For instance, breeds such as Labs are known for allergies and ear infections. Special diets are more costly. High-quality food is priceless, though, as it goes a long way in preventing nutrition-related health issues and perhaps even other diseases.

Stay tuned: in the coming months we’ll talk about Marmaduke the movie, and other films and breed stories, plus local efforts to help combat poor breeding practices and educate those interested in Great Danes.

In my quest to educate and inform you about the impact on breeds when Hollywood helps us fall in love with one, I was able to make contact with a couple of people who were intimately involved with rescue efforts post-101 Dalmatians and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I can’t wait to share with you what I learned. Until then, hug your dog and say a prayer for those who shared their stories with me, so I in turn could share them with you.

Great Dane 411:


Kennedy Morgan is a Portland-area dog mom, customer service manager for a small software company, and now freelance writer. Kennedy, her Dane, Vegas, and new addition, a Pomeranian, Leo, can be found playing with their many Dane friends (and their people) at weekly Portland Great Dane Community meetups. Contact her at Photo is Vegas (Apache Vegas Rose)