Big Dog Basics: Everyday Issues For People With Giant Breeds

Big Dog Basics: Everyday Issues For People With Giant Breeds

Article Featured on Vetstreet | By Kim Thorton

Thinking of sharing your life with a Great Dane, Newfoundland, Irish Wolfhound or other giant breed? While these giant breeds can make great companions, there are a few things you need to think about before you commit. For starters, they eat more and take up more space — like most of the bed and all of the sofa. And they can pull you off your feet if they’re out on a walk and see something interesting off in the distance.

Giant breeds can also have health problems related to their size. Plus, their medications and medical bills can be more expensive. Emergencies aside, though, just living with them on a day-to-day basis can pose problems you might never have thought of. Here are a few things you should know before you go big.

Counters, Floors and — Ceilings???

Your giant breed may be the most well-mannered dog in his playgroup, but he’s still prone to accidents. Plan on removing breakables from coffee tables or other areas that are at dog height. A Great Dane’s tail can sweep them onto the floor with a single wag.

In addition, food will no longer be safe on your kitchen counters or dining room table. Some tall dogs are notable counter surfers, since everything is at nose level for them. They may be prone to helping themselves to the roast beef you just pulled out of the oven, the stick of butter left out to soften, the muffins you baked for breakfast, the roast you’re waiting to carve — you get the idea. Experienced giant-breed aficionados store the trash can on top of the refrigerator and place food well out of reach when they aren’t there to supervise.

Your giant breed can also make a mess down low. You’ve seen the guy at the fast-food restaurant wolfing down his burger and getting it all over himself and the table. That gives you a pretty good idea of what your Otterhound — and your kitchen — might look like after a meal.

Sure, there must be some giant dogs who are dainty diners, but for the most part you can expect that your big fella will need to have a good face-washing after eating or drinking, especially if he has a beard or other facial furnishings. Keep a hand towel handy for wiping faces and a comb at the ready to remove food debris.

And the counters and floors aren’t the limit for giant breed messes — even the ceiling can be an issue. How is that possible, you ask? One word: drool. Newfoundlands, Bloodhounds, Saint Bernards and other droolmeisters can fling gobs of saliva to heights you never imagined. Be prepared to repaint ceilings and walls every two to three years — or learn to live with the the stalactite look.

Diet For a Big Dog

It’s a given that giant breeds eat more than their normal-size brethren, although you’ll probably find that they require less food than you expect. They do, however, have some special dietary needs, especially as pups and adolescents.

It’s easy to think that giant-breed puppies need to pack on the pounds to reach their full growth, but just the opposite is true. A slow and uniform growth rate produces adult dogs with healthierjoints.

To help avoid problems, talk to your veterinarian about the best diet choice and feeding regimen for your pup as well as the timeline for switching to an adult food — usually sometime between 12 and 24 months.

Mobility Issues

A giant-breed puppy might look big enough to go jogging with you when he’s only a few months old, but he won’t reach skeletal maturity until he’s between 18 months and 2 years old. Jumping and running on hard surfaces are a sure way to cause orthopedic problems. It’s important not to let giant breeds jump on and off the furniture or to pound their joints by running on hard surfaces.

Stairs can also be a hazard for giant breeds. Some breeders advise against letting leggy breeds such as Scottish Deerhounds or Irish Wolfhounds use the stairs as puppies as they can break bones if they fall. That means carrying your puppy up and down stairs, using a ramp or limiting where he can go in the house.

Stairs can also be a difficulty for owners who aren’t professional body builders, particularly if you live in an apartment and might not have the option of the elevator in an emergency. Are you prepared to carry your Mastiff up and down the stairs if he is old or sick? And housetraining a giant-breed puppy is not the easiest task to manage if you need to get him downstairs and outside quickly. Even at four months, he may already weigh more than you can comfortably carry.

Your dog’s size isn’t just an issue at home; taking him on the road can be an adventure, too. A giant-breed dog won’t necessarily fit into your Honda FIT — at least not when he reaches physical maturity. Plan on upgrading to a larger vehicle. To get him in your new vehicle, you may need a ramp or steps he can walk up. Look for something that’s sturdy and stable with a nonskid surface.

Spay/Neuter Timing

Finally, as with diet, giant breeds have special needs when it comes to spay/neuter surgery. Studies show that spay/neuter surgery performed too early may increase the incidence of certain diseases that can affect giant breeds, including osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Talk to your veterinarian about the best time to schedule the surgery based on the risks.

And if you have a deep-chested breed, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about having the dog’s stomach “tacked” — a procedure called gastropexy — at the same time as the spay/neuter surgery, to help keep the stomach from twisting and causing gastric torsion or bloat.

Having said all that, giant breed dogs can be amazing companions—as long as you know what you are getting into.


Laurelwood Animal Hospital, located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.

If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital

9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005

Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808

E-mail: info@laurelwoodvets.com

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