Synopsis of Owning a Great Dane – Pros & Cons, Everything You Need to Know

If you have ever considered acquiring a Great Dane, you are no doubt already familiar with its spectacular size. Does the breed’s resemblance to a small horse warrant giant-sized research? What should you know before you take the final plunge into becoming a Great Dane owner?

Our goal is to cover everything you need to know about owning a Great Dane including the pros and cons, care tips, and idiosyncrasies of appearance and training.

Owning a Great Dane is more often than not one of the highlights of a pet owner’s life. The pros include a loving companion, a great potential physical assistance dog, a loyal soul, and a protective presence.

Unfortunately, Danes have a few challenging health problems, a short life expectancy, training challenges, and common size restrictions. Their exercise and grooming requirements are minimal, and the amount of food they need is not insurmountable for their size.

Overview of Owning a Great Dane

With its rectangular head and long graceful neck, the Great Dane is much more elegant than most other giant breeds. German nobles utilized the dog’s height, courage, and power to cultivate an efficient hunting partner that was later able to slide effortlessly into the role of guarding horse-drawn carriages.

While Danes originally had a lot of stamina, their giant size makes prolonged exertion problematic.

General Information & Interesting Facts

Great Dane
Country of Origin Germany
Historical Purpose Boar-hunting chase dog >> estate guard dogs >> carriage dogs >> family companions
Ancestry Greyhound/Irish Wolfhound x Mastiff
Breed History 400 years old
1st Breed Standard 1880 (German Standard in “Der Hund”)
Size Height = 28 to 34 inches, tallest 43 inches Length = 35 to 43 inches Weight = 140 to 200 pounds
Ears Drop – medium-sized, triangular, high-set, and stand off the face Cropped – show style is fairly long, pointed, and upright
Eyes Medium, deep-set
Muzzle Long, deep, square edges; the head should have a rectangular shape
Topline Back is relatively short and level
Tail Long, tapering from a broad and high-set base; does not rise over the level of the back
Coat Short and smooth
Speed 30 miles per hour, low stamina
Lifespan average 6.5 years; range 6 to 12 years, barring accidents

Can you handle Great Dane ownership?

Setting your boundaries for dog ownership will help you sift through the lists of pros and cons of having a Great Dane.

Owning a Great Dane Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Low-maintenance coat Occupies a lot of space
Size beneficial for physical assistance May drool a lot
Great watchdog Some nervous or skittish family lines
Loyal May think they are lapdogs
Sociable with other dogs Too large for small breeds and Toys
Relatively low prey drive Challenging to train
Playful = good for older and larger children Particularly susceptible to bloat
Loving and like hugs Do not live long
Graceful appearance Vulnerable to Wobbler’s (cervical instability in the neck)
Do not need much exercise – can get by with a 30- to 45-minute walk Sensitive to overheating
Not prone to running away Sheds year-round

Health Concerns of Great Dane

Extremes in size on either side of the spectrum often shorten the lives of dogs. Giant-breed dogs seem particularly affected, but Teacups are also susceptible to an exceptionally brief life expectancy.

Some of the problems that Great Danes suffer affect their mobility more than it would an average-sized dog. Moreover, the toll on caretakers is significant when they try to move the bulk of a downed Great Dane. We will focus on the top six problems that affect the Great Danes.

Heart Disease

The leading cause of death in Great Danes is heart failure. Specifically, Danes are one of the breeds most commonly affected by dilated cardiomyopathy after the Doberman.

DCM is a genetic weakness in the heart muscle, especially in the lower left chamber of the heart (left ventricle). The disease is progressive and usually leads to generalized heart enlargement.

DCM is much more prevalent in male Great Danes than females, and medical experts believe it has a genetic basis in the breed. Frequent signs include labored breathing, a lack of appetite, sluggishness, coughing, and a swollen abdomen. Unlike with bloat, a Great Dane in heart failure will have a fluid-filled abdomen as opposed to a tight belly.

Occasionally, dogs can show collapse as the first sign that anything is amiss. Once signs appear, treatment is often ineffective.

Dysplasia

Great Danes can suffer from various bone and joint abnormalities that lead to pain and decreased mobility. Most commonly, Danes experience hip dysplasia.

Thanks to its sighthound background, the Great Dane has an incidence of hip dysplasia of around 12.7%, according to the OFA results of 2021, and suffers elbow dysplasia at just over 4%. This is much lower than other dogs in its class.

Dysplasia refers to uneven growth of different areas of the joint, causing damage to the cartilage. Hip dysplasia, especially, is linked to genetic and environmental factors. The latter can include overnutrition, obesity, overexercise, and calcium: phosphorus imbalances in growing puppies.

Bloat

Bloat is a serious concern in large-breed, deep-chested dogs, and the Great Dane is at a heightened risk. They suffer from bloat more than any other dog breed.

More formally known as gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV, bloat refers to a syndrome whereby the stomach swells and then turns.

In food bloat, a dog eats copious amounts of kibble or other food, causing the stomach to distend to several times its normal size. In such cases, the stomach does not usually rotate.

However, Great Danes more often experience bloat from unknown causes whereby the stomach accumulates fluid and gas and readily twists. Gas is ultimately what gives impetus for gastric torsion.

The stomach can rotate 180 to 360 degrees and sometimes will drag the spleen with it. Once the stomach twists past the esophagus, it cannot empty, and your dog will no longer be able to vomit or even burp.

The stomach continues to swell, compromising blood flow to other organs like the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Electrolyte disturbances occur that lead to acid: base imbalances and heart arrhythmias.

Finally, the distended stomach starts to put pressure on the diaphragm, interfering with your dog’s ability to breathe.

The sooner you get veterinarian attention for your dog if you suspect GDV, the better her chances for survival. Great Danes with GDV almost always need surgical correction, although decompression will offer emergency, albeit temporary, relief.

A couple of suspected causes of bloat in Great Danes include exercising after drinking large amounts of water or eating and feeding large meals at a sitting. Other predisposing factors might be age, foreign body ingestion, anxiety, or stress.

One of the most important things you can practice to prevent GDV is to divide your dog’s daily food portions into two or more meals.

Although nutritionists once recommended feeding dogs prone to bloat from elevated dishes, such practices have been found by one study to increase the incidence of GDV by up to 52% in giant breeds.

Veterinarians often advocate a preventative surgical practice whereby they tack your dog’s stomach to the abdominal wall. This same technique is also used if your dog suffers GDV and undergoes surgical correction.

In prophylactic surgeries, your vet may suggest they perform the procedure during a spay or neuter. While tacking does not prevent gastric swelling, it can decrease the chances of rotation by up to 90%.

Signs of life-threatening bloat include dry heaves or retching, a distended and painful abdomen, restlessness, lethargy, labored breathing, or pale mucus membranes.

Your veterinarian can easily confirm a diagnosis with history, physical examination findings, and radiographs. X-ray images will show two gas bubbles of various sizes in the abdomen. Initial treatment involves copious intravenous fluids and stomach decompression.

Cancer

You probably think, “Well, cancer affects all dogs.” You are correct, except certain aggressive cancers affect Great Danes more often and at an earlier age than other breeds.

When you consider the fact that neoplasia typically strikes dogs during middle or old age, cancer might appear in your Great Dane when she is two or three years old. The most common form of cancer in Danes is osteosarcoma or bone tumors.

This disease is aggressive and painful in dogs, often resulting in microfractures. It most frequently occurs in the long bones around the elbow and knee.

Therapy aims at combination techniques that include chemotherapy, limb-sparing (grafting or metal replacements), and amputation. The prognosis for long-term survival is poor, but earlier detection gives your dog better odds.

Metastasis in the lungs is common. You should consult your veterinarian about any sudden onset of lameness.

Other cancers with overrepresentation in the Great Dane are hemangiosarcoma (usually starts in the spleen) and lymphoma.

Wobbler

Much like DCM, Wobbler most commonly affects Dobermans with the next tier of frequent sufferers being Great Danes, Weimaraners, and Rottweilers.

More accurately described as cervical spondylopathy, Wobbler syndrome involves spinal compression and subsequent instability in the neck.

Some dogs present with severe neck pain and slight difficulty walking while others experience weakness and proprioceptive deficits (dog fails to recognize the position of a limb in space) to rear and forelimb paralysis.

Like IVDD, Wobbler syndrome can be treated surgically or nonsurgically with anti-inflammatories.

The inciting factor in Wobbler syndrome is unclear. Efforts to make various links to rapid growth, nutrition, excess minerals, and conformation have failed. However, there could be a genetic predilection.

Addison’s Disease

Although you may not have heard of the term, one of the more common insurance claims for Great Danes according to Fetch is Addison’s disease or hypoadrenocorticism. It is an endocrine disease that occurs from the underdevelopment or destruction of the adrenal glands.

Experts theorize that the most common culprit in Addison’s disease is autoimmune tissue destruction.

The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and are responsible for internal organ functions and water balance via steroid hormones.

  • Regulate blood sugar
  • Balance sodium and potassium
  • Nutrient metabolism
  • Reduce immune responses
  • Regulate inflammation
  • React to stress – responsible for producing epinephrine to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and other functions during flight or fight response

Dogs suffering from Addison’s will have intermittent crises of varying degrees. Vague waxing and waning symptoms make the disease difficult to diagnose.

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dehydration – skin tents abnormally when you pinch it or mucus membranes are dry
  • Decreased appetite
  • Gradual weight loss
  • Collapse possible during an adrenal crisis

Diagnostic tests are initiated based on a presumption from physical signs and the dog’s history.

Initial blood tests may show exceedingly high potassium and low sodium and chloride levels. Atypical dogs can have normal electrolyte levels. A definitive diagnosis requires measuring cortisol levels before and after injecting a synthetic compound.

Treatment is lifelong and may involve not only supplementing cortisol but also potassium. Adrenal crises are life-threatening, and Addison’s dogs cannot survive long without therapeutics.

Caring for Your Great Dane

Despite its huge size, the Great Dane requires a lot of attention but is not overly demanding in terms of its care.

Great Dane Care

Great Dane
Exercise 30 to 90 minutes, depending on temperament and fitness
Skillset Agility, luring, physical assistance, therapy, scavenger hunts, jogging
Food Calories = 25 to 28 per pound of body weight Macronutrients = meat-based proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals; carbs optional (berries and non-starchy greens best) Options = kibble, fresh, homemade, raw, canned Frequency = 2 or more daily meals
Coat Brush weekly – pin or horsehair brush Bath – shampoo every 2 months
Nail Trim Every 6 to 8 weeks; may require a professional
Ears Inspect = every few days Swab = as needed when visualizing excess wax
Teeth Brush every couple of days or more Dental chews = may give one every day or two
Face Wipe every other day or as needed; use a soft damp cloth
Socialization Start as soon as you bring a pup home – expose it to all kinds of people and environments
Training Can start basic obedience quite young Difficulty – moderate; strong-minded, sometimes unmotivated to learn

Comparing Two Types of Great Danes

Have you ever seen a Great Dane that looked a lot different than you were used to? Perhaps you wrote it off as a mixed-breed dog, thinking it was too heavy or coarse to be a pure-bred Great Dane.

There are two types of Great Danes, although the American variety is still the most likely one you will see in the US.

American vs European Great Dane

American Great Dane European Great Dane
Head Rectangular More molossoid – squarer
Mouth Longer thinner muzzle, hanging flews Shorter deeper muzzle, more prominent and pendulous flews
Neck Long and well-arched, no throatiness Shorter, thicker, and more muscular with a mild throatiness
Size 120 to 165+ pounds 180 to 240+ pounds
Temperament Friendly, more high-strung Social, less active, more laidback

These videos give you an idea of the physical differences between the American and European Great Dane.

As you can see, the differences can be subtle if you are unfamiliar, but the European Great Dane is bigger, less refined, and has a blocker head with a shorter relative snout length. The American Great Dane looks leggier because its body is less bulky and more refined.