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Great Dane Lifespan: Why The Short Life?

Large and lively, Great Danes are among the most recognizable dog breeds. But despite their larger-than-life appearance, the colossal breed has a shorter lifespan than most dogs. Great Dane owners demand an explanation. What is the average lifespan of a Great Dane? And why is the Great Dane lifespan so short?

Great Danes are beautiful, friendly, and incredibly loving dogs. However, because of their size and selective breeding history, the breed is prone to health issues that can shorten its lifespan.

While this is something every pet owner should be aware of before adopting a Great Dane, there are some things you can (and should) do to help them live a healthy life for as long as possible.

Why is the Great Dane lifespan so short?

For such large dogs, Great Danes get the short end of the stick with regards to life expectancy. Great Danes live 8-10 years, with some living 6 or 7 years. A lucky few reach the ripe old age of 12, but these dogs require proper senior dog care. Compared to smaller breeds, which can live twice as long, this doesn’t seem fair.

This poses an interesting paradox. If you think about it, some of the longest-living animals on the planet, such as whales and elephants, are also the largest. In comparison, smaller animals like rodents only live for a handful of years. Why do dogs differ from the rest of the animal kingdom?

To the modern date, scientists don’t fully understand the reasons behind the paradox. However, they do know that large dogs age faster than small dogs. It’s almost like large dogs seem to live their adult years in fast-forward. Scientists also know that the larger the dog, the less time we have them for.

Great Dane Longevity

The average lifespan of a Great Dane is eight to ten years, which tends to be on the low end of the life expectancy scale for large dog breeds. The oldest Great Dane alive today is only eight years old, though anecdotal evidence exists for Danes as old as 15.

Large breed dogs as a general rule tend to live shorter lives than small breed dogs, and a Great Dane life expectancy falls into that trend.

Part of the reason why Great Danes live such short lives is due to a long list of health conditions that they can fall prey to. Some of the issues on this list include:

  • Bone and joint diseases
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Bloat
  • Cardiomyopathy

The two methods you should focus on to extend a Great Dane lifespan are disease mitigation. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to prevent your dog from developing a hereditary disease, but there are things you can do to stave it off as long as possible.

What is the oldest Great Dane?

Most Great Danes live an average of 8 to 10 years. In 2006, the Great Dane Club of America conducted a health survey that found the oldest living Great Dane to be 15 years old at the time of the survey. However, there are many unverified reports of Great Danes who lived as long as 17 years. Unfortunately, as of 2014, the survey has not been updated.

Big health problems for big dogs

Along with a shorter lifespan, the Great Dane is also prone to various health problems that can shorten that lifespan.

The breed is susceptible to bloat, which is a dangerous condition that affects the stomach. Bloat results in the stomach twisting and cutting off blood supply. Dogs that suffer from bloat a first time often encounter it a second time. Veterinarians often recommend a tacking procedure in an attempt to minimize future risk. If you’re the owner of a Great Dane, consult your veterinarian about the symptoms of bloat and how to avoid the condition.

Great Danes are known for having big hearts, but this light-hearted notion has a more literal meaning. Great Danes notoriously suffer from cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle that can enlarge the heart itself.

With their colossal frames, Great Danes often experience joint and bone diseases, such as osteoarthritis and dysplasia. These unfortunate conditions tend to be gradual and result in deterioration that often requires Great Dane owners to make a tough decision about their dog’s quality of life.

Thyroid problems are also in the line-up of usual suspects for decreasing the lifespan of a Great Dane. Autoimmune thyroiditis generally causes hypothyroidism. However, this disease can be regulated with medication and your veterinarian can monitor your Great Dane’s thyroid levels with simple blood work.

Disease Prevention and Mitigation
Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent your Great Dane from contracting any disease completely. However, with the right proactive measures, you can lower their risk and extend their Great Dane lifespan.

The most important of these — and the number one cause of death among Great Danes — is bloat. Bloat is a preventable condition where a dog’s stomach fills with gas, obstructing its blood flow. Sometimes, the stomach can turn over on itself as well, and this requires life-saving surgery.

Unfortunately, most dogs do not survive an experience with stomach bloat — two out of three dogs that contract the condition will die. All dogs with large barrel chests have an increased risk of bloat, but other things can put your Great Dane at risk, too.

Firstly, feeding your Great Dane one large meal per day can put them at increased risk. Spreading their feeding sessions out into one or two meals means the stomach will be emptier, putting your dog at less risk.

Secondly, If your dog is a food gulper or a fast eater, they may swallow more air or gas. Dividing your dog’s large meals into multiple small sessions is a great way to help with this, while another popular alternative is to invest in a slow feeding bowl. These bowls have ridges or interactive puzzles that slow down your dog’s eating process, forcing them to eat more safely.

Finally, try to avoid exercising your dog around mealtimes to help prevent them from swallowing gas. While veterinarians still don’t have a way to prevent the onset of bloat, as long as you’re proactive about keeping it at bay, your Great Dane will be more likely to live a long, healthy life.

An essential part of bloat prevention is awareness of your dog’s behavior. If you notice that, after a meal, your dog shows any of the following symptoms (especially multiple symptoms together), you should consider taking them to an emergency vet immediately:

  • Swollen and painful abdomen
  • Anxiousness
  • Paleness
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Depressed behavior
  • Collapse
  • Excess drooling
  • Trouble breathing

Additionally, some vets recommend that at-risk dogs undergo a special procedure called a prophylactic gastropexy. This procedure tacks the stomach in place, and it’s often performed when the dog is fixed at sexual maturity. The procedure won’t prevent bloat entirely, but it significantly reduces the risk and is cost-effective.

You should also be aware that bloat can be a hereditary condition, too. If your Great Dane has a relative who has contracted bloat (or your dog has had bloat in the past), your dog may be more vulnerable.

Tips for Improving the Great Dane Lifespan

As dog owners, we control much of what our dogs’ eat and how often they exercise. But do we have any control over how long our dogs live?

The answer is a bit bittersweet. There are many things we have no control over, such as cancer, but you can do a few things to give your Great Dane a chance to reach the upper years of their development. Here are a few tips to help your Great Dane live a long and healthy life:

Responsible Breeding

High-caliber Great Dane breeders will provide the health history of their breeding lines. When choosing a puppy, look for breeders who have had their dogs tested for hip dysplasia. Also be aware of additional genetic problems, such as autoimmune thyroiditis, heart disease, and eye problems.

If you’re planning to adopt a Great Dane from a rescue shelter, you may not have access to your dog’s health history. However, your veterinarian can evaluate him or her for any potential risks. This will allow you to develop a wellness plan created specifically for your dog.

Responsible breeding in Great Danes can help prevent many diseases, too. While it can’t prevent hereditary diseases, irresponsible breeding is known to exacerbate genetic issues in dogs. Hip dysplasia is a common complication of bad breeding, as are dilated cardiomyopathy, allergies, and even bloat.

If possible, ask to see the health history of any Great Dane breeder’s active dogs. If you’ve rescued your Great Dane or cannot access the dog’s breeding history, you may be able to get an idea of its health risks via genetic testing. Your veterinarian may be able to help you find potential risk factors, too.

Disease Mitigation

Many times, it’s not about preventing disease in your Great Dane, but rather mitigating the effects during the Great Dane lifespan. Large and giant-breed dogs like Great Danes, for example, are especially prone to bone and joint issues as they age, but all old dogs are prone to these same problems to an extent.

One of the best ways to mitigate bone and joint disease progression is the addition of supplements to your Great Dane’s diet. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, for example, see widespread use (this supplement exists for people and even other animals, too).

Throughout your Great Dane’s life, these supplements can help reduce symptoms and delay the onset of issues.

Your Great Dane’s diet is another incredibly important aspect of their health. If your Great Dane is overweight, for example, not only will they be more likely to develop joint issues because of the strain on their limbs, but they can also generate other problems such as:

  • Growing too quickly or too slowly during puppyhood
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy
  • Osteochondrosis
  • Arthritis or dysplasia

Finally, in addition to monitoring your Great Dane’s diet, be careful to give them proper exercise. Great Danes are well-known couch potatoes, but while exercise is essential to maintaining muscle mass and bone health, it’s incredibly important to the happiness of your dog, too.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is essential for a long-lasting Great Dane lifespan. This is especially true for Great Dane puppies. Like all large dogs breeds, Great Dane puppies require a specialized diet in order to prevent them from growing too rapidly. Extreme growth often leads to musculoskeletal diseases, such as osteochondrosis, dysplasia, and hypertrophic osteodystrophy.

As Great Danes mature, diet and exercise remain vital to achieving a healthy Great Dane lifespan. Large dogs like Great Danes are at a serious risk for obesity, which can take years off their lives. Obesity often leads to health problems such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, and orthopedic diseases like hip dysplasia. Make sure your dog has an appropriate diet and gets regular exercise. Do these two things and you’ll help increase the odds of your Great Dane living longer.

Preventative Care

Bloat is especially hard to avoid. Researchers still don’t know the exact cause, or how to prevent it. Most veterinarians recommend giving multiple small meals a day, instead of one or two larger meals. They also recommend avoiding exercise around feeding times. For additional information on avoiding bloat in dogs, consult your veterinarian.

In many, if not most cases, catching a health condition or disease early improves the chances of a healthy recovery. Great Danes are large dogs, which means larger veterinary bills, but this doesn’t mean you can skip out on regular checkups. Keep your Great Dane up-to-date on vaccines, and also tell your veterinarian if you’ve observed any recent changes in his or her appetite, mood, or activity levels. Your veterinarian can also help you monitor and manage joint conditions that develop with age.

Final Thoughts

A dog that never goes out and exercises or meets other dogs will see health problems, and they’ll experience psychological or behavioral issues. While physical issues are important, don’t forget that your dog’s happiness and mental state can impact their longevity, too!

The Great Dane lifespan may be shorter than most, but they are not alone. Several other large breeds, such as Irish Wolfhounds and Bernese Mountain Dogs have short lives as well. In summary, how long do Great Danes live? Not long enough, that’s for sure. But we’re grateful for every day we have with them.

Are you a Great Dane owner? If so, please share any tips you may have on giving the best life possible for Great Danes.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Our family loves Great Danes and have had 2. Cassie, our first one, lived to be 13 years old and died of congestive heart failure. She was a Blue. She was so loving and gentle with all 6 of our children! We have Ginger now, who is 11 years old. She is a Fawn and is suffering from arthritis and some hip dysplasia.

    If you want a playful, gentle, loyal, and protective family dog, Great Danes are the best!!

    1. That’s wonderful Suzanna! 13 and 11 years is very impressive. Keep up the great dog ownership. Great Danes need owners like you!

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