Before You Buy

The Great Dane is by far not a standard dog. Many people first fall in love with the size of the Great Dane and decide the breed is right for them. Before you decide the Great Dane is the right breed for you, there are a few things you should consider.

Each year, there are around 50 Great Danes given up for rehoming to the GDLAWA alone and several more via other rescue agencies, so we urge people considering a Dane in their life to learn about the breed needs and spend time with Great Danes to really make an informed decision. The club welcomes people considering becoming Dane owners to attend one of the monthly walks, spend time with Danes and their owners and get to know about life with a giant breed. Great Danes are definitely not for everyone and there are several issues that you should give thought to prior to buying your pup.

Health Issues

For all their giant size, the Great Dane can actually be quite fragile and it is so important to be aware of inherent health problems in the breed and then be responsible in the care of your dog to give it the best chance of a healthy life for the too short time that you will have him or her. Most Great Danes will face one or more of the following issues in their lifetime:

  • Orthopaedic problems such as Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD), Panosteitis, Osteochrondritis Dissecans (OCD), Hip Dysplasia (much less commonly seen now) and often Arthritis due to age or injury.
  • Gastric Dilation and Volvulus, known as Bloat
  • Cancer, particularly Osteosarcomas
  • Heart problems and most specifically Cardio Myopathy generally in older age.

Orthopaedic Issues:
A Great Dane has long legs and they are pretty imperative for a healthy, happy life. Everything you do, especially in their puppyhood, is about keeping your Dane’s orthopaedic frame healthy. Some orthopaedic issues can be inherited and irresponsible breeding from parents that are known to throw HOD, OCD or have Wobblers Syndrome is unfair to the owners who will buy these pups and love them deeply. An experienced and informed Breeder will make every earnest effort to prevent populating from any Great Dane with known health problems of any kind but prospective owners should know, that the risk of a disease process occurring is still there.

In your hands, the new owner can protect their pup from bringing on any disease or injury by taking some simple steps:

Most Great Dane experienced people know that feeding foods with a high protein level can bring out HOD or simple over-growth. Danes do have a slower metabolism than most other breeds and even other giant breeds so the accepted practice is to stay with a food that fits the 23%-25% protein range. Too high a level of protein and/or the wrong type or quality, in the diet can contribute to growth problems. Great Danes grow very quickly and the risk of the wrong levels of protein to the rapidly forming bone structure is either excessive bone growth or too little nutrition. Some pups suffer no problems, but many others can fall prone to HOD or Panosteitis.

Protect your growing puppy’s bones by controlling exercise as is discussed farther down. Great Danes require only a moderate amount of exercise, especially while they are still growing.

Healthy weight:
At any age, it is always better for a Great Dane to be the correct weight. Carrying excess weight adds stress to bones and joints and particularly impacts as they grow old. An obese or even a chubby Great Dane is not a healthy one. Dog obesity is now a serious problem in Australia and shortens their life in age but worse, reduces the quality of it.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation and Volvulus):
Great Danes have the highest predisposition to Bloat of all breeds of dogs and it is over double the risk factor of the next closest breed! Bloat occurs when the stomach twists and air becomes trapped. As the air has nowhere to escape, the Dane’s stomach blows up at a rapid rate and it is when the ‘torsion’ happens that the stomach tissue is starting to die and other organs are impacted. Bloat is usually a critical event and many Danes do not make it through. Emergency medical care by an experienced vet in Great Danes is urgent. Do not waste time.

There is much evidence gathering around Bloat in Great Danes and other susceptible breeds at present and there are many opinions on why it happens but nothing totally specific yet. There is a strong belief that it is inherited so if a parent has bloated, the prodigy may be at risk and that the more nervous temperaments are higher at risk.  Things like feeding high or low, limiting exercise before & after meals, pre-moistening kibble or not and limiting drinking after meals are all still under investigation by vets and Dane clubs.

The one thing we do know is that the only absolutely guaranteed prevention of Bloat is a Prophylactic Gastropexy and we also know that Great Danes are the highest risk dog breed for bloat. Gastropexy is always done as part of the emergency bloat management, after the event but many Dane owners are now having it done for their dogs when being sterilised as young dogs. Even with a Prophylactic Gastropexy, a Dane may still bloat but the deadly torsion cannot happen. If any Dane owner is considering having a Prophylactic Gastropexy done on their dog, it is very important it is performed by Dane experienced veterinary surgeons. You are taking a big step to protect your dog; you don't want to have it fail when it is needed.

Cancers are now part of the world of canines across many breeds and they are more readily diagnosed and can be treated. Great Danes do have a slightly higher prevalence to cancers compared to some dogs and Osteosarcoma, especially in a limb, can be a huge hurdle to overcome. You should consider whether you could care for a Dane with an amputation or nurse one through surgery and/or chemotherapy. There are the obvious costs to consider but helping a 70kg Dane to toilet when his legs don’t work…well, we will leave you with that image.

A Great Dane is a large animal with a heart that will work hard in its life and sadly for many when the heart says ‘enough’ will be the last time, you see your Dane standing. One of the common degenerative diseases that Danes will face, particularly in old age, is Cardio Myopathy. It can be an insidious disease and the ‘slowing down’ of the Dane may be passed off as ‘getting older’ so any prospective owner must understand the commitment needed for a ‘pensioner Dane’. Diseases like Cardio Myopathy will mean regular diagnostic tests and medications. These will cost significantly more than even a Labrador or smaller dog. Juvenile Cardio Myopathy can plague a small amount of Great Danes but most breeders do not breed from dogs with any history of it in place.

Health summary:
This is a small outline of the most common health issues that you could face as a Great Dane owner and we have placed them first as it is vitally important that anyone considering buying a Dane also weighs up whether they can be financially & medically supportive of the things most common to the breed.

The GDLAWA would urge all new owners to ensure that they have access to a highly Dane experienced vet for the major illness issues, and also to consider pet insurance. A simple Bloat event could run up to $8,000 or more and a complicated one with much organ damage, over $15,000. A basic chemotherapy course for a Great Dane would start around $4,000 and even every day healthcare such as sterilisation, vaccinations and worming is double or more the cost of a smaller breed…it is all by kilo of bodyweight, and Danes have lots of kilos of bodyweight!

The Size

The Great Dane grows into a massive dog which should be considered before purchasing the breed. A Great Dane can grow well over 6 foot in height, when stood on their hind legs, so is capable of peering over any garden fence. Prospective owners need to think about fitting the dog & the family in the car, how much room there is for the dog to lay on the lounge room floor when the children want to play, that a Great Dane can ‘counter-surf’ the kitchen with ease and a Great Dane dog door is big enough for an adult to get through.

The ‘happy tail’ of an excited Great Dane is a perfect ‘neck height’ for toddlers and can be quite dangerous. Tiled floors for an excitable, growing Great Dane puppy could mean at least a fall and vet visit and at worst, a cruciate ligament repair costing many thousands of dollars. One other very important issue is being able to control your 70kg + dog when walking down the street or at the beach. Spending time with Great Danes before deciding to purchase one is a really good plan. Many Danes are given up for rehoming simply because ‘it got so big’….they are a Giant breed and they will get big!


The Slobber

All Danes slobber, some more than others. There is a gene in their make up which causes excessive slobber, some Danes have it, some don't - it is the luck of the draw! Some of the Danes with a finer head shape and tighter lower jowl will slobber less in volume but there is no guarantee. It is usually while they are exercising or overheating. Get used to carrying a 'slobber' cloth with you wherever you go.

The Diet

Every Dane owner or breeder will give you different advice on what is the best diet for your Dane. A good breeder will provide you with a diet sheet when you pick up your new puppy. Despite the different opinions on diet, there are a few points that all Dane lovers agree on:

Puppy Food: Many Large Breed puppy foods can be too high in protein. As the Great Dane grows at such a rapid rate, too much protein can force unnatural growth. Overfeeding chicken mince and high protein biscuits can cripple a Great Dane when they are young. The generally held belief is that you should stay within the 23-25% protein level. Too low and too high both can cause problems. A good quality premium dog food within the stated protein level for Large & Giant Breeds will be an excellent investment in your dog’s long-term health and give a strong bone growth foundation. Eagle Pack as a brand for example was researched and created specifically for Great Danes and has been consistently popular and proven for many Dane owners and fits the protein level perfectly.

When using a Premium Food, you need to know your dog’s weight. Use the dog’s weight and age to determine the suggested feeding guide which is usually shown in ‘cups’. Take that amount as a daily guide and split the total daily amount into the dog’s daily meal load. EG: Young pups need small frequent meals such as 3-4 a day so if the daily guide is 3 cups, it would be 1 cup per meal 3 times a day.

There is nothing wrong with adding to your dog’s diet when using a Premium Food but reduce the biscuit load to match. You can add fish (tinned sardines, tuna, and mackerel), vegetables, purchased puppy meat rolls, home prepared meals, tinned food or raw meats but go lightly on chicken mince. Raw bones such as chicken frames, chicken necks, brisket bones etc., can be added to the diet but should always be supervised until you know your dog’s eating habits and the effect these bones have on their digestive system. In essence a good quality, suitable Premium Food will be a balanced diet in itself and contain all essential nutrients and adding other foods is optional and it is the total calorie load and type or quality of the protein that is important in a growing Great Dane. Not all foods suit all dogs. A totally raw diet is an option but would take considerably greater volumes of meat and other ingredients to get the same and correct balance of nutrients. There are many varieties of Raw Diets available with access to books or even pre-packaged serves from many pet supplies providers in stores or via the internet.

Adding treats to your Danes diet can be good fun for them, great to use in training and another enjoyable part of spoiling your dog. Packaged treats, pig’s ears & rawhide or fruit and vegetables are great chew things, particularly for puppies but keep track of not overloading the calories. There are many human foods that are dangerous or fatal to dogs and all of them apply to Great Danes in the same way as any breed. Lists of these foods are readily available on the internet.

Generally Great Dane owners break their dog’s daily intake into two small meals as an adult, and more frequent as puppies up until around 6-8 months. This is usually done to prevent bloat. The evidence is still divided on whether feeding high or low is safer, and actually prevents Bloat.

Feeding a Great Dane is not cheap! There will be costs attached to feeding a Giant breed, for its whole life but the investment is worth it. Nutrition is a cornerstone of a Great Dane’s health and feeding everything it needs but not more than that, will keep your Dane lean & athletic, healthy of frame & heart and assist them to fight any of the Dane prevalent diseases they face.

The Exercise

Great Danes need controlled exercise when growing and most, a moderate level when adults. With your young pups of less than six months, walks & plays with other dogs are fine and important for their socialisation but no jogging or running with bikes at this fragile age. If you have a ‘play till it drops’ puppy, you will need to monitor its exercise as a toddler and not let it over-exert itself. Too much exercise puts extra strain on the Dane’s growing frame which can lead to developmental problems when older. It is also recommended that you do not take your dog jogging until at least 18 months. Every dog is different and there are livelier Danes and total couch potatoes. The exercise limitations are all about protecting your Giant dog from harm or damage but let them be a dog. They were once hunters!

A Great Dane doesn’t have as much stamina as many breeds so although they need regular exercise to keep them fit, if you want a running partner; consider another breed like a Border Collie or Kelpie.

Have I got room for a Great Dane?

Great Danes do not require a large amount of room and many Danes live indoors all day, As long as the Dane gets enough daily exercise, they are quite happy in a smaller area. Great Danes are people dogs and are quite happy curled up on their bed within the vicinity of their family. A Great Dane can live as an outside dog but cannot be people deprived. They will seek the company of their humans and if it is not available, may show signs of anxiety or destructive behaviour. A naughty Great Dane doesn’t chew the chair leg, it chews the table!

Great Danes feel the cold and heat much more than many breeds due to their short coat so protection from the elements or being locked in somewhere that it cannot get cool or warm is dangerous. Your Dane will also need a bit of room when they play or do ‘the Zoomies’ so be prepared to let them have that space and lift your ornaments.

As far as other ‘space’ issues, there needs to be room for large, highly padded cushions to prevent elbow & joint damage and trampoline beds for outside to deter the dog from laying on pavers or tiles. The car needs to have height for a Great Dane to stand or turn but consider the ‘jumping’ up or down height as well. A 4 Wheel Drive might seem perfect until your Dane is older and has arthritic knees and cannot leap from an 800 mm height on top of its 1 m leg length. Lifting a Dane in and out of the car is not easy.

Training and socialisation

Every Great Dane as a puppy should be taken to Puppy and Obedience Classes. Your Great Dane is likely to have a social circle that includes many dogs smaller than it so play manners and good interactive skills are critical. Quite apart from the joys of safely walking your Dane down the street without being pulled along, over or to another dog, it can be quite intimidating to people and smaller dogs to have a leaping, lunging or worse, growling giant breed. Training & socialisation is as valuable to owners as it is to the Dane. Responsible pet ownership is put to the test, so much more with a giant breed.

The costs

Some people travel, some people have sports cars, some people have fashion clothes, and some people have Great Danes! Going into Great Dane ownership, you need to know that you will spend more. A Great Dane will eat much more than even large breeds. Medical costs can be three times or more because animal medications are ‘by body weight’. A tablet that costs $5.00 per 10kg for a Jack Russell will cost $5.00….for a Great Dane it could be $35. Even pet accessories cost more and some items are just not available in Giant size. By their very size and stature they are prone to injury and have some breed prevalent medical issues so needing vet care is almost guaranteed.

Pet Insurance will help enormously with the costs that you will incur particularly with any major medical events. A Bloat & Torsion episode range from $6,000 - $20,000 and finding these large sums of money urgently stretches any budget. There is nothing sadder than having to put a much loved pet to sleep based solely on costs.

NOTE: The content of this website has been compiled by the committee of the GDLAWA, with many of the Dane photos provided by Simon Duggan, and while mimicry is often deemed a compliment, we do require that anyone wanting to copy or use any of the text or images, contacts us. We are usually happy to give our permission for the information to be utilised so long as the source is referenced. Please send us an email with your request.