Large breed dogs are very popular (I would know, I have two myself!). From oversized couch potatoes to purebred athletes, the temperament and type of large breed dogs vary greatly, but one constant remains the same – their health care. Today, we’ll be talking about these bigger boys and how to give them the proper care they deserve.
Basic Care of Large Breed Dogs
While large breed dogs require certain care specific to their size, there are many more basic healthcare requirements they share in common with breeds of any size. These basic care standards are the foundation of proper healthcare for your beloved big guy.
1. Vet Care
Basic vet care is the first thing on any healthcare list for any breed of dog. It’s important to understand that vet visits are a requirement even if your dog isn’t sick. Just like people, dogs need vaccinations, yearly checkups, and preventive care to be as healthy as possible.
Yearly Wellness Exams
The equivalent of human physicals, yearly wellness exams are visits in which your vet will check your dog from top to bottom. Examining everything from your dog’s teeth to his toenails, your vet will check every part of him to ensure he is in good physical health.
Bloodwork is done for two reasons – to establish a baseline and to check for causes of illness. As part of your dog’s yearly wellness exam, your vet will run bloodwork to establish a baseline of a variety of markers in his blood while he is in good health. Your vet will also run a heartworm test to be sure he is free of the parasite before prescribing heartworm preventative.
In the event that your dog becomes sick, your vet will do bloodwork and compare it to the original baseline he or she has established in past wellness visits. This will help your vet have a better idea of what could be causing your dog’s health problems.
Heartworm and Flea and Tick Preventative
Many owners still view these preventative as optional, and they just aren’t. Flea and tick preventative help keep your dog free of both parasites, protecting them from flea-associated problems like anemia and worms as well as diseases like Lyme Disease which are carried by ticks.
Heartworm preventative helps protect your dog from heartworm, a vicious parasitic worm that lives in the large arteries of the heart. Heartworm disease is particularly nasty because it can and will kill dogs if left untreated. Unfortunately, the cure for this infestation is actually poison. The treatment itself can also kill the dog, which is why prevention is so important.
Both small and large dog breeds require proper dental care, as well. The mouth is literally the gateway to the body. Infected gums and damaged teeth allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream where it can potentially cause issues with the heart, liver, and kidneys. Brush your dog’s teeth at least three times per week, and have their teeth cleaned by your vet when recommended.
Whether you have a Maltese or a Mastiff, socialization is an integral part of caring for your dog. All dogs require proper socialization to ensure that they understand how to act with the world around them when they leave the home.
Large dog breeds, in particular, benefit from this because they learn that not everyone wants to be jumped on. In the case of breeds that have a strong protective nature, they learn that the world is not a place exclusively filled with dangers to their family.
Whatever a dog’s disposition, socialization is key because it enables them to better function in the world at large, preventing them from accidentally scaring humans, getting into fights with other dogs, or in some cases, being afraid of everything around them.
Proper grooming is another basic care need that all dogs share. While some dogs require very little grooming, others require a substantial amount. If you have a short-haired breed, you’ll only need to brush them weekly and give them an occasional bath. If you have a long-haired breed, however, daily brushing and weekly bathing will be required. In addition, regular nail clipping helps prevent discomfort to your dog – and to you, if you have a 100-pound lap dog. I personally SWEAR by the Furminator to brush Miles’ and Humphrey’s coats.
4. Proper Diet
Just like people, dogs require the best possible food to have the best possible health. Whether small breed or giant, your dog needs quality nutrition to thrive. When choosing a dog food, opt for foods that use whole protein sources such as beef, chick, fish, and the like. Carbohydrate sources should come from things like peas, potato, sweet potato, or brown rice.
Never buy bargain basement food. It is absolutely terrible for your dog. Ingredients like chicken by-product meal, corn meal gluten, and the like are the actual definition of scraping the bottom of the barrel. These ingredients cannot be used in anything for human consumption, so they are put into cheap dog food.
Care Specific to Large Breed Dogs
In addition to the basic care needs that large breed dogs share with their smaller counterparts, there are some specific requirements that they need. These special requirements help ensure a long, happy, and healthy life for the biggest boys.
5. Keep Them Fit
No dog should be obese. Just like people, obese dogs are prone to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Large breed dogs are particularly affected by obesity in other ways, as well.
Obese large breed dogs are far more likely to develop arthritis, general joint issues, and tendon problems. A particularly common problem among these larger dogs is a torn ACL tendon. Obese dogs are far more likely to tear this tendon in their knee. When they do, it can cost thousands of dollars to repair.
In addition, obesity contributes to hip dysplasia, especially in breeds that are already prone to the disease. Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the ball of the femur doesn’t sit correctly in the hip sockets, causing the joint to partially or completely dislocate. Obesity makes this a far more likely issue in breeds like German Shepherds which are already genetically prone to the condition.
6. Focus on Joint Health
All large breed dogs are prone to joint problems as they age. After all, even the fittest of these big guys are carrying around a lot of weight. Proper supplementation from an early age can help limit the amount of damage caused to their joints as they age.
The two big supplements to give large breed dogs are glucosamine chondroitin and fish oil. In some dogs, glucosamine chondroitin helps promote cartilage health and cartilage production, two key factors in healthy joints, especially in these hefty fellows. I give my boys The Missing Link Pet Kelp supplement.
Fish oil is a whole-body anti-inflammatory that helps limit inflammation in all parts of the body, including the joints, In addition, fish oil is excellent for the skin, coat, nails, and heart, making it a supplement that every dog should really be given.
It’s important to note that before giving any supplement to your puppy or adult dog, you should consult your vet for proper dosage and if the supplement is right for your dog.
7. Proper Exercise
Thoroughly research your dog’s breed and consult your vet about proper exercise for your pooch. While many people assume that larger dogs require more exercise, that’s not necessarily true.
Old English Mastiffs, for example, are consummate couch potatoes and require very little exercise. Conversely, breeds like German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes are working breeds and require a ton of physical activity to keep them physically and mentally healthy.
8. Use a Harness
While all dog breeds should be walked with a harness rather than a collar, it’s especially true of large dog breeds. These guys are really big, and they have a lot of weight behind them. If they bolt for any reason, they could possibly injure their necks when they reach the end of the leash.
Whiplash is a very real danger with over 100 pounds of dog suddenly snapping against a taught leash. If your dog is puller use a head harness to help gently control him. NEVER use a choke or pinch collar unless instructed by a trainer to do so. If you don’t use them properly, they are dangerous and uncomfortable.
9. Orthopedic Bedding
Large breed dogs require large beds. Always invest in a durable orthopedic bed with a removable, washable cover. These dogs have a lot of weight to them, and over time, laying on a hard floor can damage their joints. A good memory foam bed will help keep them comfortable and their joints healthier.
Large Breed Dogs are Easy if You Know What to Do
Large breed dogs might require a few special care considerations, but in general, it’s easy to care for your big boy if you know the basics. These tips will help you keep your dog in great health for years to come.
And remember, always consult your vet regarding any care questions you may have, whether you own large breed dogs or little lap dogs.