5 Giant Dog Breeds That Worry This Vet

Bernese Mountain Dog sticking out his tongue
Tara Gregg, Animal Photography
Bernese Mountain Dogs can be heartbreaking to own since they are prone to a number of health conditions and tend to have short lifespans.

I love dogs. All of ‘em, no matter what their size, breed or mix. They all have something special to offer that we humans don’t get from any other species: their loving hearts.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t recognize when some breeds are in trouble. They may have health problems, or their numbers may be so high that breed-rescue groups and shelters are overwhelmed with dogs in need of forever homes.

Not long ago, I wrote about giant breeds I’d like to see more of. Now I’m going to share five giant breeds I’d like to see less of. Not because they are bad breeds — there's no such thing — but because I’d like to see improvements in their situations so they can go on to have the healthy, wanted life that should be the birthright of every dog.

Health Hazards

Bernese Mountain Dog. These majestic dogs of the Alps are wonderful companions, but they tend to fall victim to a whole host of health problems. From A to V, the conditions and diseases a Berner owner may encounter in his pet include aseptic meningitis, bloat, multiple types of cancer, cataracts and other eye diseases, degenerative myelopathy (rear-end paralysis), elbow and hip dysplasia and other orthopedic problems as well as von Willebrand’s disease, a bleeding disorder. It’s no surprise that their lifespan is a tragically short 7 to 10 years. As wonderful as individual Berners can be, their health problems can be heartbreaking for their people — including their veterinarians.

Saint Bernard. The lovable avalanche of fur that is the Saint Bernard ranks 50th in popularity among the 178 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). That’s down a bit from their ranking in 2013, but I’m concerned by the breed’s still-high level of popularity, given the number of health problems it can suffer. Common health concerns include entropion and ectropion (eyelids that roll inward or outward), orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia and osteochondritis dissecans, bone cancer, bloat, epilepsy and heart disease. Everyone loves a Saint, but I’ll confess to wishing they had a less sinful number of health problems.

Irish Wolfhound. It's hard not to fall for these tall, regal sighthounds with their rough coat and gentle manner. They, too, are rising in popularity, moving from 84th place in the AKC’s rankings in 2009 to 70th in 2014. That’s astounding for a dog with a lifespan that can be as brief as 6 to 8 years. Among the diseases that can affect the breed are bone cancer (osteosarcoma), heart disease and bloat. They may also develop joint problems, progressive retinal atrophy, seizures and more.


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