No one likes to think about this, but with a giant breed it’s something to consider.
Even though Great Danes are one of the largest breeds they have a relatively short life span. According to the AKC life expectancy is between 8-10 years. On a rare occasion a Dane will live as long as 12 years while some only make 6-7 years.
In my opinion this is the biggest drawback to owning a Great Dane, but in my experience this “down-side” is far out-weighed by the quality of the years you get to spend with these wonderful animals.
Where to start
To spend as many years as possible with your Great Dane the first step is to find a quality breeder. I’m sure you know to avoid the puppy mills that advertise puppies at bargain prices, or pet stores where the origin of the puppy is unknown, but how do you find a quality breeder?
When we started considering a Great Dane we went to a couple local Dog Shows to meet some Great Danes and of course, their owners and breeders. If you can find a Dog Show you will find a wealth of information. People love talking about their dogs, you will have no problem getting answers to most if not all of your questions. When you find a dog that you especially like ask the owner about their breeder. Most good breeders won’t sell to just anyone, so ask about the process they went through to purchase their dog and if the breeder maintains any show or stud rights to their puppies (this is a common practice with high quality dogs).
You can also ask your veterinarian. Your vet sees a lot of dogs and will have a good gauge on the relative health and well-being of the dogs they see. They may even have a good working relationship with breeders in your area.
The best breeders will have a good reputation among Dog Shows and veterinarians and have built their business on “word of mouth” referrals. Quality breeders don’t normally advertise because their reputation brings them more business than they can normally handle resulting in a waiting list for potential puppy owners.
How You can Help
There are things you can do to help ensure a long healthy life for your Great Dane.
FEEDING: From the very start you need to feed your puppy properly. Great Danes grow alarmingly fast by nature so DO NOT feed them traditional puppy food. Puppy food typically has additives to help a puppy grow – let’s just say that a Great Dane doesn’t need any help here. In fact if you give a Great Dane traditional puppy food it will cause the puppy to grow too fast and likely cause bone and joint problems.
Our breeder recommended feeding our puppy a mixture of white rice, ground chicken and a splash of whole milk for the first few months, then slowly adding some adult dry kibble as they grew. There are some puppy foods on the market that are specifically formulated for large breeds, but the needs of a Great Dane puppy are very specific and I’m not convinced that any commercial puppy food can match the rice/chicken/milk recipe. I know it seems high maintenance to cook rice and chicken for your dog. (I’ll be honest there were days when I was cooking rice and chicken for the dog and making PB&J sandwiches for my kids – don’t judge.) I just boiled up a bunch of chicken breasts (Sam’s Club or Costco for these) and made a large batch of rice – chopped the chicken up in a food processor and put them in separate containers in the fridge. It’s not like I was cooking rice & chicken every day.
Great Danes are prone to gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or “Bloat.” Bloat is the #1 killer of Great Danes but it’s easily avoidable with some simple tips. Don’t give your Dane water within 30 minutes after feeding. Keep your Dane calm and quiet for at least 30 minutes after feeding – no rough play or running around the back yard (or living room for that matter). Both of these are major contributors to bloat. We’ll be covering this in more detail in future posts about feeding. (For more information about bloat read the article about Raised Feeding Bowls.)
EXERCISE: Contrary to common belief Great Danes are relatively quiet indoors. I tell people they’re more like furniture for the amount of time they spend laying on the living room rug. But it’s important for your Dane to get daily exercise. A large backyard to play in is great, or a long walk at least once a day. Your Great Dane should get 30-60 minutes of exercise or “yard play” every day to ensure good health.
VETERINARIAN: It should go without saying but you’ll want to take your pup to good vet for regular checkups at least once a year and keep them up to date on vaccinations and flea & tick treatments. We were able to find a vet that specializes in giant breeds, (They have English Mastiffs themselves) but a good vet will know how to care for your big puppy.
When to say, “Goodbye”
This is the hard part! No one wants to think about this day. When your Dane enters the “golden years” you’ll need to consider at what point are you keeping them alive for their benefit or your own. It can be hard to put your own desire to keep them aside and accept what best for the dog only you can make that call. Let your dog’s comfort and quality of life drive that decision.
We’ve always had what we call “Puppy Overlap.” (see photo of “Abby” and “Lucy” at the top of this post) To ensure our home is never without a dog and to help ease the transition, we normally purchase a new puppy before we lose our adult dog. I think it’s good for both the older dog and the new puppy to have the companionship during this transition time. I know it’s makes this traumatic time easier for our family.
Don’t let the relatively short life span spoil your opportunity to share life with these magnificent creatures.
How many years have you been able to share with your Danes? Do you have any experiences or suggestions on how to ease the transition time? We’d love to hear your story.