Health Issues Commonly Seen in Larger Dog Breeds

Working K-9s are usually larger dog breeds that run fast and tackle suspects. Large and lean dogs such as the Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd and the Dutch Shepherd are popular choices in police forces around the world. These athletic working animals can suffer from a range of ailments due to their size. Retired K-9s are susceptible to large breed health conditions, too, which is why the K-9 Officer Preservation Fund (KOP Fund) is so important to the dogs of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit.

Our team of experts at Franktown Animal Clinic are trained to spot and treat these common issues in larger dogs:

Large dog running
  • Bloat Bloat is characterized as a severe distension of the stomach and can be a very painful condition. If left untreated, the stomach can twist around itself, which is known as gastric dilatation and volvulus. Veterinarians can ease bloat with a stomach tube to decrease the pressure on the stomach followed by surgery to untwist the stomach. Gastropexy surgery should be performed after a bloat episode to prevent recurrence. In a life-threatening situation, emergency surgery is performed. Large-breed deep chested dogs are more at risk for bloat than smaller dogs.
  • Gastropexy Larger dogs are prone to dilation and twisting of the stomach, which can be fatal. Gastropexy is an elective and fairly easy surgery which involves tacking part of the stomach to the body wall to prevent this twisting of the stomach. This treatment is recommended for any giant or deep-chested breed such as Greyhounds, Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. Scooter, one of the working K-9’s of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, recently had successful gastropexy surgery at Animal Emergency & Specialty Center in Parker, CO.
  • Arthritis Any dog can get arthritis, but it is a particularly acute and chronic problem for athletic, working dogs. It involves the erosion of cartilage and can occur in any joint, but is very common in the hips and elbows. Symptoms include lameness, pain and a reduced range of motion. Any of our working or retired K-9s that have arthritis can be treated with any combination of the following: pain medications, joint supplements, anti-inflammatories and acupuncture.
  • Hip Dysplasia This is a widely studied ailment in veterinary school because it is so common, especially in German Shepherds and other large and fast-growing breeds. This condition is hereditary and also has environmental causes, such as rapid growth as a puppy and being overweight. Basically, the hip joint will become lax and misshapen. If left untreated, the dog will experience chronic pain and an abnormal gait. Hip dysplasia can be treated with anti-inflammatories, pain medications, acupuncture and joint supplements. For severe cases, a hip replacement surgery can be considered. All of the DCSO police dogs are screened for hip and elbow dysplasia using radiographs prior to being purchased and placed into service.
  • Cancer Two of the most common types of cancer in large-breed dogs are osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma. Unfortunately, these are both highly aggressive and metastatic disease processes that can spread to the lungs. A typical sign of osteosarcoma is lameness due to the infected bone being severely weakened. Pathological fractures are common in this scenario. Treatment starts with amputation, which can be followed by chemotherapy. Typical signs of hemangiosarcoma are lethargy, abdominal swelling and anorexia. Retired K-9 Tank recently had his toe amputated due to a soft tissue sarcoma (a tumor that can arise in connective tissues) and his cancer is now in remission. Luckily, his cancer treatments are covered by the KOP Fund for retired K-9s.

In this day and age, there are many veterinary treatments that did not exist 10 years ago that now can successfully treat these medical problems. Not all large dogs will experience one or any of these ailments. For the ones who do, our team is committed to giving these local heroes the best quality of life possible.