The Breed History
The name "Great Dane" originates in the French language; the meaning is "Big Danish". Proudly termed "King of Dogs", "Gentle Giant" or "Apollo of Dogs" by breed fanciers, this was actually a breed originating in Germany, so it is unclear how it became named "Dane". The Tibetan Mastiff is thought to be a direct ancestor of the Great Dane. Also linked to breed development is the Alaunt from Asian Russia, the English Mastiff and the Irish Wolfhound. Other reports place Greyhound in the mix later in the breed development, a step that may have greatly refined the mastiff type. Distinct Great Dane lineage can be traced back about 400 years. In a meeting that took place about 1880, a resolution was passed to name this breed "Deutsche Dogge" which translates roughly as "German Mastiff," and at that time, it was decreed that the breed name Great Dane should not be applied to this breed, but in spite of this, the name persists today in English-speaking countries. The first breed standard was adopted in 1891.
Breeding for Function
In Germany this breed excelled at wild boar hunting. Because it took great power, courage, and stamina to hunt boar, the focus of breeding programs was to produce a large, courageous, powerful, agile and very fast dog. They were also used as war dogs. Guarding of estates and carriages was also a task the Great Dane excelled at. These days, most dogs are companion dogs.
Height at Withers: female minimum 28" (71 cm), but ideally, 30" (76 cm) or more. Male: minimum is 30" (cm), the ideal is over 32" (81 cm).
Weight: 100-120 lb (45.5-55 kg).
Coat: The very short, thick and glossy coat is accepted in the following colors: Fawn (yellow-gold with black mask), brindle (yellow-gold base with well defined black stripes and usually black masked), blue (steel blue), black, and harlequin (white base with medium-sized irregular patches of black over the haircoat).
Longevity: 7-9 years
Points of Conformation: These dogs possess a large well chiseled head with a flat skull, and the head is rectangular in outline, with a pronounced stop. The nose is ridged but not split. The conformation is well balanced; the build is heavier in males, both in bone and musculature. The gait is a straight, low, elastic long and powerful ground-covering stride. The almond-shaped eyes are usually darkly pigmented, medium-sized and deep-set and the palpebral margins do not evert. Ears are medium sized, high-set and the leather is moderately thick. The folded ears rest close to the cheeks. Ears are sometimes cropped to stay pricked in North America. The nose is large and pigmented black or close to black except in harlequins where a spotted nose is allowed. The neck is long and free of dewlaps, arched, and the topline is short and level. The thorax is very deep and broad, and ribs are well sprung. Abdomen tuck up is pronounced. The tail is set high, is thick at the base, then tapers to reach to the tarsus; is carried level during movement and low when at rest. Limbs are long and straight boned, feet are compact and well knuckled, and dewclaw removal is optional.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Courageous in the hunt, but friendly and gentle in the home—even playful. Good with children, easy to groom, clean but needs lots of space to exercise in a fenced area. Not suitable for an apartment or small homes. Fairly good trainability, some are aggressive with other dogs unless they know them, early obedience training is important, they possess average activity levels, and have moderate to high exercise needs. This is a late maturing breed. Some Great Danes can be shy and people aggressive.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Merle Coat Color: Caused by a dominant mutation in the SILV gene. Breeding two merle dogs together should be avoided, as homozygous dogs can be born with multiple defects, including blindness, deafness, and heart anomalies.1 Harlequin Coat Color: Due the combined action of a dominant gene H with the merle gene M in the genotype HhM+. The H gene is a prenatal lethal when homozygous HH, so all Harlequin Danes are heterozygous Hh.
Echocardiographic Normal Values:
Parameter 90% Confidence Interval
AO (cm) - 2.8-3.4
AOexc (cm) - 0.6-1.3
LA (cm) - 2.8-4.6
LA/AO - 0.9-1.5
LVd (cm) - 4.4-5.9
LVs (cm) - 3.4-4.5
%FS - 18-36
%EF - 33-65
LVET (sec) - 0.12-0.18
Vcf (cir/sec) - 1.0-2.3
EPSS (cm) - 0.5-1.2
VSd (cm) - 1.2-1.6
VSs (cm) - 1.4-1.9
VS% - 6-32
VSexc (cm) - 0.2-0.8
LVWd (cm) - 1.0-1.6
LVWs (cm) - 1.1-1.9
LVWexc (cm) - 0.9-1.5
HR - 100-130
Kg - 52-75
N - 15
AO, aorta; LA, left atrium; LV, left ventricle; FS, fractional shortening; EF, ejection fraction; LVET, left ventricular ejection time; Vcf, velocity of circumferential; EPSS, E-point to septal separation; VS, ventricular septum; VS%Δ, change in VS thickness between diastole and systole; LVW, left ventricular wall; HR, heart rate; N, number of animals.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 12.0% affected.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Affected dogs have reduced shortening fraction (FS) in the presence of clinical and radiographic signs of left-sided or biventricular heart failure. Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia. Some affected Great Danes may be asymptomatic, with ECHO or Doppler necessary to make the diagnosis. Molecular genetic studies show changes in calstabin and triad in gene expression. Pedigree analysis suggests that DCM in the breed involves a major X-linked recessive gene, although polygenic inheritance cannot be ruled out. Reported at a frequency of 5% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 3.8% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.4% affected.
Gastric Dilation/Volvulus (GDV, Bloat): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. There is a 42.4% lifetime risk of developing GDV in Great Danes, with 9.2% of all Great Danes dying from the condition. Risk of death from GDV after prophylactic gastropexy decreased 29.6x fold. Dorn reports a 43.23x odds ratio versus other breeds. Bloat with torsion is reported at a frequency of 11%, and without torsion at 4% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 10.1% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%) Reported at a frequency of 5% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis. Reported at a frequency of 10% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex, posterior cortex, equatorial intermediate and punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 6.93% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 3% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Great Dane with a cataract.
Panosteitis: Self-limiting disease of young, large breed dogs involving the diaphyseal and metaphyseal areas of the tubular long bones. Affected dogs show intermittent lameness. Reported at a frequency of 5% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Ectropion: Rolling out of eyelids, often with a medial canthal pocket. Can cause secondary conjunctivitis. Reported in 4.87% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 4% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 4.50% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Eury/Macroblepharon: An exceptionally large palpebral fissure. With laxity, may lead to lower lid ectropion and upper lid entropion. Either of these conditions may lead to severe ocular irritation. Identified in 4.50% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Demodicosis (Generalized): Dorn reports a 1.79x odds ratio for developing demodectic mange versus other breeds. This disorder has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis. Reported at a frequency of 4% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Osteosarcoma (OSA): Great Danes are a breed with a predisposition (5x Odds Ratio) for developing malignant osteosarcoma versus other breeds. One study showed a prevalence of 4.4%, and an Odds Ratio of 12.0x versus other breeds. Forelimb OSA was more frequent than hindlimb OSA in Great Danes. Reported at a frequency of 3% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey. Entropion: Rolling in of eyelids, often causing corneal irritation or ulceration. Entropion is reported in 2.31% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 3% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Cervical Vertebral Instability (Wobbler Syndrome): Vertebral disorder causing spinal cord compression and ataxia. Radiographic examinations suggest that the primary lesion is foramenal stenosis and intervertebral instability at C6-7. Reported at a frequency of 2% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Abnormality of cartilage development causing lameness in the shoulder, elbow, hock or stifle. Severe cases may require surgery. Dorn reports a 22.26x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported 87.0x odds ratio for elbow OCD, 32.8x odds ratio for shoulder OCD, and 309.4x odds ratio for stifle OCD versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 2% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD): Immune-mediated disorder causing fever, and painful, swollen joints and bones in young Great Danes. Occurs mostly within 3-14 days post-vaccination. Age of onset is 8-16 weeks. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported 189.8x odds ratio versus other breeds. Reported at a frequency of 2% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.52% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Dorn reports a 3.59x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Diskospondylitis: Great Danes have a 7.3x odds ratio for developing vertebral infection versus mixed breed dogs. Treatment is with long-term antibiotics.
Eversion of the Cartilage of the Third Eyelid: A scroll-like curling of the cartilage of the third eyelid, usually everting the margin. May cause mild ocular irritation. Identified in 1.22% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Iris Ciliary Body Cysts: Pigmented cysts arise from pigmented epithelial cells of the ciliary body. Ciliary body cysts, may predispose to glaucoma. Review of hospital admissions shows a 37.01 odds ratio for ciliary body cysts in Great Danes. Identified in 1.03% of Great Danes CERF-examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Primary Glaucoma (Goniodysgenesis): Goniodysgenesis has a heritability of 0.52 in Great Danes, and this is positively correlated to the high incidence of glaucoma in the breed. Reported at a frequency of 0.3% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Great Dane with glaucoma.
Secondary Glaucoma (with Ciliary Body Cysts): Occurs with cysts in the anterior and posterior chamber. Review of hospital admissions shows a 2.23x odds ratio for glaucoma and 37.01x odds ratio for ciliary body cysts in Great Danes.
Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s Disease): Immune mediated destruction of the adrenal gland. Typical presentation of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration occurring from 4 months to several years of age. Treatment with DOCA injections or oral fludrocortisone. Great Danes are at significantly higher risk versus other breeds. Unknown mode of inheritance. Reported at a frequency of 0.3% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Mitral Valvular Malformation: Great Danes are overrepresented. Affected dogs have mitral regurgitation, which can progress to congestive heart disease. Average age of recognition is 7.3 months. Abnormalities include changes to the annulus, leaflets, chordae tendineae, and papillary muscles. Reported at a frequency of 0.1% in the Great Dane Club Of America National Health Survey.
Splenic Torsion: Great Danes are found to be at increased risk for splenic torsion versus other breeds. Treatment is immediate surgery.
Inherited Myopathy: A hereditary, non-inflammatory myopathy occurs in Great Danes of both sexes before one year of age. Clinical signs are exercise intolerance, muscle wasting, and an exercise-induced tremor. Serum creatinine kinase levels are elevated. Affected muscles show slow oxydatine fiber phenotype disrupted sarcomeric architecture and accumulation of mitochondrial organelles. Most dogs are affected severely, though some may survive into adulthood. All have had fawn or brindle coat coloration. An autosomal recessive inheritance is suspected.
Megaesophagus: Great Danes are overrepresented in diagnoses of primary megaesophagus. Onset can be at weaning, or in adulthood. Clinical signs include regurgitation, excess salivation, and aspiration pneumonia.31 Epidermolysis Bullosa Acquisita (Bullous Pemphigus): Eruptive autoimmune skin disorder characterized by vesicles that rapidly progress to ulcers, typically in the oral cavity, pads and medial pinnae. Seen in young to adolescent Great Danes. Variable response to steroids and immunosuppressive therapy.
Acral lick Dermatitis, Brachygnathism, Color Dilution Alopecia, Cystinuria, Hemeralopia, Lymphedema, Oligodontia, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Subaortic stenosis, Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, Uveal Hypopigmentation, Vascular Ring Anomaly, von Willebrand’s Disease, Wry Mouth, and Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Cecocolic Volvulus: Two male Great Danes were diagnosed with volvulus of the cecum and large intestines. Clinical signs included peracute to acute onset of vomiting, mild abdominal distention and pain, lack of feces, and tenesmus. Diagnosis by radiography.
Primary Orthostatic Tremors: Two unrelated two year old Great Danes were identified with orthostatic tremors that only occurred when standing at rest. The tremors were controlled with phenobarbitol.
Recurrent Limb Edema: Great Danes have been identified with multiple episodes of cool, pitting edema limited to one or more limbs.
Episodes lasted for several days, and the time between episodes varied from 2 weeks to 1 year. No etiology is identified, and the edema was unresponsive to treatment.
Myasthenia Gravis: A case report identified three Great Dane littermates all developing myasthenia gravis between 2-3 years of age. Acetylcholine receptor auto-antibody titres were positive.
Tests of Genotype: Direct tests for coat color (including mask and dilute) are available from HealthGene and VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, CERF eye examination, thyroid profile including autoantibodies and cardiac evaluation. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend elbow radiographs and patella evaluation.
• Breed name synonyms: Dane, Deutsche Dogge, German Mastiff, Dogue Allemand (historical).
• Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
• AKC rank (year 2008): 22 (8,994 dogs registered)
• Internet resources: Great Dane Club of America: gdca.org
The Great Dane Club (UK): thegreatdaneclub.com
The Great Dane Club of Canada: gdcc.ca
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