The Breed History
This popular and widespread breed was known in England for a few centuries as a pit fighter and watchdog. In ancient times they likely originated in Southwest Asia, moving through Tibet to the west of the continent. Phoenicians were thought to have brought Molosser and Alaunt type dogs westward to Britain by 2000 years BC. Other breeds deriving from the ancient Molosser type dogs include Tibetan Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Neopolitan Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux and Fila Brasileiro. First written accounts of this breed in England date to 55 BC when Caesar made note of them during his invasions. Many were sent back to Italy, and became fighting dogs in the Roman Empire. AKC recognition occurred in 1885. The term Mastiff is actually a generic term for gigantic defense dogs but over the Centuries types emerged, of which the English Mastiff, now simply termed Mastiff is one. At the times of the World Wars of the twentieth century, they became almost extinct in England, but because of breeders sending dogs back from North America, the breed was revived.
Breeding for Function
Pit fighting, police and military work, war cart dog and watchdog duties are the best-known historical duties. Importantly, the peasant class kept these dogs to help with guarding, vermin and wolf control. Many were kept by butchers who were able to afford the high cost of feeding them because they fed the Mastiff dogs their meat scraps. The other function that the breed was prized for was as group hunting dogs for lion and deer. Power, courage and agility are characteristics thoroughly bred into the Mastiff.
Height at Withers: female 27.5" (70 cm), male 30" minimum (76 cm).
Weight: 170-190 lb (79-86 kg).
Coat: The double coat consists of very dense short undercoat and an outer coat consisting of straight, coarse and moderately short hairs. Brindle, apricot and fawn are accepted colors, and in brindle the background should be fawn or apricot. There is generally a black mask and ear coloration irrespective of coat coloration.
Longevity: Approximately 8-9 years.
Points of Conformation: A massive well muscled and heavily boned dog with an equally massive square head, the Mastiff is a picture of brute strength. Medium-sized eyes are dark brown in color and no nictitans should be showing. Ears are v-shaped with rounded tips and possess fairly fine leather. They lie close to the cheeks at rest. A prominent furrow up the center of the forehead is present. The stop is moderate. The muzzle is short, blunt and deep, and forehead wrinkles appear when alerted. The nose is always dark, and the lips somewhat pendulous. The neck is muscular and medium in length, with little loose skin. The topline is straight, until gently curving down over the croup, and the thorax is deep and wide. There is a moderate abdominal tuck up. The tail reaches to the tarsus or a bit longer. The Tail tapers and is straight to slightly curved. The limbs are straight boned and wide set, feet are large and toes well knuckled up. The gait is best described as smooth and ground covering.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Courageous but docile to handle represents the ideal breed temperament. A dignified manner is also selected for. They are loyal, and well-developed guarding instincts are the standard. They are wary of strangers and vigorous in defense of perceived threats. Early socialization and obedience are essential. These dogs have high human companionship needs and need lots of room due to the large body size. High exercise levels need to be allowed for. This dog, though calm with family is not recommended for toddlers due to massive size. They tend to drool significantly. Grooming needs are low.
Normal Physiologic Variations
According to a study in the UK 64.6% of Mastiff litters were born via cerserean section.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 19.4% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 14.7% affected. Reported 48.4x odds ratio for fragmented coronoid process, and 20.2x odds ratio for ununited anconeal process forms of elbow dysplasia versus other breeds.
Multifocal Retinopathy/Retinal Dysplasia: Autosomal recessive retinal pigment epithelial dysplasia causing localized multifocal retinal detachments. Age of onset from 11 to 13 weeks of age. Can lead to blindness. Reported in 7.63% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. A genetic test is available.
Dominant Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): An autosomal dominant PRA exists in the breed, with an onset of 6 months to 3-1/2 years of age. Causes blindness. Optigen reports 1% of Mastiffs are affected based on the available genetic test.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 0.3% affected.
Allergic Dermatitis (Atopy): Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported at a frequency of 10.2% in the Mastiff Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 8.7% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. In the Mastiff, the strands most often bridge from the iris to the cornea and may potentially cause vision impairment. Identified in 7.63% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding a Mastiff with any form of PPM.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture (ACL): Traumatic tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. The breed is found to be one with an increased incidence. Treatment is surgery. Reported at a frequency of 7.5% in the Mastiff Health Survey.
Ectropion: Rolling out of eyelids, often with a medial canthal pocket. Can also cause conjunctivitis. Ectropion is reported in 6.26% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cystine Urolithiasis/Cystinuria: Cystine uroliths are a sequela to cystinuria, an inherited renal tubular defect in reabsorption of cystine and some other amino acids. The mode of inheritance in the breed is not determined. Diagnosis with nitroprusside urine test. PennGen testing shows 9.9% of males and 0.2% of females tested are affected.
Entropion: Rolling in of eyelids, often causing corneal irritation or ulceration. Entropion is reported in 4.18% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.4 Macroblepharon: Abnormally large eyelid opening; may lead to secondary conditions associated with corneal exposure. Reported in 4.11% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Gastric Dilation/Volvulus (GDV, Bloat): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. Cause of 16.3% of deaths in Mastiffs in one survey. Reported at a frequency of 4.0% in the Mastiff Health Survey.
Osteosarcoma (OSA): Malignant bone cancer, most often seen in the humerus or femur. Reported at a frequency of 3.8% in the OFA on-line Mastiff Health Survey.
Cataracts: Anterior cortex punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 2.82% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Idiopathic Epilepsy: Inherited seizures. Control with anti-seizure medication. Onset of seizures from 6 months to 5 years of age. Reported at a frequency of 1.4% in the Mastiff Health Survey.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): Polygenically inherited cartilage defect. Causes joint pain and lameness in young growing dogs. Mild cases can resolve with rest, while more severe cases require surgery. Reported 1006.8xx odds ratio for stifle OCD, and 11.9x odds ratio for shoulder OCD versus other breeds. Shoulder OCD is reported at a frequency of 1.30% in the Mastiff.
Corneal Dystrophy: Endothelial form occurs in the breed due to edema from the loss of the inner lining of the cornea. Results in keratitis and decreased vision. Identified in 1.02% of Mastiffs CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
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 3.5x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Cervical Malformation/Malarticulation (Wobblers disease): A congenital anatomical disorder that causes compression of the cervical spinal cord. Clinical signs include limb weakness, proprioceptive deficits, and paralysis. A breed predisposition is found in the Mastiff. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Pulmonic Stenosis (PS) and Dysplasia of the Atrioventricular Valves (DAV): Two congenital heart disorders identified in the breed. Screen with auscultation and echocardiography. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Microphthalmia, Prognathism, and Subaortic Stenosis are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Sacral Osteochondrosis: Several case reports of this condition are in the literature. In one, a Mastiff dog showed chronic signs of pain in its pelvic limbs. Radiography revealed a triangular mineralized opacity at the craniodorsal aspect of the sacrum consistent with sacral osteochondrosis. A T2-weighted spin-echo MRI revealed dorsal and lateral compression of the cauda equina. The osteochondral fragment was removed via a dorsal laminectomy, and the clinical signs resolved.
Extradural Synovial Cyst Myelopathy: Three male Mastiffs presented with progressive ataxia and tetraparesis. Degenerative arthritis of the articular facet joints was noted on survey spinal radiographs. Myelography disclosed lateral axial compression of the cervical spinal cord medial to the articular facets. Extradural compressive cystic structures adjacent to articular facets were identified on magnetic resonance imaging (1 dog). Dorsal laminectomies cured all 3 dogs. The cysts were identified as synovial cysts.
Mesenchymal Chondrosarcoma: A young adult female Mastiff dog developed a large retroperitoneal mass, pleural effusion, and multiple pulmonary and pleural nodules. All masses were diagnosed as mesenchymal subtype chondrosarcomas, using histological and immunohistochemical criteria.
Tests of Genotype: Direct tests for PRA and Multifocal Retinopathy are available from Optigen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip and elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination (minimum of 2 years) and congenital cardiac evaluation. Optional tests include thyroid profile including autoantibodies, and nitroprusside urine test for cystinuria from PennGen. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend patella evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Old English Mastiff, English Mastiff, Alan/Alaunts (historical terms in Italian-French).
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 28 (6,657 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Mastiff Club of America Inc.: mastiff.org/
Canadian Mastiff Club: mastiffcanada.org
Old English Mastiff Club (UK): mastiffclub.com
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