The Breed History
This is an ancient breed with reports dating back 5000 years, but only recognized as a distinct breed since the 1940s. Very early origins trace back to the war dogs (Macedonian, Sumerian, Assyrian) in the middle east and Asia. Alexander the Great was reported to have crossed war dogs with short-haired Indian dogs, giving rise to the Molossus. The Romans crossed these Molossus dogs with English Mastiffs when they invaded, increasing their size. In southern Italy in the Neapolitan region, these crossbreds were further selected for guarding and inbred over the years. Breed characteristics that define the Neapolitan Mastiff include extensive loose skin, enormous body and head, and a smooth lumbering gait. First reported imports to the USA occurred in the 1970s, and now estimates are that 6000 dogs are in the country, especially along the eastern seaboard. AKC recognition occurred in 2004.
Breeding for Function
These dogs fulfilled many roles including guard dog, war dog, hunting dog, and draft dog.
Height at Withers: female 24-29" (61-74 cm), male 26-31" (66-79 cm)
Weight: bitches: 110 lb (50 kg), dogs 150 lb (68 kg)
Coat: Smooth, short (1") and dense, the hairs are straight. Lacks furnishings anywhere. Colors include black, tawny, mahogany, grey (also termed blue). Sometimes brindling may occur, but must be tan. Any white markings must meet the breed standard-if outside defined areas, these are a disqualification. Blue color is most desired as he blends into the shadows during guarding.
Longevity: 8-10 years
Points of Conformation: Massive! Heavy boned. If not, the dog is eliminated. The head is substantially larger than a typical dog and the skull top is broad, flat and parallel to the muzzle profile. The stop is very well defined, muzzle is square. The head has specified folds that must be present. Bite is scissors or slightly undershot. A little longer than tall, the first thing that strikes you is the masses of folded and wrinkled loose skin over the dog, with an extensive dewlap merging with massive flews. The eyes are expressive, deep set, with large overhanging dorsal palpebral, and lower palpebral sags, showing the third eyelid. Eye color and rim synchronize with coat color, and usually are brown to amber. Ears may be cropped to a triangular shape. The neck is short and well muscled. The thorax is deep and ribs are well sprung. The topline is level. The abdomen is not tucked up. Front dewclaws are not to be removed but rear ones are. Feet are large, round and the front feet are slightly turned out. Tail is tapered, and docked to 1/3 of the length to the tarsus. Carriage is horizontal to slightly elevated when working. The gait is slow, steady and a rolling swaying attitude is normal, especially if pace rather than trot. The head is carried just above the topline level usually, and front feet may paddle a bit. There is a low shedding tendency except during seasonal coat turnover.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Breed attributes ascribed include: Loyal-even devoted, gentle, well tempered, calm yet wary of strangers, fearsome when provoked. Not recommended for young children due to extreme large size and weight. They are droolers. Tolerate cool weather better than hot. Need enough room to move around. They are not well suited to small apartments. Low to moderate need for exercise.
Normal Breed Variations
Late maturing-about 3 years of age Tend to need cesarian section and occasionally cannot breed without artificial insemination. In a UK study, 36.4% of litters were delivered via Cesarian section.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. Reported at a frequency of 60% in a Polish study. OFA reports 47.7% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 37.5% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few Neopolitan Mastiffs have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 7.9% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Prolapsed Gland of the Nictitans (Cherry Eye): The breed is reported to have a high frequency of this condition secondary to inflammation of the gland. Some surgeons report frequent relapses after tacking surgery due to a defect in the cartilage, and removal should be considered.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate treatment. Reported cause of death of 28.6% of Neopolitan Mastiffs in one study.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rupture: Traumatic tearing of the ACL in the stifle, causing lameness and secondary arthritis. Treat with surgery. Reported at an increased incidence versus other breeds.
Entropion: Rolling in of eyelids, often causing corneal irritation or ulceration. Reported to be common in the breed, but too few Neopolitan Mastiffs have been CERF eye examined to determine an accurate frequency.
Ectropion: Rolling out of eyelids, often with a medial canthal pocket. Can also cause conjunctivitis. Reported to be common in the breed, but too few Neopolitan Mastiffs have been CERF eye examined to determine an accurate frequency.
Cataracts: Inherited cataracts occur in the breed, but too few Neopolitan Mastiffs have been CERF eye examined to determine an accurate frequency. CERF does not recommend breeding any Neopolitan Mastiff with a cataract.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Too few Neopolitan Mastiffs have been CERF eye examined to determine an accurate frequency.
Cardiomyopathy, Allergies, Demodecosis, Leishmaniasis, and Cryptorchidism are reported problems in the breed. Patent Ductus Arteriosis and Progressive Retinal Atrophy are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Teratoid Medulloepithelioma: A 4-year-old Neapolitan mastiff presented with acute glaucoma of the left eye and progressive neurologic signs. A tumor of the left eye was identified. On necropsy, the ocular tumor originated from the ciliary body, metastases with the same morphology were present in the brain and in one kidney. The diagnosis was malignant teratoid medulloepithelioma.
Myocardial Myxosarcoma: A two years and eight months old male Neopolitan mastiff presented with a history of chronic diarrhea and weight loss. No primary gastrointestinal or metabolic cause for the diarrhea could be identified. Echocardiography revealed a large, multilocular, cyst-like structure within the pericardium compressing the heart. The mass was surgically excised from the left ventricular myocardium, and identified as a low-grade malignant myxosarcoma. The dog made a full recovery, but returned with diarrhea, weight loss, tumor recurrence and local metastasis 11 months later.
Undifferentiated Sarcoma: A six-month-old Neopolitan mastiff presented for a rapidly growing cervical mass. Necropsy revealed undifferentiated sarcoma with metastases to the mediastinum, pleura, lungs, liver, kidneys, omentum, mesentery, and multiple lymph nodes.
Tests of Genotype: none
Tests of Phenotype: Recommend hip and elbow radiographs, CERF eye examination, cardiac evaluation, patella evaluation, and thyroid profile including autoantibodies.
- Breed name synonyms: Mastino Napoletano, Italian Mastiff, Mastino
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club), FCI.
- AKC rank (year 2008): 112 (357 dogs registered)
- Breed resources: United States Neopolitan Mastiff Club: www.neapolitan.org
The Neopolitan Mastiff Club UK: www.uknmc.org.uk
The Mastino Health Foundation: www.mastinohealth.org
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