Below are the some of the more common health problems found in the Bullmastiff. It is by no means a complete list of all the health conditions known in the breed and it is certainly not a substitute for a full professional veterinary diagnosis. If you suspect that your dog may have a health problem, please consult your vet. If your Bullmastiff is suffering from any of the diseases or conditions on this list, please advise your dog's breeder as this information could be useful to them for future breeding decisions.
We have also included another condition - Cerebellar Ataxia, which although seems to be rare, it is problem for breeders and new puppy owners to look out for.
It is worth noting that Bullmastiffs have an unusually high tolerance for pain and often do not “complain”. Changes in bowel or bladder habits, eating habits, and temperament should all be considered symptoms of an underlying health problem.
Just like people, dogs can show allergic symptoms when their immune systems begin to recognise certain everyday substances or “allergens” as dangerous. Even though these allergens are common in most environments and harmless to most animals, a dog with allergies can have an extreme reaction to them.
Allergens can be problematic when inhaled, ingested or when in contact with a dog’s skin and can be anything from an ingredient in their food, flea saliva, dust mites, grasses and seasonal allergens such as pollen to household cleaning products, including carpet fresheners, air fresheners and washing powder. As the dog’s body tries to rid itself of these substances, a variety of skin, digestive and respiratory symptoms may appear.
Bloat is a life threatening emergency - if you suspect your dog is bloating contact a vet immediately!
When it comes to a life threatening dog emergency, bloat is very high on the list. When it occurs, treatment in the form of an immediate trip to the vet is needed in order to save the dogs life, a bloating dog can become critically ill and die very quickly if not treated.
Bloat, also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV, is not yet completely understood and regardless of how the process actually happens, it is clearly very bad for a dog.
Bloat happens more often in the larger deep chested breeds, but don’t think you are safe if you have a smaller dog, bloat has been reported in almost every breed.
Bloat is a condition where the stomach rapidly fills with air/gas although food and fluid can also be present. It usually happens when there is an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach ("gastric dilatation"). The stomach becomes distended and puts pressure on the diaphragm, which can cause breathing problems.
Bloat can occur with or without "volvulus" (twisting), the stomach can often rotate as it swells. It may rotate 90 to 360 degrees, twisting between its fixed attachments at the oesophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine) thus cutting off the blood supply and the return blood flow to the heart. The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs. Rotation also stops any escape of gas by means of burping or farting. The extreme pressure within the stomach can cause tissue to die leading to stomach rupture, sometimes the spleen twists with the stomach resulting in damage to splenic tissues too.
The combined effect can very quickly kill a dog.
The risk of bloating increases with age. Other factors that increase a dog's risk are having a first-generation relative with a history of bloat, experiencing a major health problem, and having a fearful or nervous temperament. Bloat can often occur within a few hours of eating followed by excessive exercise, however it can also occur during the dogs normal, daily routine.
The causes of bloat are not really known, but the signs and symptoms are. Knowing what they are could save your dog’s life.
Typical symptoms often include some but not always all of the following. Unfortunately, from the time you first notice the symptoms you have very little time (sometimes minutes, sometimes hours) to get immediate veterinary treatment for your dog.
As we don't yet know the exact reasons why a dog will bloat, preventive measures are also uncertain. Immediate recognition of the symptoms and treatment is the most important advice. Some suggestions that have been made to try to prevent it happening are:
Due to the time taken to perform any initial assessment such as tubing / using a needle and treatment, if the dog is near to or in a collapsed state some vets if they feel time is limited to try to save the dog’s life may opt to go straight to surgery.
It is also possible that once the dog has been tubed and the stomach decompressed they can start to bloat again.
Unfortunately some dogs once they have bloated and recovered will do so again at some time in the future (be it weeks, months or a year or so afterwards).
Having the stomach stitched into place does not guarantee the dog will not bloat again, it may however stop the stomach from twisting, allowing air to escape if they bloat again.
Video - The link below is to a youtube video showing an Akita with bloat, the dog was being filmed by people that were not aware of what bloat was. Fortunately they realised there was something wrong and took the dog to the vet. The dog survived.
PDF Download - Quick reference guide for the various stages of bloat
PDF Download - Canine Bloat Awareness Campaign
Accupressure - This procedure is in no way recommended as a substitute for veterinary treatment, but it could be performed on route to the vet.
Facebook group - Canine Bloat Awareness
Cancer basically is an abnormal growth of cells, the growth can be benign (slow-growing, removable) or malignant (aggressive, spreading throughout the body) and can affect any breed or type of dog. It is said that one in four dogs may contract the disease and in dogs over 10 years of age, approximately 50 percent of deaths are cancer-related. Cancer can be present in various forms in all pedigree and cross breed dogs and as in humans the exact causes of various cancers are unknown. Cancers fall into two basic categories:-
Carcinomas – which are derived from non-structural tissues such as blood, glands, skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
Sarcomas - which are derived from structural tissues such as bone, muscle, or cartilage.
In Bullmastiffs some of the most common forms of cancer are:
There are three types of HSA:-
Other locations include the right atrium, skin and sub-cutis and liver. It has also been reported in the lungs, kidneys, oral cavity, muscle, bone, urinary bladder, left ventricle, uterus and retroperitoneum (the anatomical space in the abdominal cavity behind the peritoneum).
Causes & Frequency - The cause of this disease is not exactly known. Cutaneous hemangiosarcoma (found on the skin) are said to be the result of exposure to sunlight and are less common whilst splenic tumours account for 45 to 51 percent of Hemangiosarcomas and are therefore the most commonly diagnosed and the deadliest. Hemangiosarcoma is mostly seen in middle-aged to older dogs.
Dermal HSA appears as a red or black growth on hairless portions of the body such as the abdomen. Sub-cutaneous and visceral tumours appear in the internal organs and there is often very little warning before the time they start to cause severe clinical signs. The symptoms vary depending on the location of the tumour. It could be anything from non-specific symptoms of illness to asymptomatic abdominal swelling, to acute death secondary to hemorrhagic/hypotensive shock.
Common symptoms for visceral HSA are acute weakness or collapse. Other signs include lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, abdominal distension, nose bleeds, fatigue, pale coloured mucous membranes in the mouth and the eyes and increased respiratory rates.
Dogs with cardiac HSA show signs of blood or fluid in the space between the sac that encases the heart and the heart muscle. There can be signs of right-sided heart failure such as exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, and excessive fluid in the peritoneal cavity, muffled heart sounds and a variation in pulse quality associated with respiration. There may be clotting of blood inside the blood vessels, dogs usually have platelet deficiencies, increased blood clotting at times, decrease in fibrin content in the blood and an increase in fibrin degradation products (FDPs). This probably leads to death in most of the cases.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is, amongst other things, involved in immunity and fighting infections. Lymphoma arises from cells in the lymphatic system called lymphocytes which normally travel around the body, so this form of cancer is usually widespread. Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) are part of the lymphatic system and are located all over the body.
Lymphoma can affect some or all of the lymph nodes at the same time. It may be possible to feel or see affected lymph nodes that are near the body surface – they usually feel big and firm. Lymph nodes deeper inside the body are also often involved, as well as internal organs such as the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. This widespread involvement is not like tumour spread in other types of cancer.
Mast cells are normal cells found in most organs and tissues of the body, and are present in highest numbers in locations that interface with the outside world, such as the skin, the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and bowels). They contain granules of a chemical called histamine which is important in the normal response of inflammation.
When mast cells undergo malignant transformation (become cancerous), mast cell tumours (MCTs) are formed. Mast cell tumours range from being relatively benign and readily cured by surgery, through to showing aggressive and much more serious spread through the body.
Osteosarcoma refers to the most common bone tumour found in dogs. Bone cancer can affect any breed of dog, but it is more commonly found in the larger breeds.
The disease is extremely aggressive and has a tendency to spread rapidly into other parts of the dog's body (metastasize). There are treatment options available, but generally the long term prognosis for the animal is poor.
Many signs of bone cancer are subtle. They can include swelling, lameness, and joint or bone pain. In some cases, dogs suffering from bone cancer will appear tired or have anorexia. Occasionally, dogs will exhibit a mass growth on their body or a painful inflammation around the site of the tumour.
In a newsletter for club members published during 1994, a statement was made by 2 Bullmastiff breeders regarding a problem with a litter produced by one of the breeder’s stud dogs & the other breeder’s bitch. Four puppies in the litter were unfortunately affected by the problem, one was examined by a veterinary neurologist and was found to be affected by an autosomal recessive disease which affects the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain which controls locomotion and co-ordination.
Signs of the disease do not become evident before 8 – 10 weeks of age and tragically it is a terminal illness. This problem had previously been diagnosed in the breed prior to 1994, but details of it were only published in veterinary journals. Reports of the disease are not only found in Bullmastiffs bred in the UK but also in those bred in other countries.
Instances of the condition in the UK since 1994 seem to be very rare, but worryingly more recently, in the last 10 years up to 2020, we seem to be hearing more reports of the problem occurring in pups and on occasion it affecting several pups from the same litter, all with devastating consequences.
The name of the disease mentioned in the newsletter was Progressive Neuronal Abiotrophy (Ataxia) and in a follow up article - Familial Cerebellar Ataxia
P.N.A is a degeneration of cells of the cerebellum, it is an autosomal recessive disorder meaning both parents need to be DNA carriers of P.N.A for it to appear in their offspring.
Signs of the disease can develop from 8 – 16 weeks of age, eventually the affected pup becomes unable to stand.
The following information may help breeders to recognise what is the matter with puppies showing some odd form of movement or behaviour.
Signs are noticed at an early stage, between 6 and 16 weeks. The pups seem to have a visual problem, frequently bumping into objects unsteady on their hind limbs with hind leg stiffness progressing to uncoordinated movement (Ataxia).
Foreleg movement becomes impaired and all movement is jerky and exaggerated. Eventually the affected pup becomes unable to stand.
Some pups appear to be dull, disinterested and difficult to train.
In addition they can show certain clinical signs such as hysterical behaviour, backing compulsively when called, lifting a foreleg while eating, compulsive forward movements and wide circling.
In some cases head tremor is observed and becomes more accentuated as the animal attempts to eat.
They demonstrate great difficulty in their ability to follow a moving object and often cannot relocate their dinner bowl if it is removed to another point. Similarly they do not fix vision of a ball when it is rolled in front of them.
The pups also appear to experience difficulty crossing over objects such as a brush handle or the threshold of the house and make frequent attempts before finally negotiating the object. This is a very characteristic and distinctive feature of the condition.
It is assumed that the condition is caused by a recessive gene in their DNA and each parent of an affected pup must be a heterozygous carrier for this condition to occur.Inheritance of the recessive gene :-
This disease is not confined to just Bullmastiffs, other breeds suffer from it too and for some breeds a DNA test has been created to test for the gene, unfortunately these tests are breed specific and at the moment there is no test to define a Bullmastiff carrier, and carriers may not normally exhibit symptoms, so at the moment without a DNA test Bullmastiff breeders are working blind to this disease.
Fast forward to 2020 - This is where all Bullmastiff owners can help.
Sonja Oliver-Hicks is working with Professor Leeb from the Institute Of Genetics at the University of Bern in Switzerland who hopes to identify the problem gene and hopefully a DNA test can be created.
In order to create a test Professor Leeb requires a blood sample and if possible a copy of their pedigree from as many Bullmastiffs (worldwide) as possible whether they are affected, suspected as a carrier or not affected at all – the more samples he gets the better, obviously it is also important to have samples from as many confirmed cases as and their siblings possible, in order to accurately identify the gene compared to the other samples.
Blood samples can be sent by owners of single or multiple Bullmastiffs and from breeders who can have samples taken from all the generations of dogs in their kennel. All samples can be sent direct to Professor Leeb and all information will be treated in the strictest confidence.
For further details on how you and your Bullmastiff can help in this study, please visit the dedicated facebook page and website.
Cruciate Ligament Problems can happen to any dog. Obesity and strenuous exercise make a cruciate injury much more likely by putting lots of strain on your dog’s joints.
The cruciate ligaments sit inside the knee joint, and help to hold it together. In simple terms, they are like two pieces of strong elastic which connect the thigh bone to the shin bone.
Cruciate damage is an injury to one of the two ligaments, either a little tear or a compete break in the ligament.
If one of the cruciate ligaments is damaged the knee joint becomes wobbly and this is usually very painful. The most common way for a dog to damage a cruciate ligament is by jumping, skidding, slipping on wooden / laminate or tiled floors, twisting or turning awkwardly, it can affect any breed and size of dog.General Symptoms
The signs of CCL rupture can be quite variable and the severity of this condition is related to the degree of rupture: whether it is a partial, or a complete rupture. The manner of rupture is also indicative of the severity, based on whether it presented suddenly, or has been a long-term (chronic) degenerative condition.
A sudden rupture results in non-weight bearing lameness, and fluid build-up in the joint, the dog will hold the affected leg in a partial bent position while standing.
When it is a degenerative condition there can be a subtle to marked intermittent lameness, that may last from weeks to months, this is consistent with partial tears in the cruciate; tears that are degenerating can progress to complete rupture. Normal activity resulting in sudden (acute) lameness would suggest a degenerative rupture.
The causes for cranial cruciate ligament disease are most frequently caused by repetitive micro-injury to the ligament, that is, putting pressure on it in the same way, repeatedly. This action causes slight stretching of the ligament each time, altering the structure, and eventually causing the ligament to tear.
Symmetrical or structural abnormalities that occur in the formation, or growth process (conformation abnormalities) are also suspected. If the bones that make up the stifle were abnormally formed, the cruciate ligament will be unduly stressed and traumatized.
Obesity also plays a role in cruciate ligament disease, when it is present, as the weight increases the the more chance of repetitious injury to the same part of the leg.
Two conditions that can affect the eye are Entropion & Ectropion
Entropion is a condition of the eyelids in which the eyelid margin rolls inward towards the eye. It is most common in puppies and usually results from disproportionate eyelid growth. Many puppies will outgrow the condition by the time they reach one year of age. If the eyelid is causing corneal irritation or damage (signs might include tearing, squinting, redness and/or discharge)
Ectropion is a condition of the eyelids in which the eyelid margin rolls out, away from the eye. This condition can lead to chronic irritation and discharge.
Both Entropion and Ectropion can lead to corneal irritation, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, eye infections, corneal scarring, corneal vascularization and corneal mineralization. These complications can be painful and cause vision loss.
Canine Hip Dysplasia is an orthopaedic problem where abnormalities occur in the hip joints. Changes to the hip joint will begin at a young age as the puppy starts to become more active and will escalate with time. These changes can lead to excessive wear and tear of the joint, causing one or both hip joints to become defective. At this stage the joint(s) may be painful and can have serious effects on the health, behaviour and welfare of the dog.
Signs of Hip Dysplasia in dogs vary between individuals and breeds. Some observable signs include:
Canine Elbow Dysplasia is an orthopaedic problem in dogs where the elbow doesn’t develop properly. Elbow Dysplasia includes a number of specific abnormalities that affect different sites within the joint. These cause problems by affecting the growth of the cartilage which forms the surface of the joint or the structures around it. Even a small change in the shape of one part of the joint can have major consequences for the joint function, leading to lameness, pain and serious effects on the health, behaviour and welfare of the dog.
Signs of Elbow Dysplasia in dogs vary between individuals and breeds. Some observable signs include:
A veterinary surgeon's physical examination will provide a more reliable assessment and radiography is the only means of determining the presence of either Hip or Elbow Dysplasia.
A hot spot is an infection on the surface of the skin and it usually appears as a small circular swollen patch that is warm, painful and itchy to the dog. If left untreated it can rapidly increase in size.
Canine Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones) can be an inherited trait.
As as in humans, hypothyroidism is caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone, this can result in infertility, obesity, mental dullness, lack of energy and a range of behavioural problems. The dog's fur may become coarse and brittle and fall out and the skin may become hard and dark.