Breed Health

The Northern Bullmastiff Club

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.
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.

General Symptoms
  • Itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin on the body, belly, groin and / or feet.
  • Increased scratching
  • Itchy, runny eyes or a runny nose
  • Itchy back or base of tail (most commonly flea allergy)
  • Itchy red ears and re-occurring ear infections
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Dry flaky skin
  • Excessive hair loss
  • Diarrhoea / loose stools
  • Snoring caused by an inflamed throat
  • Paw chewing/swollen paws
  • Constant licking
Allergic dogs might also suffer from secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections, which may cause hair loss, scabs or crusts on the skin, dogs will often scratch or clean themselves excessively.
Some problems can be eliminated by removing suspected environmental allergens from making contact with the dog., Where food ingredients are suspected an elimination diet may be recommended by the vet, sometimes just a simple change of diet can help. Some dogs may need long-term treatment with antibiotics or steroids to keep skin problems under control.

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.

Get to know what is “normal” for your dog and then you will know when they are not acting normally.
Beware of the extremely "windy" dog, frequent belching / farting along with loud stomach noises could be a sign of things to come.

The Main Warning Signs that people notice are:
  • Sudden onset of abdominal distention, i.e., looks “bloated”
  • The bloated abdomen may feel tight (like a drum). Despite it being called "bloat," sometimes this symptom never occurs or is not very obvious.
  • Non-productive retching (trying to vomit but doesn’t) - Frequent attempts to vomit which are usually unsuccessful seems to be one of the most common symptoms & is one of the best know. "Unsuccessful vomiting" could mean either nothing comes up at all or possibly just foam and/or mucous comes up, some dog owners have said that it can sound like a repeated cough
  • Dog doesn't act like they normally do - This is perhaps the earliest warning sign and may be the only one. Some dogs that have bloated have asked to go outside in the middle of the night. If this is combined with frequent attempts to vomit, and if your dog doesn't typically ask to go outside in the middle of the night, bloat is a very real possibility.
  • Increased salivation, restlessness, respiratory distress
  • Depression, weakness, staggering
  • Discolored (pale or brick red) mucus membranes (gums) Pale or off-color gums. Dark red in early stages and white or blue in later stages
This is not an exhaustive list but other reported Symptoms are:
  • Outwardly, bloat could look like a swollen stomach, with lots of drooling, panting, and walking around. Some dogs will also make sounds to let you know they are in pain
  • Significant anxiety and restlessness - an early typical sign
  • "Hunched up" or "roached up" appearance - This seems to occur fairly frequently too
  • Lack of normal gurgling and digestive sounds in the stomach. Many dog owners report this after putting their ear to their dog's stomach. If your dog shows any bloat symptoms, you may want to try this immediately.
  • Coughing
  • Unproductive gagging
  • Heavy salivating or drooling
  • Foamy mucous around the lips, or vomiting foamy mucous
  • Unproductive attempts to defecate
  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Licking the air
  • Seeking a hiding place
  • Looking at their side or other evidence of abdominal pain or discomfort
  • May refuse to sit or lie down
  • May stand spread-legged
  • May curl up in a ball or go into a praying or crouched position
  • May attempt to eat small stones and twigs
  • Drinking excessively
  • Heavy or rapid panting
  • Shallow breathing
  • Cold mouth membranes
  • Apparent weakness; unable to stand or has a spread-legged stance - Especially in advanced stage
  • Accelerated heartbeat - Heart rate increases as bloating progresses
  • Weak pulse
  • Collapse

It is thought that the following may be some of the contributors to bloat:
  • Stress - Dog shows, mating, male dogs when bitches are on heat nearby, whelping, boarding, change in routine, new dog in household, etc.
  • Exercise before and especially after eating
  • Eating and drinking habits, Rapid eating & drinking too much water too quickly (can cause gulping of air)
  • Activities that result in gulping air
  • Gas is associated with incomplete digestion
  • Dogs with untreated Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) and/or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) are considered more prone to bloat they generally produce more gas and thus are at greater risk
  • Eating gas-producing foods (especially soybean products, brewer's yeast, and alfalfa)
  • Some medications can contribute to the production of more gas
  • Heredity - Especially having a first-degree relative who has bloated
  • Build & Physical Characteristics - Having a deep and narrow chest compared to other dogs of the same breed
  • Older dogs
  • Big dogs
  • Males may be more susceptible to it
  • Being underweight
  • Disposition - Fearful or anxious temperament, Prone to stress, History of aggression toward other dogs or people

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:

  • Feed small frequent meals, rather than one big meal per day
  • Slow down the speed of eating, feed smaller amounts or place a large object in the bowel with the food.
  • Water intake - do not let the dog consume / gulp large quantities of water all at once, especially just before and after eating.
  • Do not exercise or allow vigorous play an hour before feeding (longer if the dog is hot and panting), don't exercise or allow vigorous play for at least 2 hours after feeding.
  • Measure around the dog's abdomen at the narrowest & widest points before and after they have had a meal, do this after several different meals, make a note of the measurements, this way you will have a note of what is the "normal" size for your dog before and after eating.

Action:

  • Bloat can often occur in the middle of the night, so make sure any emergency telephone numbers for the vet are quickly accessible.
  • If your vet doesn’t run emergency out of hours cover and sends any such clients to another covering veterinary hospital nearby, then make sure that the practice is experienced in dealing with bloat and that you already know the location and how to get there before you need it in an emergency!
  • Your dog will need you not to panic at this point, you will have to phone and let the vet / receptionist know you are on your way - tell them you suspect Bloat and that the dog will need to be seen as soon as you arrive.

Treatment:

  • Depending on the dogs condition on arrival, the vet may initially treat for shock and stabilize the dog’s general condition using a fluids and injections.
  • They may attempt to decompress the stomach by tubing, or if unable to do this they may use a large gauge needle to puncture through the body wall into the stomach.
  • X-rays may be taken to confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the position of the stomach. If the stomach is twisted then surgery is required to reposition and preferably suture it into place.
  • The prognosis will be based on the assessment of the tissue damage inside the dog and on postoperative recovery status. Antibiotics will also be administered.

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.

Link to video of Akita with Bloat

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.

Link to another website showing an accupressure point for bloat

Link to a youtube video showing an accupressure point for bloat

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:

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA): Also called malignant hemangioendothelioma or angiosarcoma it is a deadly cancer that originates in the cells that line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels.

There are three types of HSA:-

  • Dermal– Found on the skin
  • Hypodermal- Found under the skin
  • Visceral- Found in the spleen, pericardium and the heart.

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.

Symptoms:

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.

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
  • Holding a back leg up completely.
  • Mild limping (on one or both back legs).
  • Stiffness or difficulty getting up after lying down.
  • Painful knee(s).
  • Swollen knee(s), especially the inside of the knee.
  • Walking in an unusual way (stiff or unsteady gait).
  • Decrease in muscle mass and weakening of muscles (known as muscle atrophy) in the rear leg.

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.

Causes

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:

  • Lameness
  • Stiffness after rest
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Groaning while resting or getting up
  • Difficulty in using the stairs

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:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Limping
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Unusual movement after rest or exercise
  • Groaning while resting or getting up
  • Signs of pain when moving the elbow

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.

  • The area exudes pus and often gives off a foul odour, the hair in the area is lost rapidly, revealing a red weeping sore which on exposure to air may scab over as it spreads, causing more irritation to the dog.
  • The infection progresses when the dog scratches, licks or chews the site.
  • They can appear very suddenly and increase in size very quickly, often within a matter of hours.
  • Hot spots can occur anywhere on the body and often in more than one location, the first thing an owner usually spots is an unexplained small wet area on the dogs fur, further investigation usually reveals the red weeping sore underneath.
  • Typical locations on the Bullmastiff are around the ears and around the neck or cheek areas.
  • Like many skin problems, hot spots can develop in response to a small scratch, flea or insect bites, allergies and other skin diseases. Lack of grooming, mites, ear and anal gland infections, poor nutrition and food with low quality ingredients may also be a factor in the occurrence of hot spots too.
  • They can appear just before moulting in moist warm conditions when moist dead hair is lying against the skin. If caught early and treated immediately upon discovery, they can be cleared up relatively quickly in just a few days.
  • A trip to the vet will usually result in the area around the hot spot being shaved or clipped short to enable the air to circulate better around the wound. More challenging areas to heal may require some antibiotic treatment from the vet to clear it up.