Health Issues

Potential Bullmastiff Health Issues


Below are the most common health problems in the Bullmastiff.  It is not an exhaustive list of all health conditions known in the breed and it is not a substitute for a professional veterinary diagnosis.  If you suspect that your dog may have a health problem, please talk to your veterinarian.  If your Bullmastiff suffers from any of the diseases or conditions on this list, please advise your dog's breeder as this information could influDogs 21Jul20122ence future breeding decisions.


(Gastric Dilation and Volvulus or GDV)

    This life-threatening condition can affect large, deep-chested dogs such as Bullmastiffs, especially if they are fed only one large meal a day, wolf down their food, drink a lot of water after eating, or engage in vigorous activity after eating - but it can also happen during the normal daily routine. Bloat occurs when there is a rapid accumulation of air in the stomach, causing distention and often rotation of the stomach, cutting off blood supply at both ends and causing the dog to go into shock. Bloat is an acute emergency and rushing the dog to immediate veterinary care is essential.

    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 before one year old, and having a fearful or nervous temperament. Symptoms include abdominal distention, restlessness, pacing, unsuccessful attempts to vomit or pass stool, and lethargy. Diagnosis is confirmed by x-ray and without immediate veterinary attention it is highly likely the dog will die.    


Cancer is an immunological condition brought about by a prolific response of a given abnormal cell type within the body. It is present in all breeds and the exact causes are unknown. In Bullmastiffs, the most common cancers are:

    Hemangiosarcoma.This is a particularly aggressive form of cancer originating in the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels and spleen. As might be expected of a tumor arising in the blood system they are highly malignant and can be found almost anywhere in the body  - mostly commonly in the spleen, heart or other internal organs.  These tumors are most common in middle aged or older dogs which are medium sized or larger but can occur in any breed. Often there are few outward symptoms and death can occur with little or no warning.

    Lymphoma/Lymphosarcoma.This is another aggressive form of cancer which involves the lymphatic system. Symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is affected, though the disease is most often detected due to enlarged lymph nodes on the neck. Prognosis varies depending on the location and extent of the tumours, response to chemotherapy, and the stage of the disease.

    Mast Cell Tumors. Mast cell tumours are common on or just under the skin of dogs but can metastasize to other areas of the body, especially the spleen, liver, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. Mast cells are normal cells within the body that are responsible for responding to allergic reactions. Any breed of dog can develop a mast cell tumour (MCT), but certain breeds, like the Bullmastiff, are predisposed.  Prompt surgical excision and biopsy of any skin tumor is the best defense.

    Osteosarcoma. This is a malignant tumor of the bone that primarily affects large and giant breeds. It can develop in any bone, but most often occurs in bones bordering the shoulder, wrist and knee. Osteosarcoma develops deep within the bone and becomes progressively more painful as it grows outward and the bone is destroyed from the inside out. Lameness may occur suddenly or start intermittently and progress over several weeks and is usually accompanied by swelling around the bone. Highly aggressive and metastatic in nature, over 90% of all clinically significant osteosarcomas have already spread to organs and other bones by the time of diagnosis.  



There are several developmental bone diseases that primarily affect puppies of rapidly growing, large breeds, and males in particular. They are:

    Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD). This is a disease in which the cartilage is damaged and/or grows abnormally, resulting in severe joint pain. Symptoms include limping, especially in the shoulders, elbows, and hocks. Suspected causes are trauma, heredity, and nutritional imbalance. Confinement, a modified diet, and pain management are the recommended treatments. Surgical removal of the damaged cartilage is indicated only in the most severe cases.

    Panosteitis (Pano). This is a condition characterised by acute, sudden, "wandering" lameness brought on by rapid growth in the limbs. Symptoms may come and go over a period of weeks or months, and may also include fever and anorexia. Diagnosis can be made by x-ray, but in mild cases, an x-ray may not reveal the problem. It is self-limiting and disappears spontaneously; the cause is unknown. Treatment includes rest, pain management, and exercise restriction. Lack of treatment may result in arthritic conditions later in life. The prognosis for complete recovery is excellent.



    Entropion is perhaps the most common eye problem in all breeds with wrinkle on the head, including the Bullmastiff. This is a condition of the eyelid rolling inwards, and the eyelashes causing irritability to the eye.  It can be hereditary, or it may be caused from an obstruction or irritation to the eye such as an ulcer, a scratch, dirt or bug in the eye. Although this can be very irritating for the dog, it is not life threatening, and correction is usually very simple, with either medications or a simple operation to remove the rolling skin which pulls the eyelid straight.  Any dog with recurrent or chronic eye discharge, watering, or irritation should see a vet. Left untreated, this condition can result in some serious problems including infections.

    Ectropion is a defect in the conformation of the eye generally associated with wrinkled breeds that allows the eyelids to sag or have a rolling out appearance, resulting in too much of the eye being exposed and prone to irritation.  Dogs that have Ectropion are more likely to develop allergies and bacterial conjunctivitis. Ectropion is usually diagnosed because they have a discharge in their eyes, decreased amount of tear production and reddened conjunctiva, all of which can be very painful to the dog.  Treatment can vary depending on the severity of the Ectropion but in severe cases can require surgery to remove a small amount of tissue from the eyelid.

    Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). PRA has not yet been reported in Bullmastiffs in Australia but is another inherited eye disorder in which the retinas have either arrested development or early degeneration.  This is not a painful disease, and the eyes appear normal. The first indications are usually a reluctance to enter a dark hallway or stairwell, a classic sign of early night blindness. The disease is inherited as a dominant, meaning that there are no "carriers". Affected dogs have the disease, and non-affected dogs are clear.



    The most common heart problems in Bullmastiffs are heart murmurs (can be congenital or acquired), sub-aortic stenosis (SAS), and cardiomyopathy. While weakness, lethargy, stunted growth, exercise intolerance, fainting, or abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias) may be present, some heart conditions can also progress undetected until they result in sudden death. While many congenital murmurs will never cause a problem during the dog's lifetime, some can cause problems later on, and some may be early signs of more serious heart problems.  A consultation with a canine cardiologist is recommended when abnormalities are detected.



    Hip and elbow dysplasia.   Hip Dysplasia is a condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. Elbow dysplasia refers to the abnormal development of certain parts of the elbow joint during the growing phase of a dog's life. Some areas of the joint may have a disruption of normal cartilage development or failure to fuse during growth resulting in an uneven joint surface, inflammation, joint swelling, lameness and arthritis. The exact cause of dysplasia is unknown, but it is probably due to a combination of genetic, nutritional, growth, trauma and hormonal factors. Symptoms include lameness, pain upon walking or running, difficulty rising, problems negotiating stairs, and a decreased range of motion. Treatment includes surgery, and nutritional and environmental management.

    Cruciate ligament injuries, tears and ruptures in the knee, are one of the most common orthopedic complications seen in dogs. The cruciate ligament is a major part of the canine knee. Strained ligaments can be rested through crating, leashed walks, and restricted exercise for several weeks.  Sometimes called ACL or CCL tear, a ruptured cruciate is often a painful and immobilizing injury. Torn or severed ligaments require surgery.



Bullmastiffs have sensitive skin that can be prone to allergies, sores, and irritations.

    Allergies are essentially the response of the body's immune system to environmental or other allergens. These allergens can be practically anything - from flea saliva to dust mites to grasses and pollen and components of food. Symptoms often include red, itchy skin on the feet, belly or groin, dry, flaky skin, excessive hair loss, reddened ears with a foul-smelling discharge, and weepy, watery eyes or a runny nose. Allergic dogs will often scratch or clean themselves excessively. Tests are available to identify specific allergens but one way to identify the cause of canine allergies is to remove possible allergens from the animal's environment and then slowly reintroduce them, seeing when the problem subsides or recurs.  If food allergies are suspected your veterinarian probably will recommend an elimination diet. This means putting the dog on a very bland diet with few ingredients (like just rice and maybe chicken), observing the dog's signs if any of reacting to the food, and then gradually adding in other foods to assess how the dog reacts to them.  Sometimes a change to a diet with few or no chemical additives can help. Other Bullmastiffs need long-term treatment with antibiotics or steroids to keep skin problems under control.

    Hot spots (or wet eczema)  are moist circular sores that can be swollen, exude a smelly pus, and can be painfully itchy, causing the dog to scratch, lick, or bite to the point of self-mutilation.  Hot spots that can develop within hours anywhere on your dog although they are most commonly found around the head, shoulder and neck areas. They are surface skin infections caused when populations of normal skin bacteria grow and overwhelm normal resistance. If caught early, they can be cleared up relatively quickly in just a few days. Bullmastiffs are most likely to develop hot spots in warm, humid weather but they can occur at any time and should be treated immediately upon discovery by washing with salt water or Listerine and then applying some sort of antibiotic powder or cream. More stubborn hotspots may require a course of antibiotics.



    "No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does" 
    -Christopher Morley

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