Mastiffs, like all breeds, have specific health issues that need to be considered when purchasing a puppy or when breeding them. Reputable breeders will health test their dogs to ensure they are not passing on genetic conditions. Breeders and owners both want healthy, happy dogs with great longevity.
We recommend that before breeding a dog the following tests be completed on both the sire and the dam. Additionally if you are buying a puppy please be sure that these tests have been completed on the parents. While different breeders have varying levels of testing, the best breeders test for everything possible. Why not rule out a problem if the technology exists?
Most health testing information is tracked through www.offa.org. You can look up a dog by their name or their AKC number. Please make sure that you can verify the testing, sometimes backyard breeders and puppy mills will tell you their dogs are tested, however ask to see the proof. If you can’t find the sire and dam on OFFA then ask the breeder to see a copy of the testing certificates for each test.
It is also important to remember that “vet checked” really means nothing when it comes to the genetics of a puppy. All that means is a vet looked at the puppy and it wasn’t obviously malnourished or had a visible illness. While I’m not saying it is a good idea to have a puppy vet checked before it goes to it’s new home, it is NOT a replacement for proper health testing.
Here is a brief overview of each condition we recommend testing for.
Genetic Canine Health Issues
Hip Dysplasia is an especially important test in the Mastiff breed due their size. Dysplasia can vary from mild to completely debilitating and in severe cases require that your dog be euthanized, even if it's still a puppy. In other words it does not just affect older dogs. A reputable breeder will never breed or stud a dog that does not pass this exam with either a Fair, Good, or Excellent rating. (http://www.offa.org/hd_info.html)
Elbow dysplasia is a general term used to identify an inherited polygenic disease in the elbow of dogs. This can cause lameness in the dog. There is no way to know when a dog that is affected will become lame as environment can also be a factor, meaning over-exercising, weight gain, etc. Again, due to a Mastiffs size this test is extremely important. Reputable breeders test! Ask to see those test results before you buy a pup. (http://www.offa.org/ed_types.html)
Congenital heart diseases in dogs are thought to be genetic in nature. Abnormal heart defects are present at birth and usually get worse as a puppy grows. Unfortunately there is no "cure". The best alternative to a cure is to not breed dogs that have tested with cardiac problems. Make sure both parents have had a cardiac screening before purchasing a puppy. (http://www.offa.org/pdf/cardapp_bw.pdf)
Hypothyroidism is just one of the disorders of the thyroid gland. It can affect an animal’s behavior and turn a once friendly dog into an aggressive dog. The thyroid can be checked via blood test to see if your dog is at a healthy level. If suddenly your dog is having aggression issues, etc I would recommend having its thyroid checked before any other actions are taken just to rule out the issue before training methods are used to try and correct the problem. (http://www.offa.org/pdf/thyapp_bw.pdf)
Cystinuria is a genetic defect where the kidney doesn't work properly. Affected dogs are born with the disorder, but it can be years before it's caught. Some dogs who are positive for the disorder are never affected. Over time, stones block the urinary tract requiring surgery. Only males are affected by this disease; however females can pass the disease onto their offspring. Traditionally, only males could by tested by a urine nitroside test, however a DNA test is now available for males and females to see if common genetic markers are present in carriers and affected dogs. (http://mastiff.org/CYSTINURIATESTINGRECOMMENDATIONS.htm)
Problems with the patella's are issue that affect the knee. The condition causes the knee to pop out of place. This is considered to be an inherited disease and the OFA test is one that can be performed by your regular vet. Again, because of the size of the breed, having bad knees can be devastating to the quality of life of your dog. (http://www.offa.org/pdf/plapp_bw.pdf)
CERF(Canine Eye Registry Foundation)
CERF is a national eye registry for dogs that have been screened for genetic eye diseases. This exam is done by a veterinary ophthalmologist. A CERF exam is one test that needs to be performed annually on dogs as eye issues can develop as the dog ages. A CEFT exam screens for things such as entropian, retinal folds, etc. (http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.HTML)
PRA(Progressive Renal Atrophy)
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a family of inherited progressive degenerative eye diseases affecting the retina which ultimately result in blindness. PRA is a Dominant gene mutation, meaning that one parent being a carrier for the disease can result in affected puppies. If a sire and dam are proven free of the gene then no offspring from that paring will be affected by the disease or be able to pass the disease on. (http://www.optigen.com/opt9_test_dominant_pra.html)
CMR(Canine Multi-focal Retinopathy)
CMR is a genetic eye disease that is known to occur in Mastiffs. This disease causes lesions that look like blisters on the dog’s eyes and eventually in severe cases can cause blindness. As the dog ages this can become quite painful and cause other eye issues to develop. CMR is a recessive gene mutation, meaning both parents must be carriers or affected to have affected offspring, however all dogs should be tested prior to breeding to prevent 2 carriers from producing affected pups. (http://www.optigen.com/opt9_test_cmr.html)
vonWillebrands Disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. Dogs with a low vWF factor have blood that does not clot properly and causes excessive bleeding if the dog is injured, much like hemophilia in humans. This can be an issue with birthing as well. This disease is most common in Dobermans, however several cases in Mastiffs have shown up in the recent past, making testing a must before breeding. (http://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/sects/Coag/)
Degenerative Melopathy is something that many Mastiff breeders are just beginning to test for, so not all reputable breeders will have their dogs tested for this disease yet. DM is a condition of the spinal column and can have symptoms similar to Wobblers. Depending on the location of the issue in the spine and the severity sometimes surgery is an option, however this can be a dehabilitating disease that may have no other solution than euthanasia in some cases. (http://www.caninegeneticdiseases.net/DM/ancmntDM.htm)
AKC DNA Profile
A DNA profile on your dog proves that your dog is who you say it is. It is a DNA sample that is taken and also witnessed by someone verifying your dog’s identity either by tattoo or microchip. Dogs must to have a DNA profile in order to enter an MCOA (Mastiff Club of America) Specialty Show. (http://www.akc.org/dna/test_kits.cfm)
Non-Genetic Canine Health Issues
The following issues can affect all dogs; however they seem to have a strong presence in our breed due to their size and structure.
Bloat - Few afflictions kill an otherwise healthy dog as quickly as bloat and torsion. Bloat is a time sensitive emergency, if you suspect your dog is suffering from bloat you must get to a Vet ASAP. Bloat commonly affects large, deep chested dogs but following a few preventive measures can drastically reduce the chance of your Mastiff getting it. If you own a large/giant breed dog I recommend having a bloat kit on hand at all times (I keep mine in the trunk of my car). Having the proper tools on hand could mean life or death to your dog if it takes more than a few minutes to reach your vet. There is a procedure that can be done in dogs called a Gastropexy where the stomach is actually stapled to the abdominal wall. This procedure will not prevent bloat, but does help to prevent torsion (the flipping of the stomach) if the dog does bloat.
Cruciate Ligament Injuries - A ruptured cruciate ligament is the most common knee injury in dogs. Depending on the severity of the injury, surgery will most likely be necessary and can be costly. Because of the common occurrence of this injury in large dogs there are up to 3 surgery options available. It is important to not let your dog run or play on slippery surfaces as a slip and fall can cause the cruciate to become stressed or even torn.
Pyometra - Pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus that mostly occurs in middle-aged or older unspayed female dogs, though it may also occur in young dogs. It can result in the accumulation of infection in the bloodstream or abdominal cavity, which can rapidly lead to systemic infection, shock, and death. The severity of symptoms varies depending on whether the female’s cervix is open or closed. If the cervix closes the dog can become sick and even die within 24 hours, so if your dog show symptoms get to a vet immediately. Females are generally more susceptible to Pyometra 3-5 weeks after a heat cycle.
Cancer – If Cancer isn’t the leading cause of death in dogs then I would be surprised - 1 in 4 dogs will die of cancer. For dogs over 10 years of age, approximately 50% of deaths are cancer-related. Like humans, there are many types of cancers and many clinical signs. In our breed Osteocarcenoma (bone cancer) is probably the most common form of cancer, and if left undiagnosed for too long spreads and leads to metastasized lung cancer or other internal cancers. At this point it is unknown if Cancer has some link to genetics or not, but numerous studies are in the works to see if genetic markers do exist and are common among affected dogs.
If anyone has any questions or would like more information you can visit my website www.gryphonmastiffs.com or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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