Complete Guide To The Mastiff: Health, Feeding, Exercise and More

As large as a full-grown man and more powerful, the giant Mastiff is the picture of courage and strength. But don’t judge a book by its cover — easy-going, affectionate and faithful, a more loving family companion is tough to find.

Mastiffs are one of my favorite breeds of all time. Universally sweet and gentle, these dogs have been quite popular in my veterinary practice. While I have not yet had the pleasure of owning a Mastiff, I do want to one day. That’s how highly I esteem this breed.

Me With One Of My Mastiff Patients

How Big Do Mastiffs Get?

Male30″ and taller at the shoulder160-230 lbs
Female27.5″ and taller at the shoulder120-170 lbs

What Do Mastiffs Look Like?

Broad-chested, their thick, muscular bodies are longer than they are tall, yet they’re neither lean nor portly. A massive square head with kindly dark eyes, short drop ears, and aristocratic wrinkles give them a thoughtful, approachable expression.

Their short, coarse coats come in three colors:

• Fawn
• Apricot
• Brindle

A black mask, ears and nose clearly distinguish them from similar breeds, such as the Neapolitan Mastiff or the Dogue de Bordeaux. A small white patch on the chest is permissible. Tails are thick at the base and taper to a fine point — unlike other mastiff-type breeds, they’re never cropped.

What Is The Personality Of A Mastiff?

Mastiffs have an intuitive nature — sensitive, they may know what you’re thinking before you do. Being part of the family is important to them, and they’ll reward you for it with steadfast loyalty.

Ancient warriors, they still have a strong protective instinct but have largely lost their gladiator’s spirit. Wary of strangers but rarely aggressive without provocation, they’re trustworthy guardians.

Gentle with children and other pets, they don’t know their own strength, so supervision is a must. Quick learners, they’re responsive to training and thrive in a mutually respectful relationship.

How Much Exercise Does A Mastiff Need?

Mastiffs have surprisingly low exercise needs — they’re content apartment dwellers. Low-impact activities are best until their joints reach maturity at 18-24 months of age. Brachycephalic, they tend to overheat and are less activity tolerant than other dogs in warm climates.

Short daily walks keep them physically fit, while measured activities like fetch and obedience training engage them mentally. Older dogs excel in agility and cart-pulling competitions with proper pacing and enough rest. Don’t let them talk you into becoming couch potatoes.

Activities That I Recommend With This Breed:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (don’t do this if your dog has any orthopedic issues)
  • Agility Training (these guys do great at this!!)
  • Dog Parks

How Much Grooming Does A Mastiff Need?

A Mastiff’s short, dense coat is a pleasure to groom. Its coarse texture naturally resists dirt. Twice weekly brushing with a slicker removes debris and tames their moderate shedding.

Caring for the deep furrows on their faces and necks is more challenging. Though endearing, they’re magnets for yeast and bacteria, especially where they stay moist with drool. Keeping skin folds clean and dry is essential to avoid infections.

A bath every few months keep them fresh, but it’s not easy to get a 200-pound dog in the tub. An alternative is to spot clean trouble areas with a gentle dog shampoo, being careful to rinse completely. Professional groomers and dog washes have the right equipment to do the job if you’re short on space or time.

Balancing two hundred or more pounds on their feet, keeping their thick nails short is important for joint health. It’s unlikely they’ll stay trim with exercise alone, so grind them back every three weeks with a rotary tool.

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Mastiff?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

This is a breed that requires a large-breed puppy food to help control growth. Growing too fast can cause growing pains and potentially developmental orthopedic issues. For this reason, I recommend to my Mastiff owners to switch to adult food at around 6 months of age.

Note that the brands of food I list here are not the most expensive. I believe, as a veterinarian with over 20 years experience, that the tried-and-true dog food manufacturers are the best and tend to be less expensive than many of these newer boutique-style food companies.

Best Puppy Food For Mastiffs:

Best Adult Food For Mastiffs:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Mastiff Live?

6-10 years according to information from the AKC

What Health Problems Can Mastiffs Have?

The Mastiff has one real area of concern: orthopedic issues. Because of their size, their joints bear a lot of stress from a young age. The most common issues I see in my Mastiff patients include:

  • Elbow/Hip Dysplasia
  • Arthritis in older age in any joint but especially the elbows, hips, back, and knees
  • ACL tears
  • Obesity

I have a more in-depth guide to managing the health of your Mastiff that can help your dog to live longer, happier, and healthier.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Mastiff?

Mastiff Club of America

There are numerous regional Mastiff clubs that you can join to learn more

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find A Mastiff?

Breeder Referral From The Mastiff Club of America

AKC Puppy Marketplace

Looking For a Rescue? Start with the Rescue Listings from the Mastiff Club of America

Interesting Facts About the Mastiff

Mastiffs are an enduring breed.

Did you know?

• They’re as Ancient as the Seven Wonders

Artwork from ancient Greece, Rome and China all tell of a courageous giant canine with mastiff-like features that existed more than 5000 years ago. They’re considered the likely progenitors of the modern breed.

• Are They “mastiffs” or “Mastiffs?”

The term mastiff — not capitalized — refers to a group of similar breeds that diverged from common ancestors. Mastiff blood is found in nearly all the giant mountain dogs of Europe, Turkey and beyond. Examples include the Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux and Tibetan Mastiff.

The dog the AKC refers to today as the Mastiff is what Brits once called the Old English Mastiff or Bullmastiff. By the end of World War II, however, research suggests fewer than 20 specimens remained in England. Brought to the US, the breed was rebuilt and is now simply called the Mastiff.

• They May — or May Not — Be the World’s Largest Breed

Largess is in the eye of the beholder. But whether it’s height or weight that makes a breed the largest, there’s no doubt that Mastiffs compete in both categories. Zeus the Great Dane holds the record for the tallest dog ever recorded at 44 inches from shoulder to floor. But Zorba the Mastiff was the world’s heaviest dog at a whopping 343 pounds, measuring more than 8 feet long.

• Their Fighting Days Are Behind Them

The Mastiff’s formidable size makes him a natural soldier. Julius Caesar was reportedly enchanted with their fighting skills, recruit them for battle and combat in the coliseum. English nobility later prized them as pit fighters, but when blood sports were banned, they were selectively bred to be a personal guardian and companion breed.

• Friends to the Rich and Infamous

The famous and infamous have both embraced mastiffs as pets, starting with conquerors Hannibal and Genghis Khan. Today, they’re the AKC’s 29th most popular breed and enjoy wide-ranging popularity. Patrons include American actress Kirstie Alley, actor and film director Marlon Brando and Hollywood legend George C. Scott.

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