Mastiffs are such wonderful giant dogs. The fact that they don’t have long lives is particularly heart-breaking for many Mastiff owners.
How long do Mastiffs live? Only 6-10 years based on information provided by the American Kennel Club. Life expectancy is affected by various issues such as body condition (are they chronically obese), genetics, and how well the pet owner takes care of their dog.
The goal with this article is to teach Mastiff owners how they can get their dogs to live closer to that 10 years of age and do so in a way that keeps them healthy and happy. If you’re new to the breed, check out my Complete Guide to Mastiffs.
How To Pick The Healthiest Mastiff Puppy
Having a healthy Mastiff starts first and foremost with picking the right breeder. There are two ways you can go about finding a quality breeder:
- se the AKC site to find one
- Go through the Mastiff Club of America to find a reputable breeder
- If you’re lucky enough to already know and love a Mastiff, find out who the breeder of the litter was. That’s a great start.
If you’re getting a Mastiff from a rescue organization, try to find out the medical history of the dog as completely as possible. Understand that, while problems can emerge at any time, chronic health conditions that have been dealt with (successfully or unsuccessfully) for years are going to be your responsibility going forward.
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
Hip dysplasia is fairly well known but many pet owners don’t realize that the same condition can develop in the elbows as well. Unfortunately Mastiffs are a breed that seem to be prone to either or both conditions.
Ultimately the disease occurs when the hip or elbow joint isn’t properly developed so that the joint functions as it should. The bones don’t develop properly to provide the normal amount of surface to cushion the joint and make it comfortable.
When dysplasia is present, the bones end up rubbing together excessively and wearing away at the cartilage that is present. Over time this causes the bones to try and stabilize the joint by producing excessive bony tissue/bone spurs. This condition is pretty painful and can range from causing no visible symptoms to a dog that can’t walk at all due to the pain.
Xrays are the only way to definitely diagnose this disease. If caught when a dog is still growing, there may be a surgical treatment that could help mitigate the disease’s severity later in life.
Even if there is no known history of trauma or developmental issue with a joint arthritis can still form. The immense size of the Mastiff means that there is a lot of force and stress on the elbows, knees, and back on a daily basis.
The stress on the joints will gradually wear away at the cartilage present and eventually the bones may begin to rub against each other. This is painful and will lead to a joint that is stiff and difficult to move at times.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament tears are not your fault. I open with that because most owners feel that they allowed their dog to do something that caused the tear and that is simply not true. ACL tears are normally a degenerative condition brought about by a changing breed standard (my opinion and certainly reputable breeders don’t do this) that puts excessive strain on the knees of the Mastiff.
The ACL connects the upper and lower leg (tibia) bones in a way that prevents the femur from sliding off the tibia. The biggest factor that contributes to ACL disease in dogs is the way their leg is put together. Dogs that have straight back legs naturally are going to put more pressure on that ACL on a daily basis.
So how can you prevent an ACL tear in your Mastiff? By selecting a puppy from parents that are naturally shorter and walk around with more of a bent knee.
Mastiffs are a pretty common breed everywhere and unfortunately the majority of time I see them outside of a dog show they are overweight. It’s almost as if the thickness of an overweight Mastiff’s body is the acceptable “norm.”
I have, in fact, had a few “discussions” with pet owners who were convinced that their Mastiff should look the way they do. I then have them directly feel the amount of fat sitting over the ribs and the way that their waist is as wide as their chest. Eventually most of them get it.
Because Mastiffs are already anywhere from 80-125 lbs at their “ideal” weight (depending on gender, height, and muscularity), carrying another 10-20 lbs may not seem like much to our eyes but it matters a great deal to their bodies. Any pre-existing orthopedic conditions will worsen carrying a heavier load. ACL tears will happen sooner and the need for chronic anti-inflammatory usage will happen earlier than it should.
Diet is, by far, the most effective way of reducing your dog’s weight. Exercise helps, but it’s far more effective to cut calories. If you’re struggling to get your Mastiff to lose weight, consult with your own veterinarian. They may want to check some bloodwork or use a prescription diet.
How Can I Get My Mastiff To Live Longer and Healthier?
Maintaining An Optimal Weight
The smaller the Mastiff, the longer they usually live. This involves first choosing a Mastiff puppy from parent dogs who are on the smaller side of the Mastiff scale. The second involves keeping your dog at a healthy weight.
The shoulders and chest should be wider than the abdomen. You should also see a
Exercise And Stimulation
Mastiffs love to lay around and sleep all day but they shouldn’t be allowed to, even when they get older and have orthopedic issues. At the bare minimum a daily walk of at least 20 minutes should be done.
Mastiffs are just as capable of learning various tricks and commands as any other breed. They just execute it slower because they’re never in a hurry to do anything.
Encourage your Mastiff to chew on toys and play with a variety of toys that they like. It may take some trial and error to figure out what your Mastiff really likes, but don’t give up: this can greatly enhance your Mastiff’s quality of life.
Older Mastiffs who lay around all the time will suffer more from orthopedic issues. It will be harder for them to get up and move around and, as a consequence, they won’t want to do it. Their muscles will atrophy and that will also negatively impact your Mastiff’s desire to get up and move.
Maintain that daily walking routine with your Mastiff throughout their life and you’ll reap the benefits of a more active dog later in life.
It’s imperative that you take care of your Mastiff’s joints starting at around 2 years of age when growth finally stops. Even if your dog doesn’t show any signs of joint disease you should still start them on a joint supplement.
The best joint supplements should be thought of as prevention and not necessarily treatment. Starting early keeps the joints as healthy as they can be for longer than if you did nothing.
My favorite joint supplements include:
Another great option to help your dog with their joints is the J/D food from Hill’s. Although it is a bit expensive, the amount of joint supplements you are giving your dog can be reduced or eliminated by just feeding this diet. For my clients, it has seemed to work best earlier in life before the joint issues got too severe.
Preventative Medicine/Wellness Exams
I’m a veterinarian so of course I’m going to tell you that regular wellness exams at the vet is extremely important. A good vet can spot conditions sometimes earlier than even the most dedicated owner can.
When your Mastiff reaches 3-4 years of age, there are two things that you should consider doing:
- If you haven’t already had it done, have the vet run some bloodwork to check out all the internal organs. Primarily we are screening for kidney and liver disease, but there are literally hundreds of disease conditions that can be picked up by basic lab tests. Start doing this every year to catch issues early.
- If there’s any level of dental disease and you haven’t already had a dental cleaning done, do one now. It will hopefully get ahead of more chronic issues down the road.