Health and husbandry

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Health and Husbandry – Breed Associated Conditions & Diseases:

The canine conditions and diseases listed below are those deemed: Breed Associated. They are not specific to the Neapolitan Mastiff, NOR are all Neapolitan Mastiffs genetically predisposed to developing or contracting each condition or disease. Breed associated conditions and diseases are those, which research has shown, can affect individual dogs of an individual breed.

Cherry Eye – Prolapse of the Gland of the Third Eyelid. Health Image
This condition, seen as a pink mass in the corner of the eye closest to the nose, is a prolapse of the nictitans gland of the third eyelid. The third eyelid is not seen normally but is an important structure for the health of the eye as it carries lymphoid tissue and some tear-forming gland tissue on its inner surface. Swelling of the lymph tissue may cause the whole gland to bulge and become prominent. The nictitans gland has been called the tonsil of the eye because it has a protective function, but it may become enlarged and cause discomfort to the dog. Treatment with eye drops and cream may help but surgical procedures to remove the swollen gland are recommended in the Neapolitan Mastiff.

Ectropion – Lower Eyelids Turning Outward.
Ectropion is the opposite condition to entropion where the lower eyelids droop and turn outwards with undue exposure of the pink lining of the lid known as the haw. The condition is produced by a lower eyelid that is too large for the size of the eyeball and can be an inherited fault, but it may develop due to different growth rates of the skull and the skin of the face. Inflammation of the exposed area of the eye and tear overflow can be treated with ointment, and there are surgical procedures to correct the slackness in the lower lid if recommended.

Entropion – Eyelids Turning Inwards.Health Image
An inward turning of the eyelid, causing eyelashes to rub on the surface of the eyeball (cornea). If left untreated, the cornea may ulcerate and this could well lead to an opacity and blindness. Affected dogs show a continuous watery discharge from the eye, and the eyelids are screwed up because of severe pain and irritation. When entropion does appear, it is often the result of a genetic tendancy. Once diagnosed a relatively simple operation to evert the eyelid edge will be required.

Skin: Health Image
Dermatosis is a term used for any skin disorder. The word dermatitis describes an inflammatory skin condition. All skin conditions require investigation – it is usually necessary to find an underlying cause before treatment and advice can be given. Pyoderma, Allergic Dermatoses, Arcal lick Dermatitis and Hormonal Alopecia are four examples of widely differing conditions of the skin that come under this general heading.

Mange – Demodex & Sarcoptes.
Mange is caused by mange mites, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. If they are suspected, scrapings from the skin surface are examined under a microscope and diagnoses made. The two forms of mange can be distinguished in this way, as the bare patches of low-grade infection are quite similar. There are a number of differences in the two forms of mange; most poignant is Demodex mange can be transferred via mammary gland to suckling puppies who then develop bare areas on face and forelegs. Demodex in the older dog usually remains as a scaly hairless patch and although an obvious blemish, does not cause a lot of scratching. Sarcoptic is very contagious and very itchy with skin crusting, thickening, and redness, and spreads form dog to dog. A variety of treatments for both conditions include skin washes.

This is a yeast-like surface organism that appears in dogs with low resistance to infection. The organisms which occur in greatest numbers in moist areas and places such as between the toes and under the tail are used for examination. The yeast will also be found in the ear canal and can multiply to cause a type of discharging otitis. Treatment includes regular washes with correct preparation.

Bones & Joints: Health Image
Hip Dysplasia.
The hip joint is a ball and socket joint and one of the best-known hereditary defects is where the joint does not develop properly. The condition of a shallow hip joint and a poorly fitting head of the femur (thigh bone) make the joint unstable, leading to the development of bony changes and eventually arthritis. Although there is an inheredited genetic basis, there are many other influences on a growing dogs joints such as exercise, nutrition, body weight, and the method of puppy rearing used. Affected dogs show abnormal sitting or an unusual way of walking described as crabbing, the back legs may seem stiff and affected dogs are slow to sit and rise, unwillingness to walk, run, jump or climb steps.
With appropriate medical or surgical treatment, the majority of dogs with hip dysplasia can enjoy a pain-free life and there are a number of surgical procedures to treat the different stages of the condition.
Images: X-ray of Normal Hips (top image)Health Image
X-ray showing Hip Dysplasia causing tilted pelvis (bottom image)

Cruciate Ligament Injury / Rupture.
The stifle or knee joint is not robustly constructed; two of the ligaments that support the knee joint cross over the centre of the joint in a cruciform shape and provide a major stabilising effect. As long as Mastini are kept reasonably lean and fit, there is not a great risk of this injury, but once a dog becomes overweight, the stifle which depends on the ligaments and cartilages holding it together and giving free movement, may become at risk. The stifle is used in jumping and forward propulsion; bursts of activity or jumping out of vehicles can damage the ligaments. Slight lameness standing with only toe touching ground is sign of cruciate injury and enforced rest is advised. Cruciate Rupture can be recognised as one that usually happens during extreme exercise, the joint will be more painful, no weight can be carried on the affected leg and it does not improve with enforced rest. Ruptured or torn ligaments will usually require a surgical procedure.

Elbow Dysplasia – Osteochondrosis.Health ImageHealth Image
The disease of the growing dog characterised by abnormal thickness of the cartilage and a failure to convert the older cartilage layers into new bone. Rapid bone growth is considered a factor in delaying the mineralisation of the cartilage at the growing joint ends of the long bones. This condition has become recognised as an important cause of lameness of the large breeds, especially during late puppy hood when the bones are growing rapidly. The elbows may be held slightly outwards so the front toes seem to turn in, the dog walks slightly rotary or a circumambulatory gait may be noticed. Restricting exercise and not feeding a puppy to full appetite demand may help to reduce the incidence of elbow dysplasia. Once the condition has been identified there is a choice of either operating on the joint to remove any cartilage flap, or to rely on controlled exercise with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Images: X-ray of elbow showing normal joint structure.
X-ray of flexed elbow showing changes in the joint associated with osteochondrosis.

Heart Disease:
All heavier breeds of dog may be subject to cardiac disorders that can lead to an earlier than normal age for death. The most common congenital defects in all breeds of dogs today are aortic stenosis (AS), patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), pulmonic stenosis (PD), mitral dysplasia (MD), ventricular septal defect (VSD), tricuspid valve dysplasia (TD), and the rare Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF). Myocardial degeneration is the disease of the heart muscle that leads to congestive heart failure. Any severe heart condition such as heart valve disease can eventually produce heart muscle damage leading to heart failure. The driving force of the cardiac pump becomes weakened and failure of the right side of the heart leads to distended veins, swelling of the abdomen due to fluid (ascites) and muscle weakness of the hind legs due to poor circulation. If the left side of the heart fails first, then there is rapid breathing and breathlessness after moderate exercise, all due to oedema fluid in the lungs. Coughing is not so common sign of lung congestion due to heart failure as in some breeds. The various congenital heart defects that occur in dogs can be managed medically or, in some cases, by advanced surgery.

Digestive System: Health Image
Bloat – Gastric Dilation / Volvulus (GDV).
The name for the condition where the stomach is distended with gas. The gas filled stomach presses on the diaphragm restricting breathing, resulting in frequent shallow breaths and a purplish discolouration of the tongue. The weight of the enlarging spleen, attached to the greater curvature of the gas filled stomach, can make the stomach twist in a clockwise direction. Accumulation of gas in the stomach may be due to fermentation of cereal products when there is insufficient gastric acid present, but most gas is thought to be air that is swallowed during the eating process. Bloat may be followed by torsion or twisting of the stomach, especially in the larger breeds. It is particularly associated with feeding regimes where a highly digestible food can be swallowed rapidly, followed by drinking large quantities of water. Feeding immediately before or after strenuous exercise has been blamed also. This condition is a dire emergency, the sooner you recognise and react to this condition, the more chance your dog has of survival and full recovery.
Image:X-ray of gas in the abdomen.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth – SIBO.
The condition now known as SIBO is a disorder that may be the cause of persisting diarrhoea, increased appetite and weight loss. To explain it simply, it is a disorder where too many bacteria are living in the small intestine for the dog’s health. These bacteria take some of the best nutrients out of the eaten food that passes from the stomach to the small intestine. Most premium dog foods now contain ‘good bacteria’ pre & pro-biotics and Veterinary surgeons prescribe the freeze-dried alternatives.

Low Immune System – Immunosuppression.
Neapolitans in general, do not have very strong immune systems; this fact should be reiterated to your vet. The state of a reduced immune response may occur after some infections and a lowered resistance may lead to secondary bacterial infections and skin parasites such as Demodex. Antibiotics may be needed to protect the dog against many infections that normal resistance would fight off.

Thyroid Disease – Hypothyroidism.
The condition of hypothyroidism occurs when insufficient hormone is produced by an under-active gland and can be immunity-related. The condition is quite common in dogs, particularly young to middle aged large breeds. Symptoms appear insidiously and often go unnoticed at the beginning, weight gain without increase of food intake, sensitivity to cold, skin disorders (alopecia, dry skin, pyoderma), reproductive problems including infertility, cardiac disorders, and neuromuscular problems with fatigue. Treatment involves replacement therapy with daily doses of thyroid hormone.

Husbandry of The Neapolitan Mastiff:

The Neapolitan Mastiff Club encourages all Mastino breeders to: adopt health-screening programmes prior to breeding ensuring that, all breeding is carefully planned with the health and the temperament of the sire and dam being of primary Importance and, to breed only from registered dogs and bitches that are clear from known hereditary conditions and diseases and that conform as closely as possible to the breed standard. To this end, it is hoped that Neapolitan Mastiff puppies will have come from parents that were selected based upon their genetic disease profile, that the dam will have been vaccinated, regularly boosted, free of all internal and external parasites and properly nourished throughout her life, she would have had a stress free environment in which to rear her pups and would have equipped them with the necessary components to see them through their first few months of life. The husbandry of our Neapolitan Mastiff puppies is then entrusted to their new guardians.

Prevention is Better than Cure:
Without a shadow of doubt, prevention is better than cure; It is much easier, less costly, and more effective to practise preventative medicine than to fight continual bouts of illness and disease. Preventative Medicine can be described as good Husbandry and husbandry of the Neapolitan Mastiff is a common-sensical affair that includes: Inoculating, worming, housing, feeding, caring, exercising, training, and socializing, with a whole lot of love thrown in for good measure. Attention and routine are key elements in the husbandry of the Mastino. The Mastino thrives on attention and the attention afforded him in his husbandry routines cannot fail to help him flourish.

Inoculations and Worming: Essential to the husbandry of all dogs. As are regular boosters and follow-up visits to the veterinary surgery, thus enhancing rapport with vet and ensuring that health is regularly monitored. Your vet should note low immunity and intolerance of high doses of anesthetic & antibiotics.

Housing: Some Neapolitans happily reside inside, some happily reside out, dependant upon dog and owner. What must be remembered for dogs that reside outside is, the interaction with family unit. A Neapolitan Mastiff cannot be expected to spend his entire life on the outside looking in and denied access to his family, without it having a detrimental affect on his health. Sleeping arrangements are again dependant upon dog and owner but start as you mean to go on. Kennels should be dry and warm in winter, cool in summer, Bedding should provide adequate insulation and help to prevent calluses from forming.

Feeding: Feeding the Neapolitan is a matter of trial and error, all owners and breeders have their own opinions on what and how to feed and all puppies differ in their requirements. The golden rule with Neapolitans is, once happy and settled on a completely balanced diet and feeding regime, stick to it, as any change can upset your youngster’s metabolism. Neapolitans do not advocate change.
It is a mistake to overfeed a puppy and allow it to become too heavy, too soon, as noted above, excessive weight will put too much stress on the rapidly growing joints and encourage digestive problems. As a very rough guide it is recommended that you should be able to feel the ribs in a growing puppy but should not be able to see them. It has been noted that, like most pups, Neapolitan Mastiff puppies do very well on diets containing protein levels of approx 30% but at about 4 months aim for levels of 27%, at 6 to 9 months around 25% at approx 12 months 23%, and by about 18months of age the Mastino should be quite balanced on protein levels of approx 20%. This would help the puppy to keep his weight down as a youngster and build it up as an adult. Weight loss or weight gain without decreased or increased intake requires further investigation.
The best indicator of how well the puppy is adapting to his feeding regime are his stools. The colour, consistency and odour of puppies stools, will indicate how well his body is functioning on his diet. In general, stools should be brown in colour, darker rather than lighter, quite small well-formed links, moist but not wet, firm but not hard, and it should have an odour, but it should not smell offensive. Persistent diarrhoea is cause for concern and requires further investigation.
As Neapolitans continue developing, up to the age of 3 to 4 years, a completely balanced nutritious diet, is absolutely necessary, to maintain his health, condition and humungous growth throughout this period.

Caring: As noted above: Neapolitans in general, do not have very strong immune systems. The immune system can be caused to function poorly by many different factors including stress. A Neapolitan stresses out very easily, such things which cause stress are: separation anxiety, excessive heat (heat exhaustion), moving to a strange place, teething in puppies, seasons in bitches, whelping and lactation, and any type of change to their routine. A happy, unstressed, dirty Neapolitan will be far more resistant to infection, than a stressed-out clean Neapolitan.
If Neapolitans are kept clean and parasite-free, they do not really have severe problems with their skin, but the potential for skin problems exists because of their lower than normal immune system. Dewlaps and chins are usually always moist and warm from perspiration or drool, add a little dried on food and you have the perfect media for bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi cause infection, infection causes irritation, irritation causes the dog to scratch, the scratching causes inflammation and stress, the perfect breeding ground for the demodex mange mites. Regular grooming ensures that skin can be monitored and maintained. Any persistent scratching or skin eruption requires further investigation.

Exercise, Training, and Socialisation: As much about quality time with your Mastino as they are about husbandry. As reiterated above the Neapolitan thrives on attention, he is quite easy to train because he’s intelligent and he picks things up quickly as he’s very eager to please.
Exercise regimes should begin the moment inoculations are complete and should be increased gradually from a five-minute wander to two-mile hike over a period of 18 months (2 mile hike is an example, exercise is dependant upon dog, age, health & stamina). Any lameness, muscle weakness, inability or reluctance to exercise is cause for concern & requires further investigation.
Obedience Training is a must, as is Voice control, and a definite asset to the Neapolitan owner, emphasize the tone of your voice, if he pleases, annoys, or amuses you, emphasize it, he soon picks it up, and as he ages, he uses his knowledge and understanding of the tone of your voice to act accordingly.
The socialization of your puppy is an absolute necessity if you are to live harmoniously with your adult Neapolitan. Never allow your puppy to behave in an aggressive manner to anyone, a puppy that learns that he can assert his authority over people by growling, will be an uncontrollable liability as an adult. socialisation will in no way diminish the Neapolitan Mastiffs ability to guard. A bad temperament is cause for concern and requires further investigation.