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pdf Breeding_the_Difficult_Mastiff.pdf (32.96 KB, 44 views)
pdf Emergency_Care2009.pdf (41.11 KB, 26 views)
pdf Heat_Stroke_and_The_Giant_Breed_Dog2009.pdf (27.36 KB, 32 views)
pdf My_Mastiff_Threw_Up2009.pdf (39.72 KB, 37 views)
pdf The_Limping_Mastiff.pdf (26.60 KB, 78 views)
pdf The_Mastiff_and_Skin_Problems.pdf (34.08 KB, 73 views)
pdf The_Mastiff_and_the_Golden_Years_Part_1-2009.pdf (40.58 KB, 38 views)
pdf The_Mastiff_and_the_Golden_Years_Part_2_-_2009.pdf (38.50 KB, 29 views)
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pdf The_Mastiff_and_the_Thyroid.pdf (26.83 KB, 78 views)
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Emergency Care
by Robin M. Smith, DVM

In a serious emergency first aid cannot take the place of a veterinarian's professional services. Knowing how to provide assistance in an emergency, however, will influence the outcome of the case and will, in many instances, save an animal's life.

There is a time to assist your animals yourself, a time to telephone your veterinarian, and a time to seek professional assistance immediately. The purpose of this article is to help you select the proper action and hopefully, to give you assistance in those infrequent situations when you are unable to get your pet to the veterinarian. There will be occasions when no first aid treatment is appropriate and only veterinary services can be helpful. It is my hope that in this and following articles, it will enable you to better distinguish between the two.

Before I begin, I want to stress the importance of a good relationship with your veterinarian. This relationship should be comfortable enough that you feel that you can call and ask anything of your veterinarian. The veterinarian should provide you with advice, care and helping you understand conditions involving your pet and should be willing to see them in emergencies or refer to someone who can take care of them, i.e. an emergency hospital. These days with the ever growing pet population and the growing demands on veterinarians, a lot of veterinarians are using emergency hospitals to refer emergencies to. This is not because they do not value your business, but by providing a referral veterinarian who does only emergencies, as I do, your veterinarian is giving you the best care. A veterinarian who is up all night cannot function well the next day to see their regular clients. Also, most veterinarians do not have 24 hour care that some of the animals in emergency crisis need. So keep this in mind when your veterinarian sends you to an emergency clinic, it is the best thing in most situations.

The first thing you should have on hand in emergency situations, and actually you should do this now, is an updated record on all of your pets that includes their shot records and past medical history. In case you are referred to an emergency clinic, this helps the veterinarian who has never seen your pet.

Accident and Injuries

1.) Abdominal Distention
There are several reasons for an acutely distended abdomen and the degree of importance varies with its severity. Simple overeating is common in puppies and is normally not serious. However, gastric dilation and volvulus (twisting) is the utmost emergency. Abdominal distention's which need emergency treatment include severe overeating, overdrinking, air swallowing, and gastric dilation and volvulus.

Overeating: All breeds of any age are susceptible to overeating and overdrinking but it occurs more commonly in puppies or in animals that have not eaten regular meals.

Causes: Consumption of large quantities of food, Eating garbage, Excessive consumption of water after eating dry food, excessive water consumption following exercise or the unavailability of water for abnormally long periods of time.

Signs: Swollen abdomen, possible vomiting or retching groaning.

Treatment: Prevent further access to food or water and keep quiet and provide plenty of fresh air. ANIMALS WITH SEVERE ABDOMINAL DISTENTIONS AND RESPIRATORY DISTRESS MUST RECEIVE VETERINARY ATTENTION.

Gastric Dilation/Volvulus

Definition: This is seen most often in large and giant breed dogs and deep chested dogs. That accumulation of gas in the stomach causes distention and a concurrent twisting of the stomach on its axis (volvulus). Its exact cause is unknown, but there is interference with blood circulation and shock, coma and death can occur in 2-3 hours. It is believed that the distention occurs before the twisting and may or may not follow ingestion of a large meal.

Signs: Enlarged abdomen, abdomen painful, especially when touched, and may sound tympanic if thumped with the forefinger. Excess salivation with unsuccessful attempts to vomit. Difficult breathing, evidence of shock (will cover later) and reluctance to move and often refusal to lie down or they lie down and will not move.


2.) Bleeding
Management of external bleeding: Use proper restraint and avoid excitement. First try to control bleeding by direct pressure or a pressure bandage. Apply a tourniquet AS A LAST RESORT - only if blood loss becomes critical and SEEK immediate help.

Severe bleeding must receive immediate attention regardless of what other injuries are present. Bleeding from minor cuts and wounds generally stop within a few minutes. Profuse external bleeding resulting from blood vessel damage can usually be controlled by applying firm, direct pressure over the wound with a sterile or clean gauze or cloth such as a handkerchief or T-shirt.

Arterial blood will flow irregularly in time with the heartbeat and will be bright red; whereas blood from a vein will flow evenly and be dark red. Apply additional pressure between the heart and the wound from an artery and below the wound for a vein.

Application of a pressure bandage is normally the safest and best way to stop bleeding. Apply a sterile or clean cloth or sanitary napkin directly over the wound and bandage the area firmly with a 2-3" gauze roll. Torn strips of cloth approximately 3" across by 4' long made from bedding sheet or soft material can serve very well. Secure the gauze in place with adhesive, electrical or masking tape, or by tying the cloth together. Avoid frequent removal of the bandage to check the wound because bleeding may start again.

Application of a tourniquet should be reserved for bleeding that cannot be controlled by direct pressure, such as a severely mangled or crushed leg or tail. A tourniquet made of a 2" wide gauze bandage or cloth or necktie should be applied directly ABOVE the wound and should be released every 10 minutes. When properly adjusted there should be oozing from the wound and you should be able to place a finger under the bandage when it is in place. Do not apply a tourniquet unless absolutely necessary.

Bleeding from the ear, footpad or penis can result in fatal hemorrhaging and the potential seriousness of these types of cuts cannot be overemphasized. Normal clotting of blood in an ear injury is prevented by the whip-like action of the ear during head shaking. To prevent this, bind the head with a roll of gauze or tape or use a nylon or knee sock with the bottom cut out. A bleeding footpad should have a pressure bandage applied.

Hemorrhaging from the penis can frequently be slowed or controlled by applying cold compresses to the area. A female in season will excite the male causing uncontrollable hemorrhage. Remove the male from the area to avoid this complication.

Toenail Bleeding: One of the most frequent calls I get at the emergency hospital is from the client who cuts a nail too short and cannot stop the bleeding. Sometimes these nails bleed, at least to the layman, a lot. I first recommend using a bar of wet soap and having the person put the dogs' nail into the cake of soap to cover it. I also recommend flour or baking soda made into a mush and putting this on the nail. It is best to have the dog lying on its side when all these ate attempted because this relieves a lot of pressure on the foot. If it still continues to bleed profusely, you can wrap the foot in a bandage, BUT not too tightly.

3.) Management of Internal Bleeding
Seek veterinary help ASAP. Treat for shock (covered later) and do not give the animal anything to eat or drink. IMPORTANT - Internal hemorrhaging should be considered a possibility following any sharp blow or injury to the abdomen or chest. This is especially true if hit by an automobile.

Severe bleeding will cause the animal to show signs of shock and should be treated accordingly. Coughing up bright red, foamy blood indicates injury to the mouth, trachea and lungs. Vomit or excrement that is a bright red t dark reddish-brown may indicate injury to the stomach or intestines.

Signs of Internal Bleeding: Pale mucus membranes (the gum color above the teeth, it should be pink). (Of course one has to take into consideration the black pigment). When you put pressure on the gums and release, the gums should immediately be white and within a couple seconds should be pink again. Panting.

4.) Choking
A true obstruction of the throat is rare in small animals, but dangerous when it does occur. It occurs more commonly in puppies or in some of the shorter nosed breeds. The presence of foreign bodies or wounds in the mouth or throat that do not obstruct air passage are much more common.

Obstruction of the Throat

Causes: Objects such as rubber balls or pieces of meat lodge in the back of the phyarynx or esophagus, throat swelling caused by insect stings or infection, allergic reactions that can cause throat swelling or the ingestion or inhalation of something irritating.

Signs: Sudden difficult breathing cyanosis (blue tongue) and collapse.

Treatment: Pull the tongue forward and inspect the throat (be very careful not to get bitten by the anxious animal). Hold the mouth open and carefully remove the object. Strike the side of the rib cage with the palm of your hand 3 - 4 times while the animal is lying on its side. Stand behind a large dog and lift up its forelegs while giving 3 - 4 forceful compressions on both sides of the chest.

Foreign Bodies in the Mouth or Esophagus

Signs: Apprehension, choking or gagging, salivation or spitting up white or blood-tinged phlegm, pawing at mouth and rubbing the side of the head on the ground.

Treatment: Press the thumb and forefinger of one hand into the upper cheeks, forcing the mouth to open wide. Gently remove the object with your fingers or a pair of long-nosed pliers. If wounds exist or the foreign body cannot be removed easily, please see a veterinarian.

5.) Convulsions/Seizures
Convulsions or seizures can be violent, and are involuntary contractions of the voluntary muscles. They are either acquired (secondary to some other cause) or congenital (those suspected to be of an inherited nature). There are many causes. The primary concern is not to determine its cause but to administer appropriate care for the animal. Minor seizures may last from a few minutes to a minute or to, with or without loss of consciousness. Major seizures last from a few minutes to several minutes and are characterized by the apparent loss of consciousness.

Signs: Restlessness with frightened or dazed appearance, hiding or wandering, head shaking, salivation, licking of the lips and snapping the jaw, dilated pupils, violent muscle contractions and s ometimes rapid leg movements, greatly increased respiratory rate and loss of urine and bowel control. Immediately following a seizure there is a period of confusion, disorientation, pacing, salivation, weakness, and temporary visual impairment.

Treatment: An animal with convulsions can be frightening and upsetting. Remain as calm as possible and intervene only as indicated. Treatment is limited to preventing injury to the animal and to you. During the seizure an animal has no conscious control over its actions. A completely effective treatment for a seizure at the time it happens is not practical since it involves an intravenous injection of an anticonvulsant drug. Do not physically restrain, keep children away, never place fingers between teeth and make the animal comfortable. Keep the pet on the floor and prevent it from falling. Use a blanket or coat for padding and protection. Keep the area quiet.

IMPORTANT: Continuos seizures require immediate medical attention. Poisons are a common cause of convulsions and should be treated accordingly.

6.) Ear Injuries

Causes: Bite wounds, foreign bodies inside the ear canal such as grass lawns and seeds, insect bites and infections.

Signs: Violent head shaking, scratching at the ears and neck, dragging ear along on floor, tilting the head to one side, tenderness when ear is handled, unusual odor, discharge from the ear and swelling of the ear.

Treatment: Control bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound. Apply a head bandage to maintain pressure and prevent head shaking. You can clip the wound area and apply an antiseptic cream to it. If there is a foreign body and it is visible, try to remove it. Temporary relief of pain can be provided by pouring a bland oil, such as mineral, baby or olive oil, directly into the ear canal.

Complications: Hematomas are accumulations of blood between the cartilage and skin of the ear and may develop secondary to excessive head shaking and scratching. Surgical treatment is usually required.

7.) Eye Injuries
Proper initial emergency care not only relieves pain bit may also prevent permanent loss of vision. At our emergency hospital, anyone who calls in with a pet that has an eye injury, no matter how small, are strongly encouraged to bring the pet into the hospital.

Causes: Foreign bodies such as grass lawns, sawdust, and dirt are all potential sources. Lacerations and contusions result from fights, car accidents, blows and cat scratches. Chemical irritants such as acids or alkalis are also some causes.

Signs: Rubbing and pawing at the face/eyes, eye tightly shut, eyelids swollen, watering of the eyes, sensitive to light.

Treatment: Since the eyes are very delicate organs almost all injuries should be examined promptly by a veterinarian. If the foreign body is easily assessable, remove it. No attempt should be made to remove an object closely adherent to the surface of the eye. Irrigate the eye with eyewash and avoid touching or wiping the eyeball. Hemorrhage in the white of the eye (sclera) usually clears in a couple of weeks. However, it suggests the possibility of a more serious injury inside the eye with a dye to ascertain if there is a corneal injury or not. This is important as some medications, especially those with steroids, can make a corneal injury worse. That is why it is important to not put any medications in the eye without first checking with a veterinarian.

8.) Electrical Shock

Causes: Biting through live wires such as electrical cords, blankets or lighting.

Signs: Violent muscle contractions with the inability to release an electrically charges object, collapse and unconsciousness, no evidence of a heartbeat or pulse, no breathing, cyanosis (blue) signs of shock and burns.

Treatment: The first step is to separate the animal from the electrical source. It is very important not to touch the animal directly or use an object that conducts electricity or is wet. Shut off the current as a circuit breaker or fuse box. Disconnect an electrical cord from its connection. Push away with a dry pole or board while standing on something dry. GET TO A VETERINARIAN!

9.) Allergic Reactions
A potentially fatal, acute, generalized reaction caused by hypersensitivity in the body to certain materials or drugs. NOTE: Animals may go into shock within 1 to 15 minutes after contacting the offending substance. Death can occur rapidly, but fortunately anaphylactic shock is not common in small animals.

Signs: Restlessness, local swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, and collapse.

Treatment: An injection of epinephrine should be given immediately by a veterinarian. Establish an airway; treat for shock if necessary. The veterinarian may keep the dog overnight to observe and may treat with antihistamines and/or steroids as needed.

Hives/Muzzle Swelling

Causes: Insect bites contact with chemicals.

Signs: Swellings develop within 10-30 minutes from an insect bite or from an ingested drug, within several hours, swelling of the face, head, lips, ears, or any surface of the body. The eyelids swell and the dog may rub its mouth and eyes along the ground.

Treatment: Wash the animal free of any chemical residues, cold pack the insect bites. Treat for shock.

In cases of allergic reactions that are mild, sometimes the use of an antihistamine is necessary. I use Benadryl and give it as a dose of 25 mg. For dogs under 50 lbs. (never use in dogs under 20 lbs.) and in dogs larger that that, I use 50 mg. and never use more unless instructed by a veterinarian. Antihistamines can increase pressure so make sure you keep an eye on your dog after administering. They will also make the dog sleepy.

Frostbite/Cold Exposure

Freezing of tissue usually occurs in the peripheral parts of the body which are sparsely covered with hair and where circulation of blood is poor. In dogs the most common sites affected are the scrotum, ears, feet, teats, and tail.

Signs: Flushed and reddened tissues, white or grayish tissues, evidence of shock, scaliness of the skin and possible sloughing of the surface tissue.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT RUB OR MASSAGE FROZEN TISSUES. NEVER APPLY SNOW OR ICE. Tissue damage is greatly increased if thawing is followed by refreezing.

Treatment: Prevent further contact or exposure and prevent self-mutilation of the area. Warm the affected area rapidly by immersing in warm water (102-105 degree F), or use warm moist towels that are changed frequently. Discontinue warming as soon as the affected tissues become flushed. Gently dry the affected tissues, lightly wrap in a clean, dry bandage, and protect from further injury. SEEK VETERINARY ASSISTANCE!

10.) Shock
Since I have referred to treating shock several times I will try to explain what it is. Shock is the failure of the cardiovascular system to provide the body tissues with adequate oxygen.

Causes: Severe injury, blood loss, fluid loss (vomiting/diarrhea), poisoning, infection, heart failure, obstructions to breathing, electrical burns, and drowning.

Signs: Gums/lips are pale in color and dry. The pulse is weak and rapid. Breathing is irregular, shallow and rapid. The pupils are dilated and there is a cool feeling to the skin and legs. There may be weakness, collapse or unconsciousness.

Treatment: Keep the animal quiet. Clear the air passages and maintain them free of mucus, blood and vomit. Control any bleeding. Keep warm by wrapping in blankets or place in heated car. Transport to a veterinary hospital immediately. Fluids may be carefully given by mouth if medical treatment is not available within 2 to 3 hours. DO NOT give fluids to unconscious, vomiting, or convulsing animals. Use a warm water solution of ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda for each quart of water. Administer 1 ounce for each 30 lbs. Of body weight every 20-30 minutes for a total of 4-5 doses.

11.) How to Take an Animals Vital Signs

Capillary Refill Time: This is a measurement of blood flow through the body. Roll the animal's lip back and press down on a non-pigmented area of the gums with one finger. This area should turn from pink to almost white in color. Once the pressure is removed, the pink color should return within 1 to 2 seconds. If it takes longer, impaired capillary return is present which is a sign of shock.

Respirations: Watch or feel the animal’s chest rise and fall. Count the rise and fall of the chest for 15 seconds than multiply by 4 to get the respiration's/minute. Normal respiratory rate should be 10-30 respiration's per minute.

Pulse: Place a hand over the chest to feel the heartbeat or place your first two fingers on the inside part of the thigh and count the heartbeats for 15 seconds then multiply by 4 for beats/minute. Note whether it is strong or if you can barely feel it. Normal pulse should be 60-120 beats/minute.

Temperature: Use a rectal thermometer only (one that has a rounded end bulb). Insert the thermometer into the rectum of the animal for 1 minute. Normal temperature should be 101-102 degrees F.

Assessing Hydration: Many times I ask the client to check if their fog is physically dehydrated, especially when vomiting or having diarrhea. The best way to check is to pick up the skin on the scruff of the neck and let it go. If it returns right back into place, the dog is not dehydrated. If it is slow in returning into place, the animal is dehydrated. Sometimes you can assess dehydration in puppies by looking at their urine. The urine should be as clear as water or light yellow, never dark yellow as this is a sign of dehydration.

12.) Hit By a Car
This is probably the most common cause of an animal being presented to an emergency hospital. First, calm the animal. If it is walking, have it lie down and note whether it was limping. Look at the gums and capillary refill time. Notice any bleeding. Notice whether the eyes are small, pinpoint, or dilated.

If the animal cannot get up: DO NOT TRY TO GET THEM UP. Get a heavy-duty board to help transport the animals. BUT FIRST, get some kind of gauze (a tie will do in a pinch) and tie it securely around the closed mouth as a muzzle. Even the best-tempered dogs can bite when in pain. After the muzzle is in place, get help and place the animal on a large board. You may want to use duct tape to keep the animal down. Treat only severe bleeding at this time by applying direct pressure or a tourniquet as previously mentioned. THEN GET TO A VETERINARY HOSPITAL. Do not worry about broken bones at this time. Make sure you mention to the veterinarian if you saw the dog limping, or if the dog was aware of its surroundings or anything that may help. Don't forget to tell the veterinarian about any drugs the dog is on. The hardest thing with our mastiffs is size. I have found that getting a large blanket and using this to transport the animal is easier that trying to pick the animal up.

Always Be Aware That a Painful Dog Will Bite.

Robin M. Smith, DVM

Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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Reply with quote  #3 

Heat Stroke and The Giant Breed Dog
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

Heat stroke is unfortunately a common occurrence I see in the emergency room during the summer months. Unless very prompt and aggressive treatment is obtained, many of these dogs will die. Personally, having been a veterinarian for many years and seeing all kinds of dogs affected by heat stroke, I must say that I believe our giant breeds, i.e. mastiffs, are more prone to heat stroke due to their size. Fortunately, most of our mastiffs are in the air-conditioning (in fact, most are sitting on top of the floor outlets). But, we do have summer shows and sometimes the mastiffs are not shown until in the afternoon when it is too hot. I have been known to not show a dog or advise people not to show a dog, if the mastiffs are not shown until the afternoon due to the stress on the dog. I also advise against showing in the afternoon on hot asphalt or pavement. There is one show in particular out here on the East Coast that does have pavement and no shade. If you do enter shows and it is a hot day, please try to stay under a tent, give the dog fresh water but only in small amounts at a time, and take along a towel to wet down and put over the dog. I must stress about the not drinking large amounts of water due to the potential for bloating, which is another devastating problem in our mastiffs. I suggest a spray bottle to spray the dog in the face or to spay in the mouth, thus limiting the quantity of water ingested. Due to the fact that most of our shows are in the summer heat, I thought I would discuss the problems that occur during heat stroke and what to watch for and what to do immediately if the situation happens to you and your dog.

First off, our mastiffs (and all dogs) perspire through panting and through their nose and pads of their feet. We sometimes forget that we, as humans, perspire all over, thus creating a moist skin environment, which has a cooling effect. So, our dogs will pant heavily when hot. That is not to say that heat exhaustion is occurring, it is a normal fact. I know you know mastiffs that pick out the cool concrete or wood floor or tile floor in your house to sleep. That is because of the cooling effect of these surfaces.

Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature is 106 degrees of higher and it does not take long to literally boil the internal organs. If this should occur in your mastiff, the first thing to do is to remove the dog from the environment where they overheated. I say environment, because heat related problems are not always due to a mastiff being outdoors. Being in cars, EVEN with the windows cracked, can be a death trap, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Or being in a kennel in an unairconditioned area, or in an area not subjected to good air circulation. So, take the dog to a shaded area or area with a fan as soon as possible. You may have to get help to move the dog, since collapse is possible with severe overheating. The first thing most people do is put ice cold water on the dogs. This is wrong. You use cool water, i.e. hose water or tap water but not ice cold water. Ice cold water causes the blood vessels in the skin to constrict or get smaller and thus will decrease the amount of coolness that can get to the inner core of the body which is what you want to cool down. If possible take their rectal temperature. Begin to cool the dog by wetting with cool water poured over the body. It is best to direct the water to the auxiliary areas (armpits) and groin areas since these areas are thin skinned and will absorb the coolness faster. I use a hose if possible and I will get towels soaked with cool water and put them in the groin and auxiliary areas. DO NOT LET THEM DRINK. Spray water in their mouths and put a cool towel over their heads to cover their nose, but not enough to restrict their panting. If available, apply alcohol to their pads of their feet, as the evaporation of alcohol cools even faster. Direct a fan at the dog to help with the evaporation process.

The second most important thing is to get them to a veterinarian as fast as you can. If you cannot get to the veterinarian. For example, if you are at home and your dog is outside and collapsed and you are by yourself, make a makeshift tent over the dog if possible and after wetting the dog down, use a small tube, like one you might have for your air pumps in a fish tank, or even a baster from the kitchen with the bulb taken off and put it gently (lubricated if possible) into the anus and get cool water into the rectum as soon as possible. Again, I do not suggest this unless you cannot get them into the hospital.

The most common sign of overheating is vigorous panting. I know our mastiffs pant a lot but you will see them panting much more than usual and their gums will be bright red. The dog may be lying on its side, unable to stand, although this is a late sign of overheating. Most of the time they are restless and agitated. Signs of shock will be evident, such as increased heart rate (over 120 beats per minute in a mastiff), they may have weak pulses (these are found in the groin area of your dog), they will be depressed and their eyes may appear glazed over. Again, since heat stroke is a disease that affects every organ system, the sooner you get them to a veterinarian the better.

When you arrive at the veterinary hospital, the dog MUST be treated aggressively because over 50% of these dogs develop a disease process called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation or DIC. Veterinarians used to call DIC "Dead in Cage" because in the past we rarely saved any dogs that developed this because we were not able to monitor certain parameters that would allow us to diagnose the disease. Now, there are more ways we can diagnose it and the best thing is that we can now prevent it before it can get too bad. DIC is a process where the body's clotting system is messed up and will affect all organs. As soon as the dog arrives, I put in two 14-gauge IV catheters (intravenous) so I can put in fluids fast. I will give up to 6-8 liters of fluids to a mastiff very rapidly, over 30 minutes. I will also add colloids or plasma because one of the most important things is to keep the clotting factors from leaking out of the blood vessels. Also, getting so much fluid will dilute the protein level of the dog and the protein is what keeps the blood in the vessels, like a "glue". One of the easiest tests that monitors whether clotting factors are leaking out of the blood vessels, which is one of the first signs of DIC is to check the albumin, a protein. If the albumin is low, or below 2, then I give plasma, up to 4 units in a mastiff. I get bloodwork at this time also to assess kidney and liver function. I will check clotting times also. We will monitor their temperatures and monitor their hearts by doing an EKG. Many of these dogs will develop arrhythmias, or abnormal heart beats, that need to be treated also. Antibiotics are important also. These dogs are put into intensive care and their clotting factors and body organ system parameters are checked every 2-4 hours. Most veterinary hospitals do not have the ability to monitor clotting factors, so the most important thing to monitor is the hematocrit (tells about the hydration status of the animal) and the total protein (tell about whether the blood vessels are getting leaky or not. If possible, the albumin is also monitored and kept above 2. I try to keep the hematocrit (Hct) above 30% in our mastiffs and the total protein (TP) above 4 gm/dl. If the Hct drops below 15% in the mastiff, I give whole fresh blood. If the Hct maintains itself and the TP drops below 4 gm/dl, I give plasma.

Again, treated aggressively, we can save some of these dogs, but the expense of treating a giant breed dog is great. You have to be able to handle $3000, in uncomplicated cases, to $5-6,000 in a complicated case and even then, the prognosis is very guarded. The expense comes from the monitoring and the blood and plasma transfusions. The best chance for survival is to catch it early and to have access to a 24 hours emergency critical care facility.

I hope none of you ever have to go through this with any of your mastiffs, but if you do, I hope I have at least given you enough information to be able to help your mastiff prior to getting to the veterinarian. And given you a realistic scenario that will occur if it does happen. This weekend, June 10-12, I saw 4 dogs, two with severe heat stroke. Fortunately, because the owners were willing to go all out, I was able to save the dogs even though they presented completely unconscious and with temperatures of 106 or higher. We aggressively treated them with plasma and a lot of monitoring. All of the dogs walked out of the clinic in the morning to their regular veterinarian.

If there are any questions, please feel free to e-mail me or call.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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Reply with quote  #4 

“My Mastiff Threw Up…Should I Be Worried?”
(When and Why You Should Call Your Vet)
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

One of the most common questions I get while on duty at the veterinary emergency hospital and from fellow Mastiff lovers is, "My Mastiff vomited, but he is acting okay otherwise; what should I do?" The following article will offer some suggestions for at-home measures to relieve vomiting, and then I will try to cover the most common causes of vomiting that I see in the emergency situation: pancreatitis, kidney disorders, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, obstruction, and gastric dilatation and volvulus.

Because vomiting is a clinical sign and not a diagnosis, a thorough history is needed. One of the first things I need to know is whether the dog is actually vomiting or not. Regurgitation is often thought to be vomiting. Regurgitation is the passive expulsion of a food bolus from the esophagus. It involves only the gag reflex, while vomiting is a reflex act that results in the forceful expulsion of gastric contents through the mouth. Many dogs will regurgitate after eating fast and gulping food. But vomiting should not be a common occurrence. A one-time vomiting incident is nothing to get alarmed about. When a dog vomits several times, however, I get concerned.

When to Call the Vet
The first thing to do at home is to withhold food and water for 12 hours. This is because any intake will stimulate the gut and cause vomiting again ... so take away the water and food, but only if your dog is acting fine in every other way and is not dehydrated. If you are not sure, call your veterinarian. If the dog keeps vomiting after withholding water, take it immediately to the veterinarian.

If no vomiting occurs in 12 hours, then you may give some ice cubes followed by water. If no vomiting occurs, then give a small amount of a bland diet. A bland diet consists of boiled hamburger or white chicken and white rice. If the dog vomits, stop all oral intake and call your veterinarian.

When you take your Mastiff to the veterinarian for vomiting, the veterinarian will ask you the dog's history: did the dog get into any "people food" or garbage, get exposed to poisons, etc. Please mention any change of dog food and any change in behavior. And if you know that some of the dog's toys (such as "bones," etc.) are missing, please let your veterinarian know.

When describing your dog's history, please also tell your veterinarian if you have given the dog any drugs, such as aspirin. Aspirin can cause a severe gastric disease which can lead to vomiting. I once had to do an emergency surgery on a Mastiff that had been given one aspirin for pain. The aspirin caused a stomach ulcer and perforated (tore a hole through) the stomach, and surgery was done to stop the bleeding and repair the hole in the stomach. So, please do not give any medication, prescription or not to a dog unless you understand the side effects.

After obtaining the history, the veterinarian will perform a complete examination. I always look inside the mouth and examine the teeth and gums and back of the throat. I examine the neck and the chest. I find out if the dog has had any diarrhea. And I palpate (or feel) the abdomen.

If the dog is not painful in the abdomen and is not dehydrated, I may consider treating the dog on an outpatient basis. I will handle this conservatively, especially if there is a history of changing dog foods or the dog getting into the garbage. I will give the dog an injection to help calm the stomach and instruct the owners to keep the dog off food for 24 hours, then give ice cubes. If no vomiting occurs, they can give water and then gradually introduce a bland diet. This is considered a simple gastroenteritis.

More than likely, if the dog can be treated on an outpatient basis, the animal will be back to normal in 24-48 hours. But if during the examination there is any evidence of abdominal pain or dehydration, I will recommend bloodwork and x-rays.

Among the things I am looking for in the bloodwork is an increase in the pancreatic enzymes and the white blood cell count. If I see an elevation of lipase, cholesterol and glucose, I will diagnose a pancreatitis and obtain radiographs. I get radiographs to rule out other causes of vomiting such as a foreign body which can cause a secondary pancreatitis. The x-rays of a dog with pancreatitis will more than likely be normal, or there may be a hazy appearance in the area of the pancreas.

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas has been overstimulated and is producing excess enzymes. These enzymes will start to digest the pancreas itself and create havoc in the body.

Pancreatitis is one of the most devastating diseases I see. Once the pancreas gets so inflamed, it starts sending out particular molecules that affect the rest of the body, even the heart. While an inflamed pancreas in itself is not terribly serious, its secondary effects can cause so many complications, such as kidney failure and heart arrhythmia's (abnormal heartbeats).

Once a diagnosis of pancreatitis has occurred (depending on its severity), there are several things that can be done. I always put an IV catheter in the dog in order to administer intravenous fluids. The dog MUST not take anything by mouth for at least 24 - 48 hours. So we start the dog on fluids and antibiotics. Sometimes we also have to administer plasma in order to keep up the animal's protein level. Usually this only occurs in the severely affected cases.

We also must give the dog some types of medication to keep them from vomiting. After 48 hours, if there is not vomiting, we will give ice cubes, followed by a bland diet. If the vomiting continues, we will have to consider parental feedings. This is a mixture of amino acids, fats and carbohydrates that is mixed together and fed through the IV line providing full nutrition to the pet.

All of this can be very expensive. To hospitalize a Mastiff for pancreatitis and to feed it through an IV line can be as much as $500-$1000 a day. But, pancreatitis can be a very devastating disease.

Kidney Disorders
Kidney disease is another common reason for vomiting. It's possible that the bloodwork taken during examination may show an elevation of the kidney enzymes. When the kidney starts to fail, the enzymes will increase in the bloodstream and can cause stomach ulcers. If this becomes the case, then the mainstream of therapy would be fluids to dilute the enzymes and bring the values back into normal range. This can take many days of intensive intravenous therapy with monitoring of electrolytes. Sometimes, we repeat the kidney function tests in 48 hours, but usually we do not see too much of a change (of course, that depends on the cause) for one to two weeks after therapy.

Does this mean the dog should be hospitalized for two weeks? Not usually. Once the dog is eating and not vomiting, we send them home and recheck them in one to two weeks. We need to discover the cause of the kidney failure, so I will often ask to perform a kidney biopsy. We use an ultrasound-guided biopsy technique that is much safer than the older blind techniques.

Sometimes, the IV fluid therapy does not work and we must do some peritoneal lavage. During this procedure, a long catheter is placed into the abdomen, allowing fluid to go in; the fluid sits there a certain designated time and is then removed. This hopefully will decrease the kidney enzymes.

If all else fails, we will recommend sending the dog to a referral center for hemodialysis. As you probably are already aware, this is very expensive, especially for a Mastiff.

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis
I see a lot of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in emergency situations. The dog presents with sudden onset of vomiting blood and will have bloody diarrhea that is described as 'jam'. We are unsure what causes this condition, but fortunately -- with early treatment -- the prognosis is good. The hallmark of diagnosis is an elevated hematocrit, which tells us about the hydration status. It is usually very elevated.

Death can occur without treatment. Treatment consists of intravenous fluids and sometimes plasma for a period of one to two days along with antibiotics.

Another reason for vomiting can be an obstruction. Usually the dog will continuously vomit, the vomiting can be very forceful at times, and the abdomen is painful. Rawhides and bones are common causes of obstructions. I have also removed blankets and cassette tapes from animal intestines. If your Mastiff undergoes a surgical procedure for removal of a foreign body, the time required in the hospital will depend on whether intestines were removed or not. If not, the recovery time will be just a few days. If intestines were removed, recovery time can be up to a week. The problem with intestinal surgery is that any time the intestines are even touched, they will stop working and a condition called "ileus" can occur. This condition causes the intestines to stop working and accumulate gas and fluid, and this can be extremely painful. To keep this from happening, certain drugs such as reglan are used, which stimulate the movement of intestines. Again, IV fluids and antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment for any intestinal surgery. Costs can run anywhere from $1500 in uncomplicated cases to $4,000 in complicated cases.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus
But of these aforementioned conditions, perhaps the big fear of all Mastiff owners is gastric dilatation and volvulus. This is when the stomach distends with food or gas and can then twist on its axis. This will cut off circulation to the intestines and the spleen, and it is a serious, life-threatening condition. The dog may try to vomit, but bring up only foam. The dog will be very uncomfortable. The abdomen will be very distended or swollen. If this happens, take the dog to the veterinarian immediately. This condition is a race against time.

When presented with this type of case, the veterinarian will immediately get a x-ray to determine whether the stomach is turned or not. The current thinking is that no matter what is happening, you should open the dog up and inspect the insides. Even if the stomach is not twisted, it will put so much pressure on the rest of the organs and blood vessels, that the circulation is cut off and one cannot assess the organs unless surgery is performed. I will always have some blood on hand when I do these surgeries because many times the spleen is involved and may need to be removed, and a lot of bleeding can occur.

When a dog is brought into my emergency clinic with gastric distention and the dog is in shock, I may forgo the x-ray, because no matter whether the stomach is twisted or not, I am going to advise surgical exploration. I may relieve some of the pressure by putting a 16-gauge needle into the stomach to let out air. I do not remove all of the air; in fact, I only remove a small amount, because it has been shown that removing the air too quickly (called decompression) can actually make matter worse. You would be opening up the circulation, and all of the toxic substances that have built up would now be released into the systemic circulation, which will add to the shock state.

I put an IV catheter in the front leg, and preferably will use 2 catheters. In a Mastiff, I will use the largest catheters that I have, which would be 14-gauge. I immediately start a balanced electrolyte solution, like lactated ringers, and give it at "shock rate" to help keep the blood pressure up. For a Mastiff, shock rate can be anywhere from 10,000 ml. of fluid to almost 20,000 ml. of fluid. Yes, that is a tremendous amount. That equals anywhere from 10-20 one-liter bags of fluids!

I generally will put in enough fluid to increase the blood pressure to normal. This can be just a few bags to 10 bags. That is why I monitor blood pressure, so I can know when to stop. Plus, if there is any bleeding inside the animal from a twisted spleen, you can actually increase the amount of bleeding, due to giving to many fluids. So, as you can see, there is a delicate balance.

I NEVER pass a stomach tube, due to the fact that the stomach is so distended and stretched and the walls of the stomach are very weak... and by passing a tube, it can easily puncture through the stomach and cause more of a problem. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to do emergency procedures on an animal in which the regular veterinarian passed a stomach tube ... and then I did surgery on the animal and found a ruptured stomach. I know there are many veterinarians who do pass stomach tubes because that is what we were taught. There probably are some cases where it won't hurt, but I would sure monitor the pet for several days after the procedure. I guess I just see so many "bloats" that I see a lot of complications, and I have just become comfortable with immediate surgical exploration. I would rather have a live dog after an uncomplicated surgery than a dog that is dying due to tissue death several days down the road, when I can't do anything to help it.

Bloodwork is drawn at this time and the dog is sedated. I draw blood because I want to know about any pre-existing conditions and how severe this condition is already. After sedation, I put in an endotracheal tube and put the dog on isoflorane (a gas anesthetic). We then very quickly prep the dog and take it to surgery. From the time the dog comes into the door to when I can usually get it on the surgery table is about 45 minutes. Some cases, I have actually had to wait longer so I could stabilize the animal before taking it to surgery.

Once in surgery, I will stick a large-gauge needle into the stomach to relieve the distention. Then I will derotate the stomach back into normal position. I assess the stomach wall to see if any part of it is dead or necrotic. If I can't tell, I will sometimes place the pulse oximeter (an instrument that measures oxygen flow) on the area to assess, or I may inject a flourescein dye into the vein and see if the vessels in the area of question show the dye (which would mean the area is okay). If there is a possibility of tissue death, then I remove what I can of the area. I have removed approximately 1/2 of the stomach and had the dog survive. The prognosis with having to remove part of the stomach is definitely very guarded. I may open the stomach and flush it out, or I may pass a stomach tube at this time and rinse out the stomach. I then will assess the spleen. I sometimes have to assess the spleen first because it is torn and bleeding and requires immediate removal. If there is any trouble getting the stomach derotated, I will remove the spleen also. I then will examine the whole intestinal tract and the rest of the organs, looking for possible obstructions. Then I do my preventative tacking of the stomach. There are several ways to do this and each one has its own benefits. Finally, I close the abdomen.

After surgery, the most critical time is the first 48 hours. This is when we can get serious sepsis (infection) and heart abnormalities. We monitor the dog on an EKG. We also monitor the total protein, the platelet count and the glucose and albumin, as well as the dog's temperature. We are monitoring for any signs of drops in protein (albumin) or glucose or platelets, which would indicate a serious infection. If we can prevent this from occurring, we are one step ahead.

Depending on what was done at surgery, recovery time can be anywhere from a couple of days to a week. Costs of this type of surgery and treatment in a Mastiff will run from $1,500 in an uncomplicated case to $4,500 in a complicated case.

Due to the advancement of critical care facilities for animals, we rarely will lose a pet to GDV. But, in order to give the dog the best chance, the owners must be committed to doing all possible and must have trust in the facility treating the pet. If you ever find yourself in an emergency facility and faced with a decision of treating or not, ask a lot of questions and demand full answers to your satisfaction. You need to know the risks as well as the benefits of all treatments. I advise going to your local emergency practice and getting to know them prior to having to utilize them. This way you will be much more comfortable with the caregivers there.

The Diarrhea Factor
Many times diarrhea occurs in our Mastiffs. As diarrhea can be from dietary indiscretion (eating something they shouldn't have eaten), from parasites, or from any of the disease processes listed above, it is worth discussing briefly at this time.

If diarrhea occurs once and I get a call from an owner and the dog is otherwise fine, I may suggest keeping the dog off food for 24 hours as I did above for the vomiting dog, then gradually introduce a bland diet. I may have the owners give Pepto-Bismol for the one-time diarrhea case in the otherwise healthy dog. I use about two ounces for a 100 lb. dog or 4 ounces for a 200 lb. dog.

But if the diarrhea recurs or does not improve, I want to check the animal. I will check a fecal first, both a direct and a flotation, looking for parasites. A common parasite that is overlooked is Giardia. It can easily be diagnosed on a direct fecal exam. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms, along with tapeworms, can all cause diarrhea and are easy to clear up.

Once diarrhea occurs and continues to occur, the dog will develop what is called bacterial overgrowth. This is when "bad" bacteria, namely clostridium, overrun all of the normal bacteria in the gut. I see this condition many times in our show dogs that are on the road and get diarrhea due to stress. When this occurs, no matter what the original cause is, the dog needs to be treated for this bacterial overgrowth. I commonly use metronidazole or generic flagyl at a dose of 50 mg/kg once a day for five days. Another common drug I will use is amforal. Amforal has an ingredient that coats the stomach and intestines; an ingredient that slows the gut down (stops cramping), and also has an antibiotic that stays in the gut. I use the bottle dosage for 48 hours. If after 48 hours the dog still has diarrhea, then I do some additional testing.

A complication of diarrhea and vomiting is intussusception. Due to the force of vomiting; the intestinal tract can "telescope" onto itself, causing a serious obstruction that needs immediate surgical intervention. The signs that this may be occurring are that the dog becomes very sick quickly -- so sick that it may not even be able to get up. Diagnosis is sometimes difficult, but x-rays and ultrasound can help with the diagnosis.

A common procedure done on vomiting pets is a barium swallow. Dye (barium) is given to the dog and x-rays are taken at different times to see the dyes transit time through the intestines. Foreign bodies and intussusception can be diagnosed this way. Most of the time, I find that the barium doesn't always give me an answer and if the dog continues vomiting, surgical exploration may be the only answer. I would rather do a surgical exploration on a healthy hydrated dog and find nothing, than a dog that is sick and going downhill when surgery is more of a risk. At least one can get biopsies and get a good look at all the organs.

One more cause of vomiting and diarrhea in our Mastiffs -- particularly in puppies -- is parvovirus. This can be a very devastating disease, but with aggressive and intensive treatment, most dogs can survive. The mainstay of treatment is fluids, plasma and antibiotics. The length of treatment depends, but can be two to seven days of hospitalization.

There are a lot more conditions that cause vomiting and diarrhea, but I hope that I have covered the major ones that I see. The important thing to remember is to not wait too long to get your dog to the veterinarian; the dog must be seen before it gets severely dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are sunken eyes, dry mucus membranes (like the gums) and tenting of the skin (the skin on the back of the neck staying tented when pinched, instead of immediately going back into place).

Conclusion If you know that the dog got into something or you changed its diet, you can probably wait 24 hours to see if the vomiting and diarrhea clear up, but only if the dog is fine and not lethargic, etc. You must withhold food for 24 hours and gradually start a bland diet. If at any time the dog becomes worse or does not respond, please see your veterinarian. I do not use many of the antidiarrheal medicines because these medicines can also make the dog lethargic, and it is difficult then to know when the dog is getting worse. The best way to stop diarrhea is to figure out what is going on and to treat the cause, not necessarily the diarrhea. BUT, if you don't know why the dog is vomiting or if it occurs more than once, please at least call your veterinarian and see if you should take the dog to be examined. I would rather see a dog early and not have to worry, than to see a dog that is already dehydrated and sick.

If I can be of assistance to any of you, please contact me. I am always available to help a Mastiff.

I would also like to take this time to thank Nelma Kramer, a veterinary assistant whom works with me at Westminster Veterinary Emergency Trauma and Critical Care Center, for doing a great job taking the pictures for my last article and this one. She also did all of my pictures for my presentation at the National Specialty. I cannot thank her enough.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Limping Mastiff
(Or When to Take Your Dog to the Veterinarian)
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

One of the main areas I get call regarding mastiffs is in the orthopedic department. The pups are growing just fine and then they start to limp. People want to know when they need to be concerned enough to take the dog to the veterinarian. I cannot say I have a magical time to take your dog to the veterinarian but I can try and describe some common problems with Mastiff puppies that I think all should be aware of as conditions that can affect your mastiffs.

Developmental orthopedic conditions are a common cause of lameness in our Mastiff puppies, unfortunately. Many of the cases have actually been present for several weeks, but the signs have just been so subtle. There are familial, nutritional and inherited components to many of these conditions. In the following paragraphs, I will try to explain some of these conditions to you and when you need to see the doctor.


Osteochondrosis is a developmental orthopedic condition in which a disturbance in the normal process of bone development results in thickening or retention of the articular cartilage on the end of the bone. The long bones are the most frequently affected. This thickened cartilage is prone to breaking off and if a cartilage flap develops, inflammation and degenerative joint disease may result and this condition is what is referred to as Osteochondritis dissecans.

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) occurs most frequently in rapidly growing, male, large and giant breed dogs. Genetic, nutritional, hormonal, and traumatic factors have all been implicated in the process. The most common sites of occurrence are the hock, stifle, elbow and shoulder joint.

In the hock, affected animals often develop clinical lameness by four or five months old. Most dogs display consistent weight-bearing lameness or intermittent non-weight bearing lameness. The affected hock can be swollen and painful. The diagnosis can be made by radiographing the joint.

In the stifle, OCD occurs infrequently. The affected dogs may become lame as early as three months of age.

In the elbow, there are three conditions that can occur: ununited anconeal process, osteochondrosis, and fragmented coronoid process.

In the shoulder joint, the story is a little different. Dogs usually do not show clinical lameness until six months of age or older. They may initially have mild, intermittent weight-bearing lameness but can progress to intermittent non-weight bearing lameness. In severely affected dogs, the shoulder muscles will atrophy. Movement of the shoulder joint can be very painful.

The diagnosis of OCD is confirmed by radiographs. There are certain locations of the various bones where these lesions are seen; therefore the veterinarian has to be familiar with the correct positioning of the dog to be sure to see the lesions. Once diagnosed, surgery can correct the problem or at least alleviate the pain involved.

The most common question I get about OCD is if it is inherited. As stated before, this disease is multifactorial, being due to nutrition, trauma, and hereditary causes. There is only one European paper in the literature that supports OCD being totally hereditary. Most other sources may suggest it is hereditary but cannot document for sure.


Panosteitis is an acquired inflammatory condition of unknown cause that affects the long bones of large and giant breed dogs. It affects males more than females, is often cyclic or recurrent, and typically it is a shifting leg lameness. Lameness may be accompanied by lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite. Pain is elicited when pressure is applied to the affected region. This condition can also be diagnosed by radiology. It shows up as a hazy appearance on the inside of the bones.

Most of the time, all that is needed to get the dog through this condition is strict confinement and aspirin therapy twice a day. The dog WILL outgrow this.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy

This is a developmental disease of unknown cause that primarily affects young, rapidly growing large and giant breed dogs. A genetic basis for the disease has not been established.

Clinical signs may develop between two months of age and the time of growth plate closure but typically manifest between two and four months of age.

This condition is easily diagnosed by radiology.

Ununited Anconeal Process

UAP occurs in large and giant breed dogs. The clinical abnormalities result from progressive degenerative joint disease. Affected animals may exhibit lameness as early as four months. The lameness is intermittent and may be exacerbated by exercise or prolonged rest. Affected dogs may sit or stand with the carpus (wrist) in a valgus position (bowing outward).

The diagnosis is confirmed by radiology. The fusion of the anconeal process may not be done until 16 - 24 weeks of age, so a diagnosis of UAP should not be made before 24 weeks of age.

Fragmented Coronoid Process

This condition affects the large and giant breed dogs also. The cause of the condition is still controversial. A hereditary basis for this condition has been suggested.

Clinical signs are rarely noted before five months of age. They will develop. There will be lameness that is made worse by exercise or prolonged rest.

A fragmented coronoid process is rarely identified radiographically because of the superimposition of the opposite coronoid process.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the most common developmental orthopedic condition that affects dogs. It is influenced by genetics, environmental and hormonal factors.

Some dogs may have an acute onset of hind limb and hip pain, but most dogs have more subtle clinical signs.

I am a proponent of nutrition being one of the causative factors of these disorders. I am a strong advocate of getting your puppy off the puppy food onto an adult dog food IF they are having problems, but not before. Another factor that is important is the flooring these puppies are on when young. It should be a good floor, which allows the dogs to have good footing.

So, now what? What do I do if my puppy starts to limp? You need to ask yourself various questions, i.e. Has your pup been excessively exercising? If the answer is no... read on. If the limping just started, make sure to examine the foot of the dog to make sure there are no needles or burrs in it. I recommend confining the dogs for 2 weeks and leash walk only. I also suggest aspirin 325 mg. (5 grain) for the inflammation.

If after two weeks, the limp is still there, or if after a few days of confinement, the limping is worse, I recommend seeing a veterinarian. Don't wait more than two weeks. All of our puppies can overdo and hurt themselves very easily, so allow them time to get over an injury that could have occurred, but DO NOT WAIT TOO LONG

I also will tell you to get the puppies off the puppy food or any high protein food or any vitamins. These puppies are growing very rapidly and we can slow this process down slightly. I recommend putting them on 21-23% adult food. And again, make sure the pups have good flooring for stability.

As you can see, unfortunately, because we love giant breed dogs, we must be very aware of these orthopedic conditions because we can try to alleviate some of the complications associated with these conditions.

If you have any specific questions on these conditions in your Mastiff, or, if you want to understand the different treatments for these conditions please feel free to contact me.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Mastiff and Skin Problems
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

I was asked to write an article about common skin problems in mastiffs and while I do encounter skin problems frequently in mastiffs, I must say it is not one of my favorite subjects. The primary reason I do not like dermatology or skin problems is because by the time I usually see the Mastiff in question the dog has been treated with a variety of different medications and ointments and the dog is no better and the owners are frustrated. What I plan to do is to describe what I commonly see in mastiffs and tell you how I try and diagnose the problem and treat this problem. Please, as I have always said, before doing anything or giving your dogs any medication, consult with your veterinarian and do not try to treat your Mastiff on your own.

As I stated, I frequently encounter very frustrated owners of mastiffs who have been to their veterinarians with skin problems. Over the years, my experience with mastiffs and their skin problems has taught me to treat each dog individually and how to rule out underlying problems before treating the disease. I must say that I have been very successful in treating Mastiff skin problems. The dog will not get better overnight but with proper diagnostics and therapy I can get most skin problems at least under control in 4-8 weeks.

As I go through the diagnosis and treatment of Mastiff skin problems, you must realize that there are thousands of skin conditions that are known. All I am going to talk about are the most common that I have seen relating ONLY to the Mastiff. This, in no way, means that the Mastiff cannot get other skin conditions and again, only your veterinarian will be able to thoroughly diagnose and treat your pet.

First, a general overview of the skin as an organ and its function is imperative to the understanding of the problems associated with the skin. The general function of the skin is that it maintains an effective, flexible barrier to the loss of water, electrolytes and macromolecules. It provides protection from physical, chemical and microbiological injury. The skin helps to preserve body heat. It is also a sense organ for touch, temperature, pain and itch. The skin is also a secretory organ. And lastly, Vitamin D is produced in the skin via solar radiation.

The skin is made up of the epidermis, the outer layer, and the dermis or inner layer which nourishes the epidermis and supports it.

The normal skin defenses are the hair, the epidermal layer, the sebum or oily secretions that have antibacterial properties, the skins immunoglobulins and the normal skin bacterial flora.

Note, that I said NORMAL flora. All skin has bacteria presiding on it. These include Staphylococcus and other species. The problem arises when there is a break in the barrier of the skin allowing access of these bacteria to deeper layers or allowing accumulation of bacteria to occur.

The MOST common skin condition that I see in the Mastiff is pyoderma, or cutaneous bacterial infection. The bacteria usually involved is Staphylococcus intermedius.. However, other bacteria can also be found. Staphylococcus intermedius is probably a normal inhabitant of the dogs mucous membranes and transiently colonizes the skin without necessarily causing disease unless some other factor leads to impairment of the skins' resistance. Most dog skin is rather resistant to bacterial disease, and pyoderma is usually regarded as a secondary phenomenon.

Mastiffs with pyoderma exhibit a range of lesions. Pustules are usually the hallmark of the disease but usually not seen since they are so fragile and burst before we recognize them. The first lesions are usually papules that will sometimes form pustules if seen. These are found usually in the groin, ventral abdomen, and axilla commonly. In some cases the dorsal trunk and neck are involved and patchy hair loss can be seen at these sites. By the time I see some of these cases, there are not many pustules or papules. It is in the more chronic state. I see scaling and epidermal collarette formation (round lesions that sometimes are mistaken for ringworm lesions), crusts, and extensive hair loss.

The dogs are often pruritic or itchy. This is probably due to the production of inflammatory toxins and enzymes by the bacteria.

There are also different classifications of pyoderma such as superficial and deep. I will not discuss these here.

I will try and describe a typical Mastiff pyoderma (if there is one). There is usually small black crusty lesions which seem to be more on the back and back of the neck. You can easily pull the hair out and the dog will start scratching when you run your hands through the back hair. The hair will feel oily and dirty. There may also be a nasty smell associated with this skin problem. Sometimes there are also ring type crusty lesions in the groin and ventral abdomen. All in all, the dog is miserable and you are too because it is nasty just petting them. Another common finding in mastiffs is a hair thinning skin darkening on the flanks of the dogs body and it is usually on both sides.

I try to get a good history as to when the symptoms first appeared, whether or not they are itchy and what has been done so far to treat them. I also like to know environmental conditions, what the dog eats and if the condition is seasonal. While I have encountered allergic type skin conditions in mastiffs, I have not found it to be very common as it is in other breeds.

With history in hand, I begin my diagnostics. Again, you must understand that I am usually the last resort for some of these dogs. I will obtain a full blood profile, a CBC and a chemistry panel and a thyroid panel sent to Michigan State. I will scrape all of the dogs to make sure that we are not dealing with an underlying mite or parasitic infection. I will scrape several areas. I will also do a fungal culture at this time. With the bloodwork, I am looking for any indication of a systemic problem since many diseases manifest themselves through skin lesions. I also do a urinalysis at this time. Most of the cases I see have negative skin scraping and their bloodwork is normal although I have encountered systemic infections in dogs that had severe pyodermas. It takes a few days to get the thyroid test results. I will also do a culture and sensitivity of the skin lesions. Hopefully, the dogs have been off of any systemic antibiotics for a week or so before. AND I examine the skin lesions under the microscope. I try to find a new pustule or one that hasn't been broken and lance it with a needle and then touch a microscope slide to it several times and let it dry and stain it. This technique using different types of stains can give a rapid interpretation of the type(s) of bacteria present and assessment of the inflammatory response. For the culture, I also try and use a pustule that is not open and lance it with a needle and swab the contents onto a sterile aerobic culture swab and send to the lab.

The most common underlying condition I recognize in mastiffs with skin infections that do not resolve is hypothyroidism. This is an underproduction of the thyroid hormone necessary for proper metabolism. I know that many of you are going to say, "Isn't that hereditary?" Yes, and no. There are two types of conditions that cause decreased thyroid levels. One is where there is an immune destruction of the thyroid tissue which has a hereditary mode of transmission and the other is where they thyroid gland is replaced with connective tissue and is not hereditary. Both occur with the same frequency or so the literature states. That is why I send the thyroid test to Michigan State because the interpretation will tell you if there are autoantibodies present in high enough numbers to be causing a self destruction of the gland and therefore being hereditary.

How does low thyroid cause skin problems? Hormones regulate physiologic processes in the body. Excesses or deficiencies result in changes in morphology or function of the skin. Cutaneous changes resulting form thyroid imbalances occur as a result of affecting lipid or fat metabolism in the skin, thereby affecting the permeability. The skin has a very high metabolic rate. In other words, there are new cells formed and old ones lost very rapidly. If you think about a person who is undergoing chemotherapy, you will be able to understand this high rate of turnover. Chemotherapy agents are targeted to affect very fast growing cells, such as cancer cells. But, as you can see from the side effects, other cells are affected also and they are the ones that have a high metabolic rate. You see hair loss and upset stomachs and gastrointestinal signs as diarrhea. That is because the skin and hair and gastrointestinal tract cells have a high turnover rate. I give you this example to demonstrate the higher amount of energy and metabolism that is necessary to maintain the skin. I also see our mastiffs as giant breed dogs needing a higher metabolism to maintain themselves as compared to a poodle. I say this because it will follow with what I am going to say on the thyroid and the Mastiff. I mentioned that hypothyroidism is a common underlying condition causing skin problems in our mastiffs. BUT, I must follow this with saying that in many of the mastiffs I treat with skin conditions, their thyroid levels are within the normal ranges but usually low normal ranges. But with the number of mastiffs I have supplemented with thyroid medication and appropriate other therapy that had low normal thyroid levels that responded to therapy, I have to suspect that perhaps we need to look at these ranges a little more intensely when dealing with giant breeds. I am not advocating if your dog has skin problems to just put them on thyroid medication. Again, I believe that this is a decision that should be made with your veterinarian and with a thorough workup to rule out other causes.

The effective treatment of pyoderma with antibiotics depends on the use of the correct drug at the correct dose for a sufficiently long duration. Bacterial culture and sensitivily of skin lesions is controversial. But because the cases I see are usually chronic, I think it is very useful and it helps me with my drug selection. In most first time cases, veterinarians choose a drug that would be effective in most pyodermas, such as Cephalexin or sulfonamides. Neither of these is all that expensive. I will usually not use sulfa drugs because of certain reactions that have been reported in the use of these drugs and sulfa drugs can potentiate hypothyroidism by lowering thyroid levels even further. But again, I am usually working with the chronic case and there are a lot of secondary bacterial invaders in the skin. I still start on Cephalexin at 10 mg./lb twice a day until I get the culture back. My concern is that a lot of these skin problems have secondary Pseudomonus infections which are very tough to get rid of. Of the oral drugs that we use in veterinary medicine, only Baytril or enrofloxacin, will work on Pseudomonus. If the owners do not want to do a culture and sensitiviy for some reason, I will use this to start with. The bottle dose will not get the Pseudomonus. You must give it at at least 7 mg/kg up to 10 mg./kg twice a day. I have used 10 mg/kg once a day also. In our mastiffs, that is VERY expensive. BUT, it works. Again, that is why the importance of a culture and sensitivity. If I do not get a Pseudomonus back, I can use other drugs instead of the expensive baytril.

While awaiting the thyroid profile, I will start the dog on soloxine at .1 mg/10 lbs and divide this dose into two. For example, I will give a 140 lb. Mastiff a .7 mg soloxine twice a day.

So, the dogs are on soloxine and the cephalexin pending the thyroid results and culture and sensitivity results. I sometimes use topical shampoos. The most common I use is benzoyl peroxide and chlorhexadine. Benzoyl peroxide is a potent bactericidal agent. It helps to restore normal surface microenvironment. It can be potentially irritating and drying, though, so a concurrent conditioner should also be used. Chlorhexadine is also bactericidal and highly effective. It is less irritating than the benzoyl peroxide. One good effect of shampoos is that they will remove the crusts, scales and other surface debris.

This treatment is continued for at least one week past the resolution of the problem. This can be as short as 2 weeks to as long as 2 months. I usually recommend keeping the dog on a low level thyroid supplementation for life with routine thyroid checks to make sure the level is not too high. Sometimes, the dogs can even be weaned off of thyroid supplementation.

One thing I have not touched on yet is the itching that is present with these conditions. I will usually use a drug named hydroxyzine (atarax). I try to stay away from all steroids because of the secondary effects these drugs can have on other body systems. In very tough cases though, I have had to use steroid, very judiciously, and I try to get them off of the drug as soon as possible.

Again, I must remind you that this treatment of Mastiff pyoderma is a regimen I have found to work in a great number of mastiffs I have consulted on. It by no means implies that there are not other treatment regimens and your veterinarian will be the best one to decide with you.

As I stated at the beginning, there are thousands of skin problems in dogs. Besides the commonly found Parasitic conditions, i.e. fleas, ticks, mange and fungal conditions, the next most common problem that is found is allergy problems. One could write a whole book on allergies and there are specialists that deal only with allergic conditions of the skin. Because this issue is so extensive, I will not go in depth here.. Food allergy dermatitis and atopic dermatitis are the most common type of allergies seen in the Mastiff. I have encountered one skin condition in a couple of mastiffs where they were allergic to themselves. Actually, they were allergic to their own bacterial flora. I had to culture their skin lesions and send the culture to a laboratory that made a vaccine from the dogs own bacterial flora and we used this to desensitize the dog. In both cases, it worked great. The underlying condition may be an immune related problem but is difficult to prove.

Another common problem with mastiffs is ear infections or otitis. We have all seen the Mastiff that has the greasy nasty smelling ear. I again, usually see these after the dog has had several different treatment regimens and they have failed. Most of these infections now have multiple organisms growing in those ears and take quite a long time to clear up. I always get a culture and sensitivity. I always look at a slide of the ear wax under the scope to identify yeast or Malassezia organisms. Depending on what the culture comes back with and whether there were yeasts then I will treat appropriately. Most of the time, systemic antibiotics are needed. Also on occasions where the exudate in the ear is so bad, I may suggest sedation and ear cleaning. Again, some of these can be linked to an underlying disease process like hypothyroidism. I routinely tell clients to clean their mastiffs ears out with a type of swimmers ear solution made with 3 parts alcohol and 1 part white vinegar and use it 2-3 times a week. This solution creates an acid environment that keeps yeasts and most bacteria from growing.

I hope I have enlightened you on some of the common problems I see in the Mastiff breed in regards to the skin. The skin can be so frustrating to work with but when you do find the answer, it is so rewarding both for you and for your Mastiff. If I can be of any assistance or provide you with any further information, please feel free to contact me. I always am available to help out a Mastiff.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Mastiff and the "Golden Years"
(Part 1)
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

The Senior or Geriatric Mastiff and their needs

Someone suggested to me that I should write an article on older Mastiffs and their care. I had not really thought of that before because personally, I had not dealt with that concept UNTIL now... Ranger is 7 years old now, as of August and I see changes in him that I have not had before and I have had to deal with problems I have not had to before... so I think it is a good idea to address this issue.

If it were a PERFECT Mastiff world, which I wish it were... our Mastiffs would live forever. Unfortunately, our Mastiffs don't... and actually die sooner because they are a giant breed. We see a touch of gray on the chin or muzzle, sometimes as early as 3-4 years of age. We notice all of a sudden one day, there is a gray tinge in their eye. Or we notice that our Mastiff cannot get up and down off the bed as they used to. In practice, I see a lot of older dogs because, we, as owners are caring for them better and therefore they are living longer. But what do we need to know in order to help our Mastiffs as they age? I hope to help you with that in this article.

First off, all Mastiffs are different and will age at different rates. Just as in humans, some look old at 4 years of age and some do not look old until 7 years of age. We must learn to deal with the symptoms of aging actually before they occur. In order to do that, our Mastiffs should have regular veterinary check-ups. In these check ups, your veterinarian should, starting annually, then semi-annually, do a complete blood work-up and urinalysis. The complete blood count helps in the diagnosis of anemia, infection and bleeding problems. And sometimes it can help in diagnosing cancer. It provides insight into the immune status of your Mastiff. The serum chemistry profile is used to assess changes in the function of the liver, kidneys, pancreas and other organs. The urinalysis will be checked for evidence of infection, urinary or prostatic (in males) and to assess kidney function.

The other tests I suggest in the older Mastiff are having radiographs (x-rays) taken yearly and perhaps an ultrasound. I have found that many tumors in the abdomen and chest can actually be taken care of if diagnosed early. But our Mastiffs are very stoic and do not let us know there is a problem until the problem is bad. So, radiographs and ultrasounds can tell us if there is a splenic tumor or kidney tumor or other problem that needs to be addressed. Or if there is an enlarged heart, or fluid in the chest cavity.

From experience, I can tell you that a Mastiff is hard to examine completely. I can listen to the chest and feel the abdomen, but they are so big, you cannot assess some of the things you need to. I, even being experienced with Mastiffs, must obtain radiographs and ancillary tests to help me. For instance, a Mastiff MUST be standing to assess the heart. If they are lying down, you will detect what you think is a heart murmur... this is the heart rubbing on the ribs, not an actual murmur. The other hard area to assess for me is the males Mastiffs prostate. I can feel part of it rectally, but unless the Mastiff is a small Mastiff, one cannot feel all of the prostate, so I use ultrasound to evaluate it. As the Mastiff gets older, insist that your veterinarian perform these tests to make sure they are healthy. Most veterinarians will be happy to help you and your Mastiff. If your veterinarian tells you that they feel that by examination you Mastiff is in great shape, well, still ask to have some minimal testing performed.

Commonly Encountered Geriatric Diseases in Mastiffs

The following is a list of common disease processes I have encountered in older Mastiffs. While I know that there are a lot of disease that older dogs encounter, the following are ones that I have found particularly in older Mastiffs.

Degenerative Joint Disease /Arthritis
Urinary Incontinence
Prostatic Disease
Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Disease)
Dental Disease
Renal Disease

Degenerative Joint Disease/Arthritis

This is probably the most common problem encountered in our aging Mastiffs. And sometimes it is encountered too frequently in our young Mastiffs. Hip dysplasia is devastating. If the Mastiff lives long enough, they will have pain involved with the hips and the arthritis. Elbow dysplasia is the other arthritic condition that causes problems. Even if you dog has no dysplasia and has been a show dog, just the natural aging process leads to decreased joint functioning, as it does in humans. Our Mastiffs are so large, that we really need to deal with these conditions early, and not wait until later.

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a progressive deterioration of the synovial joint and bone structures caused by abnormal stress or injury. It is characterized by joint pain, inflammation of the synovial membrane and loss of the articular cartilage as a result of breakdown of the proteoglycans in the cartilage matrix. As the disease progresses, synovitis and joint enlargement occur, leading to decreased joint motion and abnormal changes within the joint. Space between the collagen fibers increases, and enzymes such as collaginase and gelatinase are released, causing further deterioration. Release of free-radical mediators also contributes to major cartilage degradation. The severity of the disease appears to correlate with the loss of glycosaminoglycan in the joint and surrounding tissues.

Basically, what all of that is saying is that the joint is losing its mobility due to loss of fluid and the concurrent inflammation that is going on due to the disease process. It is a normal aging process but in our giant breeds, we find the process is accelerated due to their size and weight.

So, effective treatment of the affected joints should center on decreasing inflammation, enhancing cartilage synthesis by the cartilage cells, and reducing the degradation of cartilage by the enzymes that are released, thereby attempting to restore as much joint function as possible.

There are many ways to deal with degenerative joint disease or Osteoarthritis. The following will outline these.

1) Chondroprotective Agents: These agents have recently been promoted for the management of degenerative joint disease in older dogs and cats. They are often marketed as nutraceuticals, or food additives. They are available in powder or compressed tablet forms and contain various combinations of glucosamines, gycosaminoglycans, chondroitin sulfates, or other ingredients and are theorized to help support repair of the articular cartilage by providing the building blocks for its repair.

Cosequin: A combination of glucosamine, purified chondroitin sulfate and manganese ascorbate. Is marketed as a neutroceutical and contains precursors of the cartilage matrix. There are no significant side effects reported with its use.

Glycoflex: Has freeze-dried Perna cannaliculus mussel, brewer's yeast, and alfalfa in it. It is less expensive and is very palatable. The exact mechanism of how Perna works in controlling and preventing arthritis has not been clearly shown. The unique combination of complex proteins, glycosaminoglycans, amino acids, nucleic acids, and naturally chelated minerals may work to give a synergistic, biologic effect that helps repair articular cartilage and prevent further deterioration. It may also enhance the regenerative capabilities of the cartilage cells. This product has been shown to apparently improve joint lubrication, ease joint pain and improve mobility and range of motion in affected joints.

Adequan: Is used to form proteoglycan aggregates that provide the backbone for collagen formation in joints. The products found in this drug are theorized to provide replacement material for cartilage growth, to protect the cartilage cells, and to stop inflammation. This product must be given by injection, usually in the muscle. It has a low level of side effects and can be used in a variety of conditions. When I have used it in the Mastiff, I give 250 mg. Weekly for 3 weeks and if no improvements then stop. If there is improvement, I will continue weekly injections for a total of 6 weeks and then put the dog on Cosequin or Glycoflex for protection of the joints.

There are many others on the market, as shark cartilage, etc. I have used all of these products and have found them useful in certain cases. If you do use these products, and if all instructions are followed, you should expect to see favorable results in 3-4 weeks of starting the product and definitely in 6-8 weeks.

Some people will use these products starting at an early age in their Mastiffs. I think this is the ideal way to use these products in the Mastiff. I think that way the dog has the advantage of the product being available to their body when they may need it and not waiting until they do need it.

2) Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs: These are the aspirin like drugs that have anti-inflammatory properties. They work by prohibiting some of the molecules that cause inflammation.

Aspirin: This is still the most commonly prescribed drug in dogs and in people to control pain. I use it a lot in Mastiffs but if you use it at the dose that is stated for dogs, or 5 mg./ lb. is too high in my opinion. I give it at a dose of one 325 mg. (or 5 grain) aspirin (preferably buffered) per 100 lbs. So, for instance, Ranger is 175 lbs... I give him 1 ½ aspirin twice a day. Yes, that is a low dose but I find that Mastiffs are very sensitive to aspirin. I tend to use the buffered or enteric coated aspirin. Make sure it is 5 grain aspirin and not "extra strength". I also make sure that the aspirin is given with food. And if the dog vomits, I STOP the aspirin. Aspirin, as all of these drug can, may cause stomach ulcers as they do in people and it is harder for us to detect these ulcers in animals until it is too late. So, vomiting is a first sign to watch for.

Phenylbutazone: This is a drug used to control inflammation. It is know to be toxic to cartilage forming cells, so long term use in dogs is not recommended. I find that this drug is too toxic to the lining of the Mastiffs' intestinal tract that I never use it at all and do not advocate its usage in ANY situation.

Rimadyl: The active drug in this compound is, carprofen. This drug is an excellent anti-inflammatory drug. I use it a lot in older Mastiffs and my dog, Ranger is on it right now. BUT, I must tell you that I dose it different in our giant breeds than what the bottle dose is. I use it at ½ mg./lb. (or half of the bottle dosage) initially. For instance, Ranger weighs 175 lbs. I started him at 75 mg. twice a day. If I had used the bottle dosage I would have had to start him at 175 mg. twice a day. I find the Mastiff is very sensitive to the higher doses and will start at the lowest dose possible and go from there. Does that mean I will not use the bottle dose? No, I will if I have to work up to it. I just will not start them at that dose. Right now I control Rangers' limping with ONE 75 mg. Tablet of Rimadyl per day. And make sure you give it WITH food.

Rimadyl has gotten a lot of flack due to some apparent side effects to the liver in some dogs. I think any drug can cause problems and no drug is totally safe. I would rather use it in short-term stints, but if used chronically, I recommend a chemistry panel to assess liver and kidney function every 6 months. So, use with caution, but if your Mastiff needs this drug, it can work wonders.

Ibuprofen: I do not use this in Mastiffs or other dogs at all because the dose that you have to use to help your Mastiff may exceed the toxic dose. Do not use.

Derm Caps: The omega 3 fatty acids are very potent anti-inflammatories and may help keep the pet more comfortable.

Nupro -an all natural dog supplement: I was introduced to this product through an alternative medicine veterinarian and Ranger is on it now. It is high in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino and fatty acids. It provides the necessary raw ingredients (missing from cooked and processed dog foods). It is suppose to cause increased energy and have blood-building capabilities. It has anti-inflammatory properties. It helps with digestion and relieves gas (That's a GOOD thing... as Martha Stewart would say).

I have been using it for about 2 months now with Ranger and I do think it has helped. He seems to just feel better.

Comfort: This is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects due to its free radical scavenging. I can't attest to this product, but I do feel that many people swear by it in their dogs. Again, it can have no side effects.

Exercise and Arthritis:
I get asked many times about whether the Mastiff should be exercised if there is an arthritic condition. I would say that this depends on how bad it is. I think that one should institute a walking program with your dog to try and keep the muscle strength. I do not think that any type of strenuous activity should be done. And the exercise should be started at a slow pace and gradually worked up. I take Ranger out with me when I work outside and he will run around at his own pace. But I do make sure he gets out regularly.

I also believe swimming is great in maintaining the mobility of the joints. Unfortunately, Ranger does not like the water too much. Again, activity should be increased gradually.

Alternative Therapy and Osteoarthritis and Aging:
For many years, I would not allow myself as a veterinarian to believe in alternative methods of veterinary medicine. I felt that it was a bunch of "voodoo" type medicine. I knew it worked occasionally, but I felt that my scientific approach and medicine was more appropriate. UNTIL one day, I came home and Ranger was showing signs of a lower disk problem in his back. This was about 4 months ago. I knew that he had a spinal cord compression because he was showing all of the neurological signs. I had x-rayed him previously and was very suspicious of an area of spondylosis between his last lumbar vertebra and his sacrum. He walked like he was drunk. He would drag his back paws and actually drag the top of the paw. He was uncomfortable. I immediately gave him an intravenous injection of high dose steroids, to decrease the inflammation and I started him on prednisone to decrease the inflammation. Well, the second day he was better but his attitude had changed. He was panting uncontrollably... he was urinating every 5 seconds... he was drinking gallons of water (even more than a normal Mastiff). I knew it was the effects of the steroids. I knew that people had told me about their Mastiffs reacting this way and I have just shunned it saying that it will pass. Well, it is different if it is your dog (how else do you think we really learn?). I immediately stopped the steroids. You must realize that you cannot stop steroids without speaking to your veterinarian, it all depends on how long they have been on them, but stopping them to soon can cause serious health problems. Anyway, I stopped them and it took several days for Ranger to start acting normal. He still had the back problem, just not as bad. I knew that I did not want to subject him to surgery or a myelogram (where they inject dye into the spinal canal to see where the disk problem is) because I worked at a referral practice where we saw a lot of neurological surgery cases. And I promised that I would never put Ranger through one of those back surgeries. Now, don't get me wrong... some things may be worth doing it. I just know that in giant breed dogs, back surgery is very traumatic and unless I had a very young Mastiff, I personally would not put them through the surgery unless I knew that they had an excellent chance of recovery. So... what to do? I decided to take him to a friend of mines holistic veterinarian. I took Ranger and the veterinarian suggested diets for him and gave him some homeopathic medicine and did acupuncture on him. Well, right after the acupuncture, Ranger was full of himself. He ran around and started jumping up and actually jumped into my truck to go home. I could see that he felt better immediately.

Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body that have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiologic conditions to achieve the desired effect. It is a means of the body helping the body heal itself. It has been used about 4000 years on animals, as well as humans. In fact, it is still the treatment of choice for one quarter of the world's population. Acupuncture does more than relieve pain. How it works depends on the condition being treated and the points used. Acupuncture increases circulation, causes a release of many neurotransimitters and neurohormones (some of the "natural occurring pain-killing hormones), relieves muscle spasms, stimulates nerves, and stimulates the body's defense systems.

It was interesting to watch as the veterinarian placed needles all over Rangers' legs and how Ranger just stood so still. He really relaxed after all of the needles were in place. So, it is not a painful procedure.

Chiropractic manipulation is also a field to examine for the treatment of Osteoarthritis, and although I have not been involved with this particular treatment, I know of a couple of veterinarians that are practicing this and find it very rewarding. Chiropractic medicine focuses on the neurological mechanisms and the biomechanics of the spine. So, anything that can cause malalignment of the spine can be treated with chiropractic manipulation. For example, a broken bone can not directly be helped with chiropractic medicine, but because the broken bone will cause the animal to walk differently, there will be an alteration of the spine which CAN be helped with chiropractic manipulation. I would caution you to only used approved veterinary chiropractic doctors since there are specific differences in our Mastiffs and humans.

Magnetic Field Therapy is another type of therapy to help with arthritis. It has been used in humans for many years and even in horses, but is becoming more popular with our dogs because it is easy to do. Magnets are thought to work by means of magnetic lines of force. Magnetic therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other modes of therapy. Their only contraindications are on the use of infections, cancerous growths, fresh injuries or pregnant females.

Herbal And Botanical Medicine is another interesting and fast growing method to deal with musculoskeletal conditions, like arthritis. A few of them are the following:

  1. Cayenne: When applied topically, it can reduce the pain of arthritic conditions.
  2. White Willow Bark: Has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic (reduce fever) and disinfectant properties. It is used to treat muscle pain, arthritis, headaches and fevers.
  3. There are steroids in akebia, alisma, licorice and poria that have anti-inflammatory effects.
  4. Alkaloids from the Berberidaceae are used to treat inflammation.
  5. Corydalis, menisperma, and sinomenium are used to treat pain, especially in arthritis.
  6. Ginsenoside Ro, isolated from the roots of Panaz ginseng, reduces paw edema in rats.

While there are many more that can be incorporated into the therapy for your dogs, please make sure that you consult your veterinarian, one that is versed in non-traditional medicine before giving your dog any of these supplements. Even though they do good, they can possibly have side effects.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain is caused by a blockage of Qi and blood in the channels and energy pathways of the body. I do not know much about this type of therapy but I do know a couple of my veterinary friends who are very much involved in these type therapies. I know that certain combination of herbs can be helpful in reducing pain associated with Osteoarthritis.

Ranger is doing well at this time. He gets acupuncture occasionally and he is on some herbal supplements. He gets regular exercise and is fed a high quality diet. There are a lot of things that can be done to help our older Mastiffs and their degenerative arthritic conditions.

In the next issue, I will address the aging Mastiff and some of the other conditions, how to identify them and what can be done to make their lives comfortable for as long as we can. I am one that truly wishes that our Mastiffs could be by our sides for longer than they are... and anything I can do to make that happen, well, it makes being part of the Mastiff world a wonderful thing.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959

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The Mastiff and the "Golden Years"
(Part 2)
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

In my last article, I discussed some of the arthritic problems that address our aging Mastiff population. This sequel will discuss specific organs diseases encountered as our dogs age and what we can do to help slow down these aging processes or what we can do to help treat them and give our mastiffs the quality of life they deserve in their geriatric years. Personally, I would rather invent something to keep them with us forever, but until I do... I would like to help keep them in our lives for as long as possible.

While all organs are affected with age to some degree, I am only going to discuss some of the major organ dysfunction that I have encountered with our aging mastiffs. Most of this article will relate to our mastiffs, in particular, since I do believe they have a unique physiology due to their giant size. Most of what I will talk about comes from experience with the Mastiff breed as a veterinarian and may not be true of other breeds.

I am an advocate of annual veterinary exams for the Mastiff until age 5, then I like to see bi-annual visits. I will get a full blood chemistry and complete blood count, thyroid profile and urinalysis on all mastiffs I see between the age of 2-5 years of age. This is what I call the "baseline"... something that I can compare to down the road. After age 5, I will do the complete blood profile, thyroid profile, urinalysis and I will add survey radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and abdomen, and perhaps an ultrasound of the heart and abdomen. I do this yearly, but will also recommend 2 yearly visits. In this manner, I can usually detect early changes in the heart, kidneys and liver and may be able to prevent these changes from becoming problems down the road.

You know your Mastiff better than anyone does. Since our mastiffs are a very stoic breed, they may exhibit only subtle changes when something is bothering them. Don't ignore these little "quirks" and say, "well, it is just age" or consider it a 'normal' aging process. Take them into the veterinarian for a checkup. Sometimes, little subtle changes are the beginnings of major problems. With that said, I will move on to certain conditions encountered.


Dilative cardiomyopathy (DCM) is one of the most common heart muscle diseases seen in large/giant breed dogs. The average age of presentation is between 4-10 years old. Early signs of DCM include anorexia (not eating), weakness, coughing, and exercise intolerance (like we would notice that in a Mastiff) The disease progresses to congestive heart failure. In our giant breed dogs, the right side of the heart fails primarily with accompanying fluid in the abdomen and around the lungs. Left-sided failure is the more common in smaller breeds.

DCM is the presumptive diagnosis when the symptoms are present and the physical exam suggests it and a soft heart murmur is heard. And ECG and ultrasound will confirm the diagnosis. At this time, I will also collect blood samples to check kidney and liver values. These organs require massive amounts of blood to go through them to stay healthy and with heart disease the heart is not pumping as efficiently and can cause secondary renal and liver disease that can be held in check if detected early enough. I will also check the thyroid levels since many of our mastiffs are on thyroid medication, which can complicate matters sometimes. There can be accompanying anemia due to a decrease in the production of erythropoeitin, the factor that tells the bone marrow to make more blood cells. As an added note, I find that healthy mastiffs and other giant breeds can normally run a little anemic according to the normal values, so again, having the baseline values to compare to are important.

I will take complete abdominal and chest radiographs. Heart disease can lead to the accumulation of fluid in the chest or abdomen which can be seen on the radiographs. Heart disease can lead to an enlargement of the liver which can be detected. Also, other problems, like tumors, not directly related to the heart can be noticed on the radiographs.

I will also take blood pressure readings, since many times with heart disease, as in humans, we will see high blood pressure. Not many veterinary practices can perform blood pressure testing, but a referral practice in the area may offer the service. If high blood pressure is found, medication will be needed to lower the pressure, since high blood pressure will only make the heart have to work harder at its' job in circulating blood.

An echocardiogram needs to be performed and preferably by a cardiologist. This special ultrasound will determine how the heart muscle is functioning, as well as determining if the valves are working adequately. It will also show the flow through the heart and if there is adequate flow of blood and if it is flowing at the right speed. I find echocardiograms to be "gibberish" to me... that is why I leave that in the capable hands of the specialist.

Many of you are probably wondering as to cost of this workup. I can give a "general" ballpark estimate, but all veterinary practices will vary, so make sure you get an estimate of the work up. I know many of us don't care what it costs, as long as we can help our faithful friends... but, bottom line... giant breeds do cost more and you need to be prepared. Following is a guestimate on costs of the diagnostics.

Diagnostic testing for heart disease/ Mastiff: (**Prices quoted are estimates only and for the time the article is written. Prices may increase or vary by location.)







Full Chemistry:






X-rays/4 views:






Blood Pressure















The treatment will be aimed at making the heart pump more efficiently. Digoxin is the mainstay of treatment and may be the first drug used. Other drugs may be used if there is an abnormal rhythm. Lasix may be used to help get rid of the fluid around the lungs and in the abdomen if needed. This will also make the dogs drink and urinate more often. Enalapril (Enacard) has also been shown to help the Mastiff with heart disease. L-carnitine, an amino acid, has been shown to be deficient in 50-60% of the dogs seen with DCM, so it may be helpful also. CoEnzyme Q, since it helps the cells work better and has been shown to help reduce the impact of hypoxia (low oxygen levels) to the heart. I will supplement 30 mg. every other day in the Mastiff.

Other nutritional therapies that have been suggested as helping in heart disease are adding the following:

Vitamin C- 500-6000 mg./day
Vitamin E_50-400 IU/day
Taurine- 100-1000 mg/day
Selenium- 5-50 ug/day
Fish oil- 250-1000 mg/day
Dimethylglycine-50-250 mg/day

Some herbal remedies have also been used in heart disease although I am not as familiar with them. Some of these include the use of alfalfa, gingko, hawthorn and motherwort. You should consult a holistic veterinarian for further information regarding these.

One of the deciding factors in how our mastiffs do with heart disease and the treatment is to have frequent rechecks to evaluate how things are going. Don't wait until there is a problem. I have seen many mastiffs with serious heart conditions live very comfortably for a few years after treatment was started, IF it was detected early.

Granted our mastiffs are stoic animals... and sometimes they do not show any signs of problems until a threshold is reached and then they "all of a sudden" go down hill. I see this happen a lot, especially being an emergency veterinarian. Just in case this happens to you and your Mastiff, I will discuss what I do in the emergency room with the Mastiff that has serious heart disease.

When presented on emergency with the aging Mastiff that " all of a sudden" got sick or went down, I first determine the heartrate. Most of the mastiffs will have a fast heartrate that is abnormal for the breed. I listen to the lungs to hear any fluid. I listen for muffled heart sounds, indicating fluid around the heart or in the lungs. I will immediately take the dog to the back, if it is having any trouble breathing and put it on oxygen using a facemask put in front of their face. Because the lack of oxygen makes the dogs very anxious and sometimes very resistant to anything, I will give some morphine to help calm the dog so we can proceed with treatment. If they are really having trouble breathing, I will shave both sides of the chest and do a thoracocentesis, which is where I will put a needle into the chest and pull off any fluid that is accumulating. This is an emergency procedure. I will do this prior to any x-rays, as I find that x-rays can be very stressful to the Mastiff in this condition. It will not hurt if there is not any fluid around the lungs, but if there is, this procedure can be life saving. At the same time, I will have one of the technicians place an IV catheter into the front leg vein. We will collect blood samples from that catheter at that time. If the measures tried have not helped much, I will use nitroglycerin to help dilate the blood vessels and get rid of the fluid plus I will use injectable lasix to get rid of the fluid. Usually these measures are enough to help the dog in immediate trouble. Of course, we will also have an EKG running if possible. If these measures are not helping, I will do a quick ultrasound to look at the heart. Sometimes, fluid can build up around the heart sac and need to be drained. We do not save a lot of the dogs that come in this severe, but the ones that we do, well, they are the lucky ones. That is why I again stress the need for regular checkups as our mastiffs get older, so these conditions can be found early instead of later.

Degenerative valvular disease is the most common cardiovascular disease I see in the dog, but luckily, for the Mastiff, this is usually seen primarily in older smaller breed dogs.

I have seen one case of neoplasia (cancer) in the Mastiff that involved the heart. Hemagiosarcoma is the most common neoplasia encountered. But, in general, cancer of the heart itself is uncommon.


Chronic renal failure (CRF) is the most common form of renal disease in our mastiffs. By the time it is usually diagnosed, it has prevailed for a long period of time, months to even years. Again, this is another reason for annual blood tests in our mastiffs.

The symptoms our mastiffs exhibit will vary depending on the nature, severity, duration and rate of progression of the disease. Some symptoms may be vague, such as depression, fatigue, anorexia and weight loss while others are more overt, i.e. drinking a lot of water, urinating a lot and dehydration, and when the disease progresses far enough, vomiting.

When I examine a Mastiff with suspected late kidney disease, they are usually slightly dehydrated and are in poor body condition and have a poor haircoat. But early in the disease, they may look extremely healthy. Depending on the severity of the disease, we will see an increase in the enzymes that show kidney damage, the Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, and phosphorus. We will also see an anemia if the disease has progressed. Remember though, the Mastiff may normally be slightly anemic, so compare to the baseline values. The urine is not concentrated and looks like water.

I take radiographs of the chest and abdomen. I will also get an ultrasound of the kidneys. I am a firm believer in an aggressive approach from the start to determine what exactly is going on. I want to get kidney biopsies at the earliest time I can to determine what is going on in the kidneys. With the use of ultrasound and sophisticated biopsy instruments, the danger is minimal. Kidney disease is a general term. Many things cause kidney disease and the kidneys can have many different changes occurring in them. Some of these processes can be arrested or at least slowed, while others can't be. A urinalysis will help determine if some kind of infection or neoplasia is going on. The sooner I know what is going on, the better we can help the dog. I think it is better to do this early on while the dog is healthy, rather than think of doing it when the dog is sick.

Again, with our stoic mastiffs, I find that I do not diagnose them early in the disease process unless we have been following biannual checkups. I usually get them coming in when they are not eating and vomiting. When the toxic products can't be eliminated through the kidneys, they build up in the body and cause the dog to be sick to their stomach, thus vomiting occurs. When presented with a Mastiff that has kidney disease and is vomiting, I will try to get a kidney biopsy and since it takes 2-3 days to get the results back, I will start intensive intravenous fluid therapy to try and flush the toxins out of the body and to try and stimulate the kidneys to start working again. This involves placing 2 large IV catheters in the front legs of the dog and giving fluid very rapidly over a period of a few days. I will give a 200 lb. Mastiff a range of 400-800 ml/hour of fluids depending on how the heart is doing. This is a massive amount of fluids and can be quite costly. We are talking about giving anywhere from 12-18 liters of fluids a day. Most veterinarians that do not deal with giant breed dogs fail to give enough fluids to diurese the Mastiff. While doing this, we must monitor the amount of urine produced, so we do not get fluid building up in the body. IF the amount of urine isn't equal to the amount of fluid going in, we must give certain drugs to help stimulate the kidneys. I first start with lasix, but will start a dopamine drip if the urine production is not up to par. The prognosis is very poor if we cannot get the kidneys started in the production of urine. If the kidneys have not produced urine in a certain amount of time, then the dog is in complete kidney failure and nothing can be done further.

But, if the kidneys are producing a good amount of urine, then we wait for our biopsy to come back. In the meantime, we start drugs that will help reduce the stomach upset, like pepcid or tagamet and we add drugs that will bind the phosphorus that is so high in the body, since this also causes stomach upset. We will usually give antibiotics due to the poor state of the immune system at this time.

I will recheck the kidney values in about 4-6 days. But I will monitor the electrolytes, like sodium, potassium and chloride since we may need to add these to the fluids as we give them. I will also monitor blood pressure since kidney disease leads to hypertension, which can further damage the kidneys.

After getting the biopsy results back, we can determine if the kidneys are salvageable or not and determine what is the best course for long term treatment if the dog have responded to the initial treatment.

The cost of this initial diuresis for a Mastiff for 48-72 hours can be very high. I would guestimate that with the intensive care needed, the fluids, the medicines and diagnostics, that it can be between $3000-$5000 for our giant breed dogs.

Let's say that we have been great parents and have taken our mastiffs in twice yearly and have had bloodwork done regularly, and we have picked up the renal disease in an early stage. What can we do to help the kidneys function longer and hopefully prevent serious shutdown? Dietary therapy remains one of the cornerstones of management of the patient with CRF. The goals of therapy are (1) to reduce the clinical signs of uremia (the increasing toxic products) by reducing the production of protein waste products; (2) to minimize the electrolyte, vitamin, and mineral disturbances associated with excessive consumption of protein and certain minerals; (3) to provide daily protein, calorie, and mineral requirements; and (4) to slow the progression of renal failure. The first three of these goals are widely accepted. The efficacy of dietary protein restriction in slowing the progression of CRF in dogs is still controversial, however. The products of protein catabolism (or breakdown) contribute to the uremic signs in dogs with renal failure. So, if the dog is showing signs of uremia, like anorexia, vomiting, etc. then restricted protein is a good thing. But the value of protein restriction before clinical signs of CRF are apparent remains very controversial as to whether it will help. In the Mastiff, I am recommending decreasing the protein in the diet to around 13-15%. This may mean that you need to buy a prescription diet from your veterinarian. Unfortunately, some of these diets do not taste good, so I will suggest that perhaps a homemade diet is better and a little better on the pocketbook for the Mastiff owner. The following is a guideline for homemade renal diets:

1 lb. Ground beef
4 large egg (hard cooked)
8 cups cooked rice (without salt)
12 slices white bread (crumbled)
1 tsp. Calcium carbonate
2 scoops of Nupro (or other balanced supplement)
Braise the meat, retaining the fat. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Palatability can be improved by adding water.

Yields 4 lbs.

Your veterinarian will also prescribe drugs to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with renal failure. There may also be drugs that help control blood pressure and help eliminate excess fluid.

There are many holistic approaches to kidney disease. Some of these are the addition of some herbal remedies. A few that can be mentioned are:

  1. Rehmannia: usually cooked-it decreases blood pressure and cholesterol and is high in potassium.
  2. Cornus-decreases blood pressure and has an antibiotic effect against Staphylococcus.
  3. Hoelen-regulates fluid metabolism and aids in water circulation and is high in potassium.
  4. Alisma-regulates fluid metabolism and increases the excretion of urea, lowers blood pressure and is high in potassium.
  5. Pinellia combinations may be added to help control vomiting and diarrhea.

There are certain facts in life... and unfortunately, our mastiffs' aging is one of them. But I hope that I have enlightened you on a couple of the aging issues and made you realize that regular check-ups for your mastiffs are imperative to help catch these conditions early. Please never hesitate to call me or to e-mail me. I have just moved so I am at a new job and it is very hectic right now, but I am hoping after the first of the year, to calm down a little.

In the third part of this series on the Aging Mastiff, I will discuss aging and gastrointestinal problems and neurological and behavioral problems.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Mastiff and the "Golden Years"
(Part 3)
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

In this third and final article in the series on the aging Mastiff, I will address gastrointestinal, neurological and behavior changes, plus a couple of other general areas. I think that everyone that owns a Mastiff knows that they are unlike any other breed, so my comments about aging at times are general and not necessarily breed specific. If I have encountered or heard of anyone encountering the conditions I discuss in the Mastiff, I will note that in the discussion.

Gastrointestinal Disease and the Aging Mastiff

Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases are common in the geriatric Mastiff and are very challenging to the veterinarian due to the vast array of clinical signs. Some common signs that suggest GI disease in our mastiffs are: vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite (in a Mastiff?), behavioral changes, regurgitation, excess gas, difficulty swallowing and abdominal pain. As you can see, these symptoms can also be signs of diseases I have already discussed, such as kidney and liver disease, therefore, making GI diseases more challenging to investigate.

The first place to start when discussing GI disease is the mouth. Inflammation of the gums and dental disease is common in geriatric dogs. I have found that is not the case in most mastiffs, but I will discuss some of the problems that may occur. Symptoms of mouth problems may be halitosis (bad breath), excessive drooling (yeah, right), not wanting to eat, weight loss and pain when trying to eat. Luckily, since our mastiffs are large, the mouth can be examined without anesthesia. But if the mouth is painful, sedation may be required. All of the teeth should be examined as well as the gums. The pharynx/larynx should be examined as well, but since they are at the very back of the mouth, anesthesia is probably required even in the most cooperative Mastiff.

Malignant tumors of the mouth are common in older dogs, but again, I do not see them often in our mastiffs. Melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and fibrosarcomas are the most common.

Treatment of the mouth would include having the teeth scaled and polished and checking the gumlines. There are specialists in dentistry that can evaluate and perform procedures as root canals, to save teeth. Sometimes, all that is needed is a cleaning and post- dental antibiotics and most veterinarians perform these procedures. The reason the teeth are so important is because when there is inflammation of the gums, when a dog eats, it creates bleeding along the gumline and this allows bacteria in the tartar and around the teeth to gain access to the bloodstream. For some reason, this bacteria likes to find a heart valve and sit on it causing heart disease down the road.

Common antibiotics I use are clindamycin and clavamox. Using enzymatic and antibacterial mouth sprays can help prevent further problems. One I am particularly fond of is called CET spray because it works by enzymatic action and dissolves the tartar before it can build up. And of course, brushing the teeth will help.

Treatment of mouth tumors involves obtaining a biopsy first to ascertain the type of tumor. Some mouth tumors respond well to surgical removal alone but others require radiation or chemotherapy also.

The esophagus is the next step on the GI tour. Adult-onset megaesophagus is fairly common in older dogs and I have encountered it with increasing frequency in the Mastiff breed. This is where the esophagus looses its ability to propel food down to the stomach and therefore dilates and food swallowed just sits there without moving. In many cases, there is no known cause, as I see in mastiffs. But in other cases there may be an underlying factor like, myasthenia gravis, lupus, hypothyroidism and post-GDV (gastric dilatation-volvulus) syndrome.

The most common symptom is regurgitation where undigested food is brought up. There may be repeated swallowing attempts. Weight loss will occur if it is bad enough. Sometimes coughing and having difficulty breathing will occur due to the aspiration of food into the lungs. Diagnosis is fairly easy by radiology. X-rays show the presence of a dilated air or fluid filled esophagus. Sometimes it is necessary to put dye down the esophagus to actually demonstrate how dilated it really is. Treatment will include treating for any associated disorders, like hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormones, but idiopathic megaesophagus is treated symptomatically by feeding multiple, small-sized meals from an elevated position. Diets that are gruel like are the best. Drugs that help to increase the movement of the esophagus are used, such as reglan and propulsid. Long term prognosis is poor though due to the high incidence of pneumonia.

Stomach disorders are not very common in the Mastiff breed. Ulcers are one typical problem, but I have only encountered ulcers in mastiffs as a result of aspirin therapy. For some reason, I find mastiffs very susceptible to aspirin and its associated problems. That is why I do not use the prescribed dose by weight but I use 1 adult strength regular aspirin(325 mg. Or 5 gr.) that is coated or buffered per 100 lbs.

Gastric dilatation-vovulus(GDV) is the most common GI disorder encountered in giant breed dogs, although I must say our mastiffs are not among the highest in incidence. GDV is where the stomach distends greatly and will turn on its axis cutting off blood supply. It is a life-threatening emergency. If you would like more information on GDV, see my web page and read under "My Mastiff Vomited". I advocate early surgery on all GDV's. I do not even pass a tube first, because of the high incidence of poking the tube through the stomach wall, since the stomach is stretched so far.

The owner will usually call and describe a dog that has a bloated abdomen, is pacing, uncomfortable, and trying to vomit but cannot bring anything up. Again, when presented with these on emergency, I always am very aggressive in my treatment and therefore, very successful.

Bowel disease is not common among our mastiffs, although it can be in a lot of other geriatric dogs. Inflammatory bowel disease where the intestinal walls are thickened due to allergy-type problems or whether due to cancer like lymphosarcomas is the most common inflammatory problem.

Although not necessarily a true gastrointestinal organ, one of the more common problems I encounter in mastiffs and older dogs in general, is splenic tumors or tumors involving the spleen. The spleen is actually an organ of the blood system that disposes of used up blood cells. In dogs, it also contains a large blood supply. About 50% of these tumors are not malignant and surgical removal of the spleen is curative. The other 50% are usually hemangiosarcomas, which are very malignant.

The symptoms associated with splenic tumors are varied. The most common presentation of a dog with a splenic tumor is that the dog has collapsed. It was previously normal and all of a sudden, it fell down and can't get up. As the splenic tumor grows, it stretches the capsule that surrounds the spleen and causes great pain because the pain receptors are in the capsule. If it stretches too much, the capsule will burst and allow massive bleeding to occur into the abdomen, which is a life-threatening emergency.

Diagnosis is by x-ray and ultrasound. Treatment is surgically removing the spleen. This can be a very expensive procedure in our mastiffs, because blood transfusions are often necessary.

Since we are discussing GI diseases, this would be a good place to discuss nutrition and the aging Mastiff. I don't usually discuss nutrition and diet due to the varied opinions on what to feed our mastiffs. I always say you can ask 100 breeders of mastiffs what to feed and you will get 120 different answers. Understanding how the nutritional needs of older dogs may change and a thorough evaluation of the individual Mastiff will help allow for an appropriate dietary recommendation. Older mastiffs tend to have reduced energy needs. If caloric intake is not adjusted accordingly, weight gain will result.

Healthy mastiffs usually do not experience a significant age-related decline in their ability to digest and absorb nutrients. If the Mastiff is generally healthy and consuming an appropriate diet, a dietary change is unlikely to be needed. When necessary, dietary changes should be based on the needs of the individual Mastiff and the medical needs. While it is true that many aging changes, such as loss of flexibility, loss of muscle and nerve cells, and decreasing ability to survive stress, are progressive and irreversible, nutritional management can assist in delaying or preventing the development of many age-related pathologic changes. The nutritional management is very specific to the problems occurring or that are likely to occur in our aged Mastiff and need to be discussed one on one with your veterinarian who is familiar with your dog.

You should always be aware of drug/nutrient interactions that may influence dietary intake or nutritional requirements. Lasix, a drug used to get rid of excessive fluid may increase the need for potassium, magnesium and calcium. Also, many medications result in anorexia.

Obesity is a common problem in our mastiffs as they get older. Obesity related problems include musculoskeletal problems, compromised immune function, abnormal glucose tolerance, anesthetic and surgical complications, heat and exercise intolerance and complications from cardiovascular disease and other diseases.

As in humans, dieting is very difficult. Almost any nutritionally complete diet can be used for weight loss, because the key, as in people, is to reduce calorie intake below calorie expenditure. Nevertheless, there are some advantages to the use of diet dog food that is specifically formulated for weight reduction. Low calorie, high fiber foods provide normal levels of protein and other nutrients while decreasing fat and calories. The fiber in these also may provide a satiety effect or feeling of fullness.

Supplements that have been recommended in geriatric dogs include vitamin C, CoEnzyme Q, and L-carnitine which can help inhance immune function, improve overall physical performance and reduce the incidence and severity of age-related illness. It is also recommended by some to increase the intake of unsaturated fatty acids and zinc to maintain healthy coats and skin. These essential fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect and can help with arthritis and joint problems.

Neurological Disease and the Aging Mastiff

The most common neurologically associated problem I see in older mastiffs is associated with pressure on the spinal cord. Due to aging and the size of our mastiffs, they tend to develop degenerative disease in the bones of the vertebral column. Sometimes, this can cause a weakness and create instability in the backbone and cause varying pressure on the intervertebral disks. If these disks push upward they can cause varying degrees of trauma to the spinal cord. I see this throughout the whole spinal cord in our giant breed dogs, from the neck to the lower back.

The symptoms of a neck problem would be hind limb incoordination, or ataxia. The dogs walks like it is drunk in the rear end. They may drag their back feet and you may notice that the tops of their back feet are worn and the toenails are worn. It can progress to affecting the front legs also causing them to walk very stiff legged. Sometimes, neck pain may be evident, but I have found that in our mastiffs, neck pain is hard to elicit because of their heavy musculature.

The thoracolumbar spine is the next area that can be affected. This is the mid-back. Signs of this can vary, but you may see weakness in the back legs. The dog may have muscle wasting in the hind end. They may be uncomfortable sitting down. Sometimes, there is pain.

Depending on the severity of the problem depends on how I recommend treating these conditions. Whenever possible, radiographs should be obtained. This is to rule out any other cause, as in diskospondylosis (infection) and cancer. Bloodwork should also be obtained, for the reason that treatment may involve steroids and these drugs can affect the liver. I like to have pre-steroid bloodwork on hand.

If the cases are mild, I will suggest cage rest and treatment with antiinflammatories, like aspirin or rimadyl. If more serious, I may use steroids, like prednisone for a short period of time and wean the dog off of them slowly.

If the dog in worse condition or is not improving, I will refer the dog to a neurologist who then can perform a myelogram, where dye is injected into the spinal canal to see exactly where the problem is occurring. This would require general anesthesia. Sometimes, the neurologist would rather do a MRI or include one with the myelogram.

Surgery is an option in severe cases or cases that are not resolving with medication and time. I have to be honest with you on this one, in that I am not sure that surgery is the best choice in our aging mastiffs. If it is a young Mastiff, I think it can be good. But, in the older Mastiff, I think that back surgery is a very hard thing for them to recover from. I suggest alternative therapies in the older Mastiff, i.e. acupuncture and holistic approaches. I have already discussed these alternatives in part I under musculoskeletal conditions, so will not discuss them here.

The next most common neurological problem I see in older mastiffs is seizures. In the geriatric dog, seizures can be the result of metabolic diseases, a tumor of the brain, or a vascular condition of the brain where the blood supply has been interrupted ( as a stroke in humans). Once metabolic diseases are ruled out by laboratory work, the only way to accurately diagnose the other two conditions is by CT scan or MR imaging.

If the CT scan or MR imaging is not pursued, I will put the Mastiff on phenobarbitol to try and control the seizures. Sometimes, Potassium Bromide is needed also.

Another common condition I encounter in geriatric mastiffs, but not as common as in other breeds, is called canine geriatric vestibular disease. The dog presents with a sudden onset of a severe head tilt, falling over and sometimes circling. A severe inner ear infection can also cause this and should be considered as a rule out. The good thing is that generally the dog gets better in 1-2 weeks without specific treatment.

Behavioral Problems and the Aging Mastiff

As our mastiffs age, certain types of behavioral problems can arise. The more common geriatric-onset behavioral problems are collectively termed "cognitive disorders" (CD). Included in this broad category are behaviors such as: decreased interest in food (our mastiffs??), house soiling, incontinence, decreased ability to recognize commands, places, people or other animals, generalized apathy, weakness or disorientation, disruption of sleep-wake cycle, circling, repetitive disorders, persistent vocalization, decreased tolerance to being left along and tremors or shaking. Having only one of the above behaviors can classify the dog as having CD.

For each behavioral problem, a clinical history, physical examination, and diagnostic testing will be needed to determine whether there is an underlying medical problem that could be causing or contributing to the behavior.




There are many medical conditions of geriatric mastiffs that can manifest themselves as behavioral changes. Listed below are a few of these:

Condition Behavioral Change/Problem

1). Less sensitive to thirst

Constipation which may lead to inappropriate defecation

2). Decreased metabolic rate/obesity

Leads to decreased mobility, which may lead to inappropriate elimination or increased possessiveness

3) Thermoregulation capacity reduced

Decreased ability to tolerate temperature changes, therefore less desire to go outdoors. Increased panting

4) Increased dental disease and oral

Pain, irritability, aggression, loss of appetite tumors

5)Decreased respiratory capacity, reduced oxygen to brain and other tissues

Nighttime confusion, decreased exercise tolerance

6) Decreased kidney function, anemia, Inadequate sphincter control

House soiling

7) Degenerative joint disease

Weakness, decreased mobility, pain

8) Decreased sight/smell/hearinge

increased fear, aggression, decreased appetite, increased vocalization, change in sleep pattern, startle to stimuli

So, as you can see, there may be an underlying age change or medical condition causing a certain behavioral change.

After making the diagnosis and determining the cause of the problem, behavior modification, environmental modification and drug therapy can be utilized to work toward a successful control or correction. This is not an easy field of veterinary medicine. I encourage you to discuss this with your veterinarian before attempting any changes.

Drug therapy is a viable option. There are new drugs on the market approved for animal use in these conditions of "cognitive disorders". The two that I am familiar with are clomipramine (Clomicalm) and Anipryl. Anipryl works by enhancing brain dopamine concentrations while clomipramine is an antidepressant. I have used both of these drugs with success but do not have a lot of experience with them in the Mastiff. One thing to keep in mind that I have discovered with a lot of medications and the Mastiff, is that just because they are giant breed dogs, sometimes the dosage of the drug needs to be carefully decided and not given based on weight alone, to avoid overdosage.

The Urinary System and the Aging Mastiff

Incompetent sphincters are a common cause of urinary incontinence in our older female mastiffs. The most common sign is urinating during sleep. The dog wakes up with a puddle of urine under them. Of course, a urinalysis should be obtained to rule out a urinary infection or other problem first. If all is fine, then I will use phenylpropanolamine daily to control this. Sometimes, the drug can be given only 2-3 times weekly. Phenylpropanolamine is a fairly safe drug, but it also increases metabolism and heartrate and should be used very cautiously, if at all in the Mastiff with heart problems.

Prostate problems are common in our older male mastiffs, especially intact dogs. I encourage neutering to help prevent these problems. As the dog ages, the prostate will naturally enlarge and hypertrophy and this is normal. But, neoplasia or cancer of the prostate is more common in the intact male. The prostate will become very large and can press on the urethra causing urination to be painful or for the dog to dribble. Infections of the prostate are also common in intact older males and these can be very serious if not detected early. Infection is the most common problem I encounter in intact Mastiff males, old or young. Diagnostically, I will obtain a prostatic wash sample and a urinalysis and by culture and sensitivity will put the dog on antibiotics for up to 8 weeks. Prostatic infections can become so severe that they can spread to other areas, such as the joints of the leg or the back. Whenever I encounter a male Mastiff with swollen joints or bone infections, one of the first things I look at is the prostate.

Anesthesia and the Aging Mastiff

I have included this section because many of the protocols involved in diagnosing certain conditions or in treating certain conditions of the aging Mastiff require anesthesia. The goals of anesthesia and the geriatric patient are to 1) keep the anesthesia time to a minimum, 2) use anesthetic drugs that have the least effect on the heart, and 3) maintain adequate kidney function.

Having anesthetized many mastiffs, I will give my protocols when anesthetizing an older Mastiff. But, to be honest, I use these protocols even on young mastiffs, because I find them to be much better in giant breed dogs, no matter what age.

I premedicate with valium and butorphanol. I use .2mg/kg of each and give it intramuscularly about 15 minutes prior to surgery. I always have an intravenous (IV) catheter in the front leg and the dog is on fluids during the surgery. I then will give Propofol to effect. In other words, I give it slowly until I can put the endotracheal tube down the trachea to be hooked up to gas or isoforane. If the Mastiff is a heart patient or is really sick, I may use oxymorphone and valium to induce (anesthetize enough to put a tube down). Or there is versed, another drug that I use a lot in older dogs. I always will hook them up to an ECG to monitor the heart and to a pulse oximeter to monitor the oxygenation.

One thing you will notice is that I do not premedicate with atropine or glycopyrolate unless I feel it is necessary. I may use the drugs, but only when indicated.

With this protocol, the Mastiff will wake up very quickly. As you noticed, I do not use acepromazine which many veterinarians include in their anesthetic regimen. Acepromazine is a very potent drug and I find that in our giant breed dogs, its' effect if very profound and long lasting. I do not advise its use. I do not advise the use of Rompun or Dormitor either, as each has again, a profound effect on our mastiffs.

I have used ketamine and valium mixtures, which have worked well in younger mastiffs. Again, I would not use them in the older Mastiff. Telazol is another drug I have used often in younger mastiffs, but would stay away from in the older Mastiff.

Talk to your veterinarian about the procedure and the anesthetics that will be used. The most important thing is that your veterinarian is comfortable anesthetizing a giant breed dog.


Our mastiffs are a great and noble breed. Unfortunately, because they are giant breeds, their life spans are shorter than we would like. I hope that I have enlightened you on the many changes that occur in our older mastiffs and the things that you can do to help keep them healthy as they age. I do believe that we are doing wonderful jobs taking care of our mastiffs as I see many of them at 13 and 14 years of age. I wish I could see them all reach that age with dignity. Helping our mastiffs age gracefully is the most wonderful adventure and the unconditional love we get from them can never be equaled.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Mastiff and the Thyroid
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

My bitch has dark brown spots on her flanks, what is it? My dog hardly eats anything and she or he is still overweight, why? My bitch does not seem to have normal cycles and I can't get her bred, why? My bitch was bred and confirmed pregnant by ultrasound but on her recheck at 30 days, the ultrasound showed evidence of resorption, why?

Many of you have had these same questions and are looking for answers. I believe there can be a multitude of causes for these problems and by all means your veterinarian is the first one for you to ask about your concerns. One of the causes for all of the above problems can be abnormal thyroid function. While I will talk about the thyroid and the diagnosis of thyroid problems and the treatment, I again prevail to you to seek your veterinarian's advise before doing anything. Sometimes, even if what I talk about is to you what you think is the exact think happening to your dog, you could create more of a problem by not getting it accurately diagnosed.

Hypothyroidism is a syndrome characterized by deficient thyroid hormone secretion that can readily be treated with synthetic thyroxine (T4). Once the diagnosis is established, virtually all clinical signs and related disturbances can be completely reversed by T4 replacement therapy. In a small percentage of cases (5%), however, reduced thyroid function occurs as a result of a more serious condition and recognition of the cause is at least as important as documentation of deficient thyroid hormone secretion.

Hyperthyroidism is rare in the dog and will not be considered here.

Hypothyroidism in most dogs result from progressive loss of functional; thyroid tissue due to a primary problem with the gland. In the dog, there are two distinct mechanisms of thyroid destruction: lymphocytic thyroiditis, which is probably an autoimmune disease, and idiopathic (meaning "unknown") atrophy, in which the thyroid gland is replaced by fat and connective tissue. There are other less common causes which will not be discussed here, since the above accounts for about 95% of the cases.

Although not proven, genetic factors may play a role in the origin of hypothyroidism. In a major study in 15 U.S. and Canadian veterinary teaching hospitals, the Mastiff was not among any of the dogs tested. In this test, strong evidence for genetic transmission of thyroid pathology in dogs was found in data from selected groups of laboratory Beagles, in which that cause was lymphocytic thyroiditis. These dogs showed a higher frequency of autoantibodies (antibodies produced against oneself) to some thyroid molecules. Therefore, although good data conclusively demonstrating breed predisposition to primary cause, idiopathic atrophy, has not been linked to being heritable, it is hard to suggest sterilizing a dog unless the thyroid is biopsied and the diagnosis of lymphocytic thyroiditis is obtained. Also, the onset of canine hypothyroidism usually occurs later in life, after producing many puppies. With the advent of new diagnostic techniques, like the testing for autoantibodies, we may be bale to determine without surgical intervention, whether or not one is dealing with lymphocytic thyroiditis or idiopathic atrophy. I will deal more with the diagnostic in a later paragraph.

The clinical signs of hypothyroidism can be subtle to being very overt. Signs include mental dullness (your dog may not be as dumb as you think), exercise intolerance, lethargy, poor hair coats, hair coat color change, hair not regrowing when shaved (especially noticed after a surgery), infertility, irregular estrous cycles, resorption of fetuses after bred, neurological problems, bradycardia (slow heart rate), and cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats). Not all of these symptoms will be seen, but whenever a breeder has a problem with reproduction, the thyroid should be examined.

Thyroid function and reproductive function have many interaction, any of which are not fully understood. In dogs, it has been shown that thyroxine (t4) is significantly higher during pregnancy that in any other reproductive rate. We usually think of the females when we speak of reproductive problems, but males are affected also. Affected dogs have decreases testicular size and lower fertility than nonaffected dogs. Poor semen quality has also been reported. Infertility, prolonged anestrus, short estrus, and poor libido are reportedly associated with hypothyroidism in bitches. An increased occurrence of abortion, stillbirth, resorption and mummified fetuses have been reported also. But, it has also been found that reproductive dysfunction is NOT always found in hypothyroid bitches. In human women, hypothyroidism has been shown to cause irregular cycles, including ovulation failure or cessation of cycles. When conception did occur, spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, and fetal death were common. It has been shown that pregnant women with clinical signs of impending spontaneous abortion who later did abort had lower T4 and T3 levels.

Where does all this leave us? Now that we know the thyroid can cause a lot of problems, what do you need to do? My recommendation, as a Mastiff breeder whom is a veterinarian, is to have your dogs thyroid tested. The best place to send the thyroid tests at this time is Michigan State University. The reason I recommend testing all your dogs is that we do not have enough information on mastiffs on what is normal or abnormal. I have encountered bitches that have undergone resorption of fetuses, or low fertility tests. I have also had dogs with the typical dark skin patches on the flanks have normal thyroid function tests. In all these dogs, I have explored as many possibilities as I could to find other causes and have found none. After supplementing these dogs with thyroxine, the symptoms disappear and the bitches get bred and maintain their pregnancies. I am not saying we should just arbitrarily put dogs on replacement therapy, but I am saying we need to look at what is "NORMAL" for the Mastiff breed. I believe if a particular breed or line of breed has demonstrable signs of thyroid abnormalities, and all other causes have been eliminated, that maybe we need to look at an alteration of "normal range" for thyroid function tests in that breed.

This is not the place to go into the physiological aspects of thyroid function. But I will say that there are more thyroid function tests than just the "T4" that many people test for. The actual thyroid hormone that is active in the body is T3. There is also reverse T3, free T4, bound T4, free T3 and bound T3, and circulating antibodies that can be measures and can help in diagnosing the problem. Michigan State tests all of these and give a good overall view of what is happening. A very important test, the antibodies produced, is important to know since these are often generated in association with lymphocytic thyroiditis, which we spoke of as possibly being hereditary. There is ongoing work to identify other important molecules, as TSH which once identified will lead to a new generation of thyroid diagnostic tests.

When diagnostic tests do not provide a cleat diagnosis, thyroid replacement therapy has been suggested as a valid diagnostic step in an animal suspected to be hypothyroid. Again, every attempt should be made to rule out nonthyroidal illnesses using history, physical examination, routine laboratory, and other appropriate testing before doing this. Your veterinarian is the best judge for this trial.

I believe that we have a lot to learn about the Mastiff and the thyroid problems encountered in the breed. I am trying to collect information on as many mastiffs as I can and their thyroid profiles. Again, one must know what the :normal" is before we can diagnose the abnormal. I would appreciate your input and any thyroid test information that you have on your dogs as I am trying to put together information. The more I have, the more valid the information and the more we can all learn from it. If anyone has any questions regarding thyroid problems or would like more information, please feel free to contact me. Again, I am learning also and some of you have had much more experience with the breed and their particular problems.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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Breeding the Difficult Mastiff
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

Over the years, I have worked with a lot of breeders and their mastiffs. While having reproductive problems is not the norm, it does occur and can cause much frustration to all those involved. And over the years I have developed a diagnostic routine to help determine if there truly is a problem. I hope to be able to help you and your veterinarians by discussing how I approach a Mastiff that is having difficulty being bred.

I know a lot of you are not breeders but hope that you will read this anyway because it will discuss some general health problems of the Mastiff breed that concerns all of us. I in no way want to tell anyone how to run their breeding programs, as I know there are many of you that are more knowledgeable than I when it comes to breeding the Mastiff. I just hope to be able to give you some guidelines to follow if you do encounter a problem in your kennel.

There is a lot of discussion about whether we should even be interfering with the breeding of our dogs. Some say that we should not be artificially inseminating and nature should take its course. My opinion is that with the increasing testing we are doing to eliminate the problems in our breed, i.e. hip and elbow dysplasia, and PRA to name a few, we are decreasing our available gene pool. Therefore, I believe to continue to produce good animals, we need to be able to breed dogs that are geographically distant and this requires artificial means. I am not here to debate this issue as there are always differences of opinion.

Why do we have any problems at all in reproduction? One reason is that the canine of all domestic species has a reproductive cycle that is very difficult to control and it is highly variable. The canine reproductive cycle has the largest deviation of normal values in our domestic species. Another reason is that veterinarians tend not to see a lot of dogs with reproductive problems. By the time help is sought, it is usually because the dog is a champion or the last of the line and the people are desperate. Or breeders can be reluctant to seek help for fear that others will look at their problems and think that there is a genetic or infectious problem in that kennel. Also breeders typically select for looks and performance, not fertility. So, we as veterinarians working in the reproductive field are limited as to what we see.

Natural breeding, I believe is the most optimal way to have success. But it is not always the most feasible. Many of you already do fresh artificial inseminations (AI) and some of you do chilled and even frozen AI. I will briefly talk about these but when I am concerned with getting a difficult bitch pregnant, I find my most reliable method is to do a surgical implant of fresh or chilled semen and if necessary, then frozen.

Breeding by surgical implantation is the primary topic of this article. There are several reasons I choose surgical implantation. One is that in human medicine, it has been found that in infertile women, there can be a mucus plug on the cervix that has spermicidal qualities. This has been documented in one veterinary paper. Also, due to the inherent bacteria that inhabit the vagina, there is always an ongoing inflammatory response to some degree in the bitch. With inflammatory responses, we have certain inflammatory mediators that are released and it is a know fact that some of these mediators are toxic to sperm. Also, I have found that when there is a poorer quality sperm count, surgical implantation is the best choice.

When a bitch is presented to me for infertility, I first get a thorough history of that bitch and others in the kennel and of the stud dog. The number one cause for infertility in my opinion is mismanagement of the bitch. Not knowing exactly when to breed. Or not having good sperm. I make sure that the stud's sperm has been checked and/or he is proven. Typically, this is an area that is not checked as often as it should be. Males tend to have a high incidence of prostatitis which can lower sperm counts. I suggest to all breeders to have their males semen and/or urine cultured routinely (every 6-12 months) to insure a good sperm count. With the bitch, I want to know how often she comes into heat, how long she stays in heat, her breeding history and whether she has every whelped a litter.

The next process is to do a thorough physical examination. I know that by the time I see a problem bitch, it has been examined by other veterinarians and perhaps has had an array of tests. But, I want to make sure nothing has been overlooked and I start at zero. Yes, it can be expensive, but the cost of not producing can also be expensive. Again, let me state that this whole process may not be necessary for every bitch, but when it is the bitches last chance or because of age or something else, I feel that the total workup is necessary. I examine the bitch from head to toe. I inspect the vulva and vagina for any abnormalities. I can pick up some underlying disease processes just from the physical exam which may lead to why there is a fertility problem.

I start with a complete blood count, chemistry profile and electrolytes. I pay special attention to the white cell count, which when elevated can indicate bacterial infection or if low can indicate a viral infection. I make sure there is no significant anemia. I say significant, because I have found that the mastiffs' red blood cell count is normally on the low side to even being slightly anemic by the standards. I have found this to be true in the majority of the mastiffs I have checked and now believe this to be a normal deviation. The anemia should not be pronounced or I would tend to think there is a problem. The chemistry evaluates the liver, kidneys, pancreas and the general health of the animal as do the electrolytes. There are many disease processes that can be recognized by their distinctive bloodwork changes. I also do a heartworm test and a fecal at this time. A urinalysis is warranted to again measure kidney function and to see if there is an underlying bladder infection.

I also do a thyroid test. I submit it to Michigan State University as I believe this is one of the best laboratories I have worked with and they are the official lab for the certification process. I know there are many theories about the thyroid and reproduction. I will give you my opinion and how I treat thyroid testing and supplementation.

The only thyroid hormones I am interested in are the Total T4, Free T4 (by dialysis) and the autoantibodies and the TSH. The autoantibodies when elevated over the normal means that the thyroid has an autoimmune process occuring that is destroying the tissue and this is inheritable and therefore the bitch or dog should not be used in a breeding program. If those are normal, I look at the other tests. I have done enough testing on mastiffs prior to, during and after pregnancy to come to some conclusions regarding the Mastiff and the thyroid. I have found that during pregnancy, a Mastiff that tested in the normal to low normal range, will have a significant drop in the thyroid, presumably due to the increased metabolic load of pregnancy. It has also been demonstrated in pregnant women and it has been documented that this is a cause of early abortion and resorption in women. I believe it plays an important part in our mastiffs also. If the Mastiff is below the 50% normal level, I supplement with thyroid even if it is just for the duration of the pregnancy. I give .1 mg/10 lbs. and divide the dose daily. This supplementation needs to begin at least 30 days prior to breeding. One must use the brand name Soloxine, and not the generics. I find the generics are not reliable. I know there are some good ones out there, but there are also bad ones.

Because I do supplement during pregnancy with thyroid hormone, one of the important tests I do in my workup is a cardiac exam. I auscultate the heart and if I feel it is necessary, I perform an EKG or a cardiac ultrasound. Cardiomyopathy can be a problem in our breed and thyroid supplementation can worsen this condition if it is present.

I will ultrasound the uterus and the ovaries. I am looking for an enlarged uterus or one with fluid in it or perhaps a thickened uterine wall which would all indicate some pathology taking place. I try to see the ovaries and most of the time unless they are enlarged or have follicles on them, they cannot be easily found by ultrasound. One can definitely see an ovarian tumor. While I am ultrasounding the reproductive tract, I will take a look at the liver, spleen, kidneys and the abdominal cavity in general.

Another topic of controversy is culturing the vagina and vaginal vault. I do cultures and I feel they are very important. There are normal bacteria in the vagina. But when that growth is heavy or there are bacterial organisms there that should not be there, then fertility can be affected. When culturing the vagina, one must use a long guarded cotton swab to obtain a culture from high up in the vagina and not one of the lower vagina. I utilize equine culture tubes as they work well. I will send the culture to the laboratory and when the results come back I will place the bitch on appropriate antibiotics. The most common antibiotics I use are Cephalexin at 10 mg/lb and Baytril. Baytril is a great antibiotic but expensive and to treat a Pseudomonas infection, one must use 3-5 times the bottle dose. I know many veterinarians utilize the sulfa drugs, like Tribrissen and while they are good antibiotics, they can decrease the thyroid hormones resulting in even lower thyroid levels. So, I do not use them. If the bitch has chronic vaginal infections or has a heavy growth of an organism, surgical implantation is the best route for insemination. I also make sure that I schedule a C-section so the puppies never have contact with the vagina.

If all the testing is done and all things are normal, the next step is timing the insemination. Because I do primarily surgical implantation, timing is extremely important because you only have one shot at it. I utilize progesterone and Leutinizing hormone test kits. Progesterone starts to rise indicating that the bitch is getting ready to ovulate. Once the progesterone rises above 2 ng/ml then the LH spikes indicating ovulation. Once you know the day of ovulation, the surgical implant is done on day 5 or 6. The tests are simple. Serum must be used. I start progesterone testing with the Status Pro ®(1) on day 3 or 4 of the cycle and I test daily until about day 7 where I start testing for the LH surge with the LH® kit. I have found that mastiffs have an extremely short ovulation time. Where most breeds will ovulate over a 24-30 hours time period, I find mastiffs to ovulate in sometimes less than a 12 hour interval. Because of the short ovulation time, it is difficult to see the color change on the LH test. There is a control line that is always pink and you are looking for the test line to become darker than the control to indicate ovulation. I have yet to see this happen. I find that the second line will get darker but not darker than the control and then all of a sudden, it will appear lighter. I extrapolate backwards to determine the ovulation time. That is why I do the LH test every 12 hours until I see this change. If you test daily or every other day as the kit suggests, you will miss the ovulation. I then do a progesterone test on day 4 after the day of presumed ovulation as a check. The progesterone should be rising. I then implant on day 5 after ovulation.

Many of you and the veterinarians you have, rely on vaginal smears to determine when to breed. I think that is satisfactory when you are doing natural breeding because the time window is longer. But the changes in the vaginal smears and the bitch "acting" like she is in heat, are the responses to the hormone estrogen. These occur several days prior to progesterone rising or when the LH peaks so if I have to get a more accurate timing, I make sure I test often.

Prior to breeding, I make sure the male has had a sperm culture and sperm check. Then on the day of implantation, I collect the semen and place it in a warmer. I put an IV catheter in the bitch and utilize the drug propofol for anesthesia. This is one of the safest anesthetics on the market for dogs. I will intubate and place the dog on isoforane gas anesthesia for the procedure. The abdomen is prepared and the surgery starts. Once the uterus is exteriorized, the make a small ½" incision in the body of the uterus. Then I collect the semen in a sterile manner with a small 5 " catheter and insert the catheter into the uterine body and inject the semen. The usual protocol calls for injecting the sperm with a needle into the uterus, but I find that I cannot tell if I am in the uterus or the wall of the uterus, so I open it up. Once placed, an assistant pinches the body of the uterus above where I made the incision to keep the sperm in the uterus while I suture the incision. Even though the bitch is in heat, there is minimal blood loss. I then inspect the ovaries and uterus and obtain biopsies of both for submission to the laboratory. I may also culture the uterus before I suture it closed. Then I close the abdomen and it is done.

I will ultrasound the bitch on day 21 and I will also start progesterone testing. There is a lot of literature in human medicine about progesterone levels dropping after day 30 and causing spontaneous abortion or resorption. There are only a couple of articles documenting this in veterinary medicine. I think it can be a problem. So, in the difficult to breed bitch, I will test progesterone weekly after day 21 and while it should gradually decrease until it gets to 2 ng/ml causing labor, it should not drop too low prior to the due date. If it drops to 5 ng/ml, I will use progesterone in oil to keep the progesterone up. Progesterone in oil will stay in the dogs body for 48 hours and can be redosed if needed. I continue to ultrasound often.

I schedule a C-section on day 62 post implantation. And Wallah!!!! It is done...

Again, this type of extensive workup and insemination isn't for everyone. I have had wonderful success utilizing this method in problem mastiffs. If and when you ever have a reproductive problem with your bitches or males, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to help if I can.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959

1. Status Pro and LH kits are tests manufactured and sold through Synbiotics®.


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Preparing the Mastiff Bitch and Dog for Breeding
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

Many of us have our Mastiffs as our pets and are not interested in breeding. I do believe that is the majority of us. But for those of you who do breed (or who want to in the future), I think that there are some fundamental basics that need to be addressed. I think that most of you are familiar with most of the topics I am going to discuss and, as you know, I believe a strong relationship with your veterinarian is a must. So some of the topics I will address are not anything new to you. I get calls every day on the breeding management of the Mastiff, so I thought I would tell you how I approach a breeding problem.

Inappropriate management of the bitch used for breeding is the most common cause of infertility. There is an abundance of literature advising breeding on certain days ... or when the color of the vulvar discharge changes ... or there is perhaps a "new moon" in the sky. Although these recommendations may result in pregnancy for the average bitch, many normal bitches are poorly served by these guidelines.

I get many people who will tell me that if one must interfere in the breeding of the Mastiff, then that particular animal should not be bred -- the thought being that we are "creating" problems in the breed if we have to go to artificial means in order to produce a litter. I must disagree with this. As in humans, there are many reasons why a female may not become pregnant. I think that with good testing and trying to rid the breed of genetic defects as much as possible, we are limiting the animals that can be bred. So, why not do a little interference to try to improve the breed? Again, I am not here to argue, but to just give some advice on how to better manage your breeding Mastiffs.

A brief discussion of the canine estrous cycle is helpful in understanding the importance of management. Proestrus begins with vulvar swelling and a serious discharge. Male dogs are attracted to the bitch. This is a time of rising estrogen levels while progesterone stays low. This stage lasts about three to 17 days. When estrogen levels drop and progesterone levels rise, this signals the onset of estrus, or standing heat. The bitch flags, stands for the male and often seeks breeding. The average duration of estrus is nine days, with a range of three to 21 days. Diestrus begins with a continual rise in progesterone. Anestrus is the period of time between the end of diestrus and the beginning of the next proestrus -- the time of endometrial (lining of the uterus) repair. Many breeders believe a bitch should be bred on day nine and 11 of her cycle. Obviously, a bitch with a 14 day proestrus would be unlikely to conceive on day 11.

These hormonal changes can be monitored by the changing of the cellular structure in the vagina. For many years, vaginal cytology was the only way to determine where in the cycle a bitch was. In recent years, there has been the development of easy-to-use test kits that can measure the level of progesterone and LH (leutinizing hormone). When progesterone rises to a certain point, we know that ovulation has occurred; by measuring LH, we can determine the exact day of ovulation and can accurately determine when breeding should take place. This has been fantastic, especially with the increased use of chilled and frozen semen being sent across the country. We can pinpoint the exact day to breed. I have found that through the use of these tests, I rarely use vaginal cytology. I tried to correlate the vaginal cytology with these tests when I first began doing this testing and found that the vaginal cytology really was a very "crude" method to determine breeding, as it did not correspond regularly with the actual hormonal changes in many bitches, especially the hard-to-breed bitches. I start to take blood samples from bitches on about day three to five, and do the progesterone testing every day until I see a rise in progesterone. Then I start the LH testing, and do this testing twice a day until I get the LH surge.

There are a lot of inherent problems with this test if not done this way. For one, many bitches have a very short (less than 12 hour) LH surge. So if the LH testing is done just once a day, you may miss the positive result ... and thereby miss the actual day of ovulation. Using the test twice a day, I have never missed a day of ovulation. Also, the test says you will get one line darker than the other one on the day of LH surge. I have only seen this happen one time in all the tests I have done. Again, due to the short surge in some bitches, you can get a rise and fall of LH within a short amount of time, and while the second line will be seen on the test, you may never catch it being actually darker than the control line (you must also realize that I am usually dealing with bitches that have had trouble being bred previously and never follow the "book"). You must just continue testing and if the line disappears the next day, you know that the previous day was the LH surge. Then you also should check progesterone on day four to five post what you thought was LH surge to confirm that it was not a false surge. You should have a rise in progesterone. If not, then you had a false LH surge and must continue the daily or twice-daily testing. I know this sounds confusing and if anyone or your veterinarians need some help, please feel free to call me (my number is listed at the end of this article). After determining the day of ovulation, I then breed on days two, four and six post-surge. Or, if I am doing an implant, I do it on day five post LH surge.

Before breeding, though, I require all bitches to have a vaginal culture and sensitivity. This will let me know if there is any ongoing infection. There is going to be bacteria in this area just by the nature of the area, but there should not be any heavy growth of bacteria. I prefer to culture approximately two weeks before breeding is going to take place. This is usually just an educated guess as far as time. If you wait until the bitch is in season, you may not be able to breed, because certain antibiotics that may be needed may not allow the breeding to occur.

The way that I culture under ideal situations is to pass a cannula (small tube) up into the vaginal vault, then pass the sterile culture swab through it, so as not to get any of the bugs that are just lurking around the outside of the vulva. Some veterinarians are actually using an endoscope and getting up to the cervix, but I have not done this, and I think personally (even as a veterinarian) unless reasons dictate, the costs would probably be too much, as cultures are expensive already.

There have been studies (Am. J. Vet Res 1992, May), that suggest that culturing the vagina from bitches without signs of genital disease is of little value. In my opinion, I think it IS of value. We are finding more puppies that are born naturally dying as neonates due to strep and Pseudomonas infections (usually of the lungs) and then going septicemic. These are ones that are confirmed at necropsy. I think a lot of these infections are picked up by the puppies passing through the vaginal vault and picking up these organisms. So, I do suggest doing the culturing, and will continue to support this practice.

If you get a culture and it comes back with Pseudomonas, it usually is mixed with a strep or something else. A sensitivity is also given, which suggests which antibiotics will work. So far, Baytril, gentocin, amikacin and the human drug, ciprofloxin, are able to get this bug. Baytril needs to be used at three times the bottle dose in order to kill Pseudomonas. It is also very expensive for the Mastiff dose. So I use gentocin (which is an injectable) and penicillin for five days.

Now, gentocin is a very potent drug and has toxicities. It can cause kidney damage. The kidney and liver function should ALWAYS be checked prior to using the drug. It is also safer to use the drug at six mg/kg ONCE a day instead of the lower dose two to three times a day. It has been found that the pulsing (or the up and down amount of the drug in the bloodstream) when given two to three times a day is actually more harmful on the kidney that the larger dose just once a day. I have yet to have a healthy animal have problems with gentocin. I would also suggest a baseline urinalysis prior to using. I give gentocin subcutaneously. As I said, I combine it with penicillin at a dose of 10,000 U/lb. twice a day. After treating for five days, I re-culture. Amikacin is very good, but very expensive for the Mastiff.

Chronic vaginitis in bitches older than a year of age is most often associated with identifiable abnormalities of the genitalia (i.e. the vulva not sloping down enough, or an inverted type of vulva), or it is identified with urinary infections. Therefore, if you are culturing and find your bitch is having recurrent infections, you should have her examined for possible problems, perhaps with an endoscope. I would also check the ears; Pseudomonas ear infections are very, very common, and the scenario of one dog licking another, etc., can cause spread of the infection, which can get into the genital tract. This could be our most common way that Pseudomonas gets around.

While on the subject of culturing, I believe that all males should be cultured, also. I find that more than 50 percent of the dogs I see have a low grade prostatitis and can benefit from antibiotics. You must remember that there are three fractions to a dog's ejaculate: a thin watery solution (the seminal fluid), then the sperm fraction, and lastly, the prostatic fluid. This last fluid is what you actually want to test. There are ways to collect just the prostatic portion of the fluid by a prostatic wash, but I just use an ejaculated sample. Prostatitis is the number one cause of low sperm counts and low libido in our male dogs. It is EASY to fix, but you must look for it.

I just got through looking at some sperm for a veterinarian friend of mine that she had gotten in from another state to inseminate into her own bitch (NOT a Mastiff ). It had tons of white blood cells, so we cultured it and got back a heavy growth of Pseudomonas. Even though this came from one of the top dogs in that breed, I am glad we did not inseminate. Just think of the infection we could have caused! Instead, we notified the breeder, who took the dog in and got the testing done and put him on antibiotics. MORAL of the story: CHECK THE MALES, also.

There is a downside, though, and that is that being on strong antibiotics can predispose the bitch or male to yeast infections. I usually feed yogurt in heavier amounts while the dogs are on antibiotics to try to prevent this problem.

Besides culturing, the female should also be checked for any anatomical abnormalities as mentioned previously, like vaginal obstructions caused from strictures or an extremely angled vagina which would make breeding difficult.

The bitch and the sire should be thyroid-checked. Not only can hypothyroidism be an inheritable problem, but even if it is not, a low-normal thyroid can cause the bitch to resorb fetuses. The thyroid is the major organ that runs metabolism -- or the energy level -- of the body. During times of stress (i.e., estrus, pregnancy or sickness), the thyroid has to work overtime. In a breed such as ours, a low-normal everyday thyroid level, when put under stress, can drop to below normal, and therefore create some metabolic problems. I will sometimes, based on the thyroid level (and only certain thyroid hormone testing is really relevant), put a bitch on thyroid medication for the duration of pregnancy and then wean her off of it after whelping. I have done many thyroid tests on bitchess not in heat, not pregnant and on bitches that ARE in heat or ARE pregnant, and found that the thyroid level does indeed drop significantly during these times of stress. As long as the bitch is under the care of a veterinarian, the thyroid supplementation cannot harm her. But, notice I do say "under the supervision of a veterinarian," because there are some conditions (such as cardiomyopathy, for instance) where thyroid supplementation can cause problems. Low thyroid levels have been correlated in humans with early resorption and miscarriages.

A brucellosis test must be required of all breeding animals.

I find that many breeders have great practices of culturing and doing all the testing prior to breeding, but fail to check one of the most important factors, the sperm. I require all dogs that are to breed to have a semen evaluation. Not only does this tell about the quality of the semen, but it also can tell if there is a prostatitis or other problem going on. This is the time to complete the culture mentioned previously.

Prior evaluation of the hips and elbows to determine they are free of dysplasia is also a recommended practice in breeding, especially in breeding our Mastiffs.

I also want the dog's vaccination status up to date prior to breeding. A heartworm check and fecal examination is also performed.

I know many of you are thinking that if you have to go through all of these steps, it will cost you a fortune. Yes, it can be expensive, but not as expensive as losing a litter due to infection or other reason, or losing the bitch because she resorbed her puppies and developed pyometra. AND the most important factor: FAILURE of breeding can be expensive in itself.

Once you have successfully bred you bitch, maintaining the pregnancy is the next step. I start to ultrasound on day 21 for confirmation of pregnancy. I usually cannot tell positively until day 28. When I am dealing with a bitch that has had fertility problems, i.e., not maintained a pregnancy or not been able to be bred (at least that they know of), I also will start checking progesterone levels weekly to make sure that progesterone is staying elevated. A common cause of resorption is the progesterone falling and not maintaining the pregnancy. This is an easy dilemma to solve. Progesterone can be given to the bitch.

I also start the bitch on a puppy food halfway through pregnancy to provide the adequate amount of protein and calcium she will need for the puppies. I do not use any other supplements.

I ultrasound weekly, especially the bitches that have had problems prior to coming to me for breeding, so I can keep a close watch on the fetuses. At day 50 or so, I will radiograph to see how many puppies there are and whether the pelvic canal is wide enough. If there are only a few puppies, I will try to let the bitch have the puppies naturally. If the bitch had a previous problem with vaginal infections, or if there are a lot of puppies, I will schedule a cesarean section. The most common cause of loss of puppies in our breed during whelping is uterine inertia, during which the uterus will get tired and give out after having only a couple of puppies, and the subsequent puppies die in the uterus because they are not delivered. I see no reason to put the bitch through this life-threatening problem when I can safely do a cesarean section. Again, I know there are varying opinions on this subject, so I will not delve into it any further at this time.

I hope that this article will help some of you with your breeding practices. If any of you have any questions at all... or concerns... or just want some advice, please contact me. I am always happy to talk with Mastiff people.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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The Care and Fostering of Newborn Mastiffs
By Robin M. Smith, DVM

Editor's Note: The following article first appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Mastiff Alliance newsletter (Fall 1995) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and the publisher.

I decided on the subject of puppies because the fostering of puppies is very fresh in my mind. I have been involved with taking care of many litters, but never have I truly fostered a litter all by myself until recently. My experience with breeders is than many of you have many good methods of raising your puppies and are very successful. I, in no way, want you to change your ways of raising puppies if it works for you. I have gotten many good ideas from breeders over the years and have incorporated them into the way I try to take care of puppies. As a veterinarian, I have tried to rationalize all these methods by providing scientific reasoning behind why they work. I have accomplished some of this, but some I have not. As they say, "If it works, do it." I want to present certain facts about puppies and their needs as newborns until they are four weeks of age and try to present some of the problems that we, as breeders, have with why puppies die. Again, if you have any suggestions, please write to me; I would love to hear them.

If you have a bitch that is an easy whelper, produces good milk and is a good mother, you probably have few worries. But, most of us are not lucky enough to have all three characteristics. Most of what I am going to talk about will involve puppies that have to be hand-raised due to the bitch not having good milk or adequate milk, or the bitch that just is not a good mother, or, which hopefully will not be the case, the bitch that dies.

Immediately after birth, the bitch produces a special type of milk called colostrum. Colostrum is vitally important for the provision of passive immunity to newborn puppies. Once absorbed by the puppies' gastrointestinal tract, this immunity offers protection from a number of infectious diseases to the litter. In older puppies and adults, normal digestive processes would result in the complete digestion of these compounds, making them unavailable to the body. However, the intestinal lining of newborn puppies is capable of absorbing the intact antibodies that are provided by colostrum. The time period during which the newborn's GI tract is able to absorb the colostrum is very short. In puppies, the time period for absorption is approximately 24 hours. Several forms of colostrum are produced during the first 24 to 72 hours after birth, after which the composition transforms to mature milk. The composition of colostrum is lower in total solids , fat and protein than mature milk.

Besides the immunological and nutritional benefits of colostrum, it has also been postulated that the volume of fluid ingested immediately following birth contributes significantly to the puppies' circulating volume. This indicates that the lack of adequate fluid intake shortly after birth may contribute to circulatory failure in newborns that leads to death. This can be manifested as dehydration in the newborn.

I generally put the puppies on the bitch every couple of hours for the first 24 hours. Since that bitch may not have a lot of colostrum, a milk substitute is also utilized at this time to keep the puppies hydrated. If for some chance the bitch dies, you will need to collect plasma (not serum) from the bitch prior to death, and have it available for the puppies. Sometimes, I collect plasma anyway if I am not sure the bitch will produce much colostrum. It is easy for your veterinarian to do. Then, I give each puppy one cc. of plasma at birth and another one cc in 12 hours orally. The plasma provides the antibodies from the bitch as the colostrum does.

During this first 24 hours, the amount of milk, whether from the bitch herself or as a supplement, needs to be monitored. Most newborn Mastiffs can handle one oz. (30 cc.) of milk per feeding. I have found that I can feed 30 ml. (one oz.) of milk at each feeding to the puppies for the first few days, approximately every three hours. After the first few days, the amount is increased as needed, and I do not really use a formula. You can overfeed puppies, also creating problems such as diarrhea and lethargy (which, of course, is sometimes even hard to tell in an adult Mastiff). I go by skin turgor and urine color to know if the puppies are getting enough milk. The skin of the back of the puppy, not the scruff, will pop right back into place when pinched if the puppy is well hydrated. The urine will be clear-colored, not yellow. Again, this is something you need to vary with each individual puppy. No one said it would be easy, right?

After the first week to week and a half, I increase the time between feedings to four hours, and by the time the puppies are four weeks old, we are feeding every 6 - 8 hours. Again, this may vary from puppy or litter to litter.

What to feed? One of the greatest challenges involved in raising puppies is providing them with adequate nutrition. Several commercial products are available. Most of these products are composed of cow's milk that has been modified to simulate the composition of bitch's milk. Bitch's milk has a large proportion of calories from fat and a low percentage from lactose, with protein intermediate. On a caloric basis, cow's milk has nearly three times the amount of lactose than bitch's milk. For this reason, puppies that are fed straight cow's milk will develop severe diarrhea. There are a lot of replacers out there, and your veterinarian and other successful breeders can help you with the decision. There are also homemade replacers, which is what I choose to use, but make sure that it has adequate nutrition or you will end up with problems.

How do I feed my puppies? There are two methods of feeding: bottle feeding, which is the way I feed; or tube feeding and delivering the milk directly into the stomach. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Bottle feeding can be frustrating because of trying to get the right nipple so the puppies do not aspirate the milk and do not feed too fast. With patience, you can usually get it right. The main problem with bottle feeding is aspiration pneumonia from the puppy getting the milk into their lungs. As far as I know, all bottle-fed puppies develop at least a small amount of aspiration pneumonia. I recommend starting the puppies on Clavamox drops after the amount after the first few days of bottle feeding. With proper nutrition and Ben-Bac (I will talk about later), the diarrhea associated with antibiotics is abated.

Tube feeding is done by many breeders. The advantage is you can prevent aspiration pneumonia and know exactly how much to feed the puppies. The problem is you can feed too much and too fast. The major disadvantage is you need to be experienced with the procedure. Not done correctly can lead to passing the tube into the lungs and causing a severe pneumonia or death. I have used this method on puppies that were sick or weak or have aspiration pneumonia. Again, I implore you not to do this unless you are experienced.

During the first few weeks of life, puppies should nurse 6 - 8 times a day. The two primary activities of newborns are eating and sleeping (the same as their owners). The eyes of the puppies open between 10 - 16 days after birth, and their ears begin function between 15 -17 days of birth (of course, some of us have Mastiffs whose ears never began to function). Normal body temperature for puppies is 94 - 97 degrees F. for the first two weeks of life. Because puppies do not have a shivering reflex for the first 6 -7 days of life, an external heat source is needed. Keeping the environment warm and free from drafts is a must. For the first week of life, the ambient temperature should be between 85 - 90 degrees F. This can be decreased slightly to between 80 - 85 degrees F. during the second to fourth weeks, and then even lower after that. I prefer to use a heating lamp kept about four feet above the puppies. The use of heating pads is not recommended, since the puppies are sometimes not strong enough to get off of the pad, and with the combination of urine and heat, severe burning can occur. It is best to use a temperature gradient so that the puppies can move to warmer or cooler areas as needed. Humidity is important, also. If the environment is too dry, the puppies are subject to dehydration. If dry heat is used to keep the whelping box warm, pans of water should be placed near the heaters to maintain room humidity. A relative humidity of approximately 50% is effective in preventing dehydration and maintaining moist nasal and respiratory passages.

I mentioned the use of Ben-Bac in the puppies earlier. This is a lactobacillus product that, when giving to puppies, helps to begin the process of normal bacterial development in the puppies' intestines. The use of the product helps prevent diarrhea and, therefore, dehydration. I use the product on day two and three, then again in seven days. The directions for use are on the product.

Another important procedure must be done after feeding puppies. The anal/genital area of the newborns should be massaged gently with a damp cloth. This simulates the dam's licking, and stimulates urination and defecation. I do this with a Wet-One, and have a clean, dry paper towel on my lap. This way I can see the color of the urine, and if it is bright yellow, I know the puppy is dehydrated.

Rates of loss among puppies, of any breed in the first 12 weeks of life, usually is approximately 15 - 40%. Most puppy losses will occur during the following times: in utero (abortions and stillborns), at birth (stillbirths), immediately following birth (from birth to two weeks of age) or immediately following weaning (5 - 12 weeks of age). Rates of loss after 12 weeks are generally low.

Puppy losses between birth and 12 weeks of age usually result from problems acquired in utero, immediately after birth and just after weaning. Congenital abnormalities or those present at birth will not be discussed, but many times are the cause of puppy deaths and often go unrecognized, and are thought of as "fading puppies." Poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy can lead to weak and diseased puppies. I put bitches on puppy food about two weeks into their pregnancy. Traumatic injuries also cause puppy losses. An injury while in the birth canal or an injury from a bitch lying on her puppies can lead to death. Adequate supervision and a proper environment can prevent the latter.

Infectious diseases account for the most substantial proportion of puppy losses. Most deaths are attributed to primary infections of either the respiratory tract or the gastrointestinal tract. Neonatal sepsis is usually caused by Staphylococcus, Escherichia, Klebsiella, Enterobactor, "strep," Pseudomonas and a few others. Gram negative bacilli are the most common. Sources from which they can enter the blood stream include the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, skin and associated wounds, and the urinary tract. Proper sanitation can prevent many of these. I wipe the puppies down with Wet-Ones every time I handle them.

Several viruses can also cause puppy deaths. Canine herpes virus infections are thought to be the more common cause of puppy losses than other viruses. Most herpes virus infections are acquired during the late stages of pregnancy and the first three weeks of life. The clinical signs manifested by puppies with canine herpes virus infection may range from mild to severe, depending on age, stress factors, the presence of maternal herpes virus antibodies and the presence of other bacterial infections. Most puppy losses occur during the ninth and 14th day of life. Puppies show sudden onset and severe illness characterized by depression, anorexia (not nursing), persistent crying, abdominal discomfort, bloating, rapid and shallow breathing, hypothermia (low temp), and profound weakness and diarrhea with resultant dehydration. Once these symptoms occur, death follows in 18 - 24 hours.

The symptoms described above are symptoms of any severe infection in puppies. There are some things you can do to help beat the odds. They require 24-hour attention after the first signs appear, but sometimes you can save a puppy. When I have had very sick puppies, I will tell you what I have done to save them, if they were saved. Because I am a veterinarian, I have access to a lot of things normal breeders don't have, and the cost of trying to save a sick puppy can be overwhelming, but very satisfying.

My first indication that a puppy is not doing "right" is that they do not want to feed much or they fight the nipple. I never let a puppy go without some treatment if they do not eat the amount that they should. A puppy can get very dehydrated in a few hours. I first assess their hydration by picking up the skin on the back of the puppy and seeing if it goes into place right away. I also look at the urine and see if it is clear or getting a yellow color. Both of these can tell you if the puppy is dehydrated. I realize that sometimes puppies, as do infants, can sometimes have a stomachache and not feel well for a short time, so I do not get very alarmed if the puppy is hydrated and the temperature is normal for that age puppy. I usually just give some subcutaneous fluids at this time.

If the puppy on the next feeding still does not want to eat, I start looking for problems, especially if the puppy isn't as active as the others that are waking up, or if it starts to cry excessively. I listen to the lungs to see if there is any fluid in them and if they are expanding adequately. I check the color of the mucous membranes. I realize that Mastiff puppies have pigmented gums, so I look under the eyelids. They should be pink. Usually if the puppy has not eaten this second time, they are dehydrated.

Your veterinarian can instruct you on how to use fluids in puppies. You need to know the type of fluids and the type of syringe to use and how much to give. I give fluids under the skin to the puppy, the amount depending on size and how dehydrate I believe the puppy is. I usually use lactated Ringers or normal saline (sterile). I also start antibiotics on the puppy. My first choice is oral Clavamox. I also give some 50% dextrose by mouth, because hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is often the only reason a puppy who has not eaten one time will do poorly and die. Again, the amount needs to be at the discretion of your veterinarian. If the puppy doesn't eat again, it just depends on whether I tube feed the puppy. Again, this is individualized treatment. You can also try to put your finger in their mouths and give them formula by a small syringe. Be careful of aspiration, though.

Sometimes, you can look at the bellies and the pads of the feet, and if they are extremely reddened, this may be a sign of septicemia (or an infection that has spread throughout the system). These sick puppies are also very susceptible to hypothermia (low body temp) and need to be adequately warmed.

There is some controversy as to whether to separate the sick puppy from the rest of the litter. I, personally, do not. I like the stimulation that the other puppies give to the sick puppy. All the puppies are exposed, anyway. Again, that is your choice.

If the puppy continues after about 6 - 8 hours of being lethargic and starting to cry excessively, I usually will tube feed a small amount to get some nutrition into the pup. I continue the fluids and antibiotics. Many times, stimulation is what is needed to keep these puppies going. I have seen a couple puppies that were very sick, but with the persistence of the owner rubbing the puppy and keeping the puppy stimulated, have made it through. This can be very tedious, but can help. Usually, with all this attention, the puppy comes around in about 24 hours and will begin eating.

I also worry about diarrhea. I have found that using Biosol works well. This is a liquid large-animal antibiotic and is not approved in small animals anymore. There used to be a small animal counterpart. I use 1 - 2 drops orally once a day for a maximum of two days. I am also giving supportive fluids. If the diarrhea continues, I use Kaopectate ... 1/4 of a cc. per puppy twice a day. Between both of these, the diarrhea usually subsides. I stress again not to use the Biosol longer than two days. You can use it again if you need to, but give at least five days between doses.

If a puppy dies ... I immediately have the puppy sent in for necropsy (an autopsy to find out the reason for death) and if any other puppy looks even suspectingly sick, I begin a more aggressive approach to my treatment. I think this is where a lot of people wait and see if other puppies get sick or die and the wait is what causes further losses. I usually start amkacin and penicillin. The amkacin can be very toxic, so I dilute it with sterile saline and inject it into the peritoneum (belly) of the puppies. Again, this antibiotic should only be used with adequate fluids given also, and should be prescribed by a veterinarian and administered by one, also. The penicillin can be given under the skin. Fluids, dextrose and tube feeding may become necessary. If there are further puppy deaths, these are sent for necropsy, also. You usually get the results of the necropsy in a couple of days, and you can use the correct antibiotic for the bacteria isolated then. But, again, if you wait for the results, you may lose more puppies. Yes, I am aggressive. I did not use to be. I also did not save the amount of puppies that I save now.

Please feel free to call me or write with questions. If you have a problem with your puppies, I would be happy to help if I can. The Mastiff is a wonderful breed, and the puppies are so exciting to raise. I must say, though, that after 3 1/2 weeks of feedings and all-nighters, I sure am happy the litter I fostered is eating on their own!!!!!

One last thing: I worm all the puppies with Nemex or Strongid at two weeks of age. At four weeks, I will use a three-day dose of Panacur. Many of these puppies with diarrhea have roundworm infections from the dam -- even if the dam was checked for parasites previous to whelping. If I have a (pup with) diarrhea, one of the first things I do is a fecal. Many times there are coccidia infestations that can be treated with Albon.

Another last thing: I start vaccinations at six weeks with a combination distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus and coronavirus, and an intranasal bordatella. I have never had a problem giving all these at once. I vaccinate every two weeks until 16 weeks of age. We like to have three vaccinations given before the puppy leaves the premises.

In conclusion, I just wanted to say that I wrote this article several years ago, and have since then been involved with a lot of litters, but none truly all by myself as I did with the batch that gave me the idea for this article in the first place. All I can say is that at least "this" veterinarian now really understands how much work you all do with some of these litters, and I especially understand all the worry and tears that go along with raising puppies. I hope that this will help some of you, and if you ever have any questions, please contact me.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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Anesthesia and the Mastiff
by Robin M. Smith, DVM

I thought that I would talk about anesthesia concerns and the Mastiff since that is the most frequently asked question I get from Mastiff owners.

First off, you MUST have a veterinarian that is willing to listen to you and who is not afraid to be questioned about their anesthesia methods and how they monitor the pet once they are under anesthesia. If they do not want to discuss this or if they have a comment like, "well, I have always done it so and so way and I am not going to change", find yourself another veterinarian. I think that the public needs to be aware of exactly what is happening to their dogs and the risks that are possible. ALL anesthesias are putting the dog at risk... BUT there are some that are much safer than others and I will discuss these.

To start, I want to mention a few anesthesias that I would avoid if at all possible. In the past, most of these drugs were used exclusively, but with the advent of the new drugs and safer ones, they should not be used in the Mastiff. Mastiffs are not just big chihauhas. The Mastiff generally has a slower heart rate than smaller dogs and they also have inherently a lower blood pressure. They also, as you know, have a larger body mass. These things add to the risk of anesthetizing them.

I never use acepromazine anymore as a pre-anesthetic or tranquilizer. Acepromazine lowers blood pressure and dilates blood vessels thereby making the blood pressure even lower. It also is metabolized (gotten rid of by the body) very slowly and tends to accumulate in fatty tissues. Therefore, larger dogs and fatter dogs usually have to be given a larger dose than normal in order to have effect, and because of this, it takes these dogs sometimes days to get back to normal. I have used it a lot in the past... In fact, it was the "gold standard" for pre- anesthetic sedation, but not anymore. Many people have used it in tablet form for tranquilization during stressful periods, i.e. thunderstorms. Again, I used to use it for this, but do not now, especially in giant breeds... It is too unpredictable. Just to let you know, I use Benadryl for thunderstorms at a dose of 1 mg./lb but not to exceed 100 mg. and find it works very well to make the dog tired and rest better.

Xylazine (Rompun) is another drug I avoid. I haven't used it in about 5 years. It makes the heart more susceptible to the effects of epinephrine (adrenalin) that is in the body and therefore, making the dog more susceptible to heart abnormalities. It is a difficult drug to dose in giant breed dogs.

Acepromazine and Xylazine are the two drugs that I try to avoid if possible. If your veterinarian is also a large animal (cow, not Mastiff) veterinarian, he may very well use the two drugs as they are used in farm animals a lot.

If for some reason, your veterinarian must use these two drugs, I think it is mandatory that the dog be monitored by an EKG machine during surgery and immediately post-operatively.

Other drugs that I do not use much although they are still used are the thiopentals. These are like sodium pentathol. They work very rapidly to knock the dog down, but are very powerful and stay in the system a long time. Also if the drug gets out of the vein (like if the dogs jump) the thiopentals can irritate the surrounding area and completely slough the area (all the tissue dies).

The drug(s) that I use the most in mastiffs are valium, ketamine, telazol, and propofol.

A combination of valium and ketamine given intravenously will be enough to knock the dog down in order to insert the endotracheal tube. Both of these drugs are very safe and I use them a lot in the older dogs. Neither one effects the heart much.

Telazol is very similar to valium and ketamine and also works well for anesthesia so that an endotracheal tube be place (I use .1 cc/lb and do not exceed 1.5 cc total).

I do use propofol (deprivan) for short procedures, i.e. OFA radiographs. Propofol is a fairly new drug in the veterinary field but has been used for a long time in the human field. It is a milky solution that after opening a vial cannot be stored. It gets contaminated with bacteria very easily. Because it is expensive, the veterinarian may try to cut corners and use old leftover propofol that is sitting in the fridge. It is given to effect or in other words, it is given IV until the dog goes down and then the dog is intubated and put on gas. The GREAT thing about this drug is that as soon as the animal is taken off the gas, the dog is awake and can walk out without assistance. I have also used the drug in C-sections to sedate the dog long enough to insert the endotracheal tube. It is a very top of the line drug. I do find the dosages of propofol to be a lot lower than the manufacturer’s literature dosage. One added thing: Propofol can lower blood pressure so the pet needs to be monitored while on that.

I also use oxymorphone for sedation and sometimes as the sole sedative for simple procedures like biopsy. It is an opiod and therefore it can cause respiratory depression, which means that the dog needs to be constantly monitored. There is a reversal agent called Naloxone that will reverse the effects of the drug and works quite well.

I will always put the dog on gas for a fairly short procedure. Isoforane is a gas of choice since it has fewer side effects. Halothane is still being used by some veterinarians. I do not use it since it (just like xylazine) sensitizes the heart which can cause irregular beats. But, as long as the dog is properly monitored, there should be no problem.

Prior to ANY anesthesia in any aged animal, I require a pre-anesthetic blood work up. I get a PCV (monitors whether anemic or dehydrated), a BUN (monitors liver and kidney function), Creatinine (monitors kidney function), ALT (monitors liver function), Alkaline phosphates (monitors liver and the biliary system), Total protein (monitors the immune system and hydration status), glucose and the electrolytes (sodium, potassium and chloride). I get these as I said even in young animals... It is just good medicine to know where the dog is prior to surgery and anesthesia so we will know how they will tolerate anesthesia. It is the base line. These tests also guide me to my use of anesthesia. For example, if there is kidney damage I know to avoid drugs that have to go through the kidney to be eliminated from the body. The temperature is also monitored along with the heart by an EKG.

Atrophine was a drug that was used all the time as a pre-medication to dry up the saliva in dogs and cats and to keep the heart rate up. It is not used much anymore, or shouldn't be used in large and giant breeds. I don't use it in any breed anymore. Atrophine causes the gut to slow down and this is not good especially in the Mastiff. I believe slowing the gut down predisposes the Mastiff to bloating.

Anesthetic Protocols:

  1. Routine spay or neuter. I hate the word ROUTINE used here because no surgery is routine. I used valium at .3 mg/kg and ketamine at 10 mg/kg IV and then I put the tube down the trachea and start the dog on isoforane gas anesthetic. I have not had problems with these in the Mastiff.
  2. OFA radiographs. I know many of you try to get OFA radiographs while the animal is awake. An unsedated animal is very hard to position correctly, but even more importantly OFA asks you to sedate the dogs. OFA believes that by not sedating the dogs, we're not getting good representative x-rays. I believe if the OFA radiographs are done with sedation, it would be very hard to miss a dysplastic animal. Depending on if the dog is going to go right home or stay in the hospital. I will use 2 anesthetics for each case. If the dog is staying, I use the valium/ketamine mixture and if the dog is not staying, then I use the propofol and then the dog is intubated. Just another added note. I always put an IV catheter in for a quick access to the blood stream in case something does happen and I need to give drugs quickly.
  3. Cesearean Sections. The main goal here is to obtain the least sedation possible in the puppies. For the Ceaserain section, I utilize Propofol at a dose of 3 mg./ lb. or until I can get an endotracheal tube down the dog. If I had to choose a second choice I would give the bitch torbutrol and valium as a preanesthetic as described next and then intubate after masking down. I use torbugesic at .45 mg/kg and give it to the muscle. Then I give valium (.45 mg/kg) intramuscularly. We prep the bitch on the floor by shaving her belly and then when done, we put her on the table and mask her down. We put a large mask over her muzzle and turn the gas all the way until she is alseep enough to put the endotracheal tube in. While masking the bitch down, she may struggle since the dog thinks it is not getting oxygen, even though it is. The trick here is to get in and the puppies out ASAP. Propofol can also be used and I have had good results with it. The bitch is wide awake as soon as the last staple is in. I am comfortable with either one.

Those are probably the three most common surgeries I do on mastiffs. Don't let the anesthesia scare you. Where there is some risk has been lowered by doing all the blood work and the pre-op exams that I mentioned above.

If you have any questions regarding anesthesia or just anything, please feel free to contact me.

Robin M. Smith, DVM
Westminster Veterinary Emergency/Trauma Center
269 W. Main St., Westminster, MD 21557
Work 410-848-3363
(Fax) 410-848-4959


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