Unfortunately at some time in your dogís life there is a reasonable possibility that they may suffer illness or injury. As we are not qualified veterinary surgeons we can only compile a brief description of some of the more common ailments, any treatment or suggestions offered are not to be taken as an alternative for qualified veterinary assistance. The intention of this article is that we may hopefully be able to bring to your attention some of the problems which you may be confronted with later. It is hoped to place you in a position, whereby you should be able to identify at an early stage when things are not quite right with your dog, and if possible to recognize the onset of any illness. It is possible, with experience, that the observant owner can identify even the slight indications of a sub-clinical nature.
The devoted dog owner will no doubt know his own dog and should hopefully be able to distinguish the telltale signs even when the dog does not look ill, but is not quite his usual bouncy self. Bullmastiffs are strong-minded creatures who will tolerate a high pain threshold, far more than we weak humans are capable of. It is therefore our responsibility, as owners to try and help our pets, by seeking veterinary attention before their condition deteriorates and puts them through intolerable pain or discomfort.
Although some problems appear to be larger than they really are, this to our mind can be aggravated even further by the ignorance of some owners. By treating the animals with homemade remedies, without proper diagnostic skills, owners can quite often, do more harm than good. Common sense will usually provide an answer to most problems, if however you are in any doubt, donít hesitate, ring your veterinary surgeon. Donít procrastinate and wait until tomorrow, as the old proverb quotes "A stitch in time saves nine". This ruling can be applied in all cases of illness or injury, in most cases the problem can be put right far more easily by immediate action. The point we wish to make is that any problem, which can be treated in the early stages, has a far greater chance of being corrected than if left until it gets out of hand. The bullmastiff is for the most part, if attention is paid to the standard, a fit and active dog but unfortunately as with all breeds there are some health issues which should to be of concern.
Where it is possible and practicable we would highly recommend that breeders take advantage of the KC/BVA screening schemes.
With regards to skeletal problems Hip Dysplasia is the condition which gets the most publicity, although in our opinion there is far too much talked about HD at the expense of other skeletal problems. We have seen dogs which are proclaimed to have excellent hips, however the rest of the hindquarter construction is abominable, nevertheless such dogs are used quite extensively in breeding programs regardless of their poor construction solely because they have very good hips. That said however there is no excuse in breeding dogs with hip dysplasia so bad that the poor dog is in excruciating pain or cannot behave in a normal manner he has the right to expect.
The hip joint is of a ball and socket construction, firmly held together by a mass of powerful muscles assisted by ligaments. The term hip dysplasia is currently used amongst breeders to describe a number of abnormalities of the acetabulum and the head of the femur.
There are several symptoms which may be indicative of HD such as:-
A Bunny Hopping Gait.
Reluctance to exercise.
Stiffness when standing up.
Using mainly front legs to rise.
Reluctance to bare weight on rear legs when rising.
Difficulty in claming.
Hind Leg Lameness.
Unstable rear gait.
Whereas most of these may indicate the possibility of abnormalities within this joint, such symptoms should only be regarded as a diagnostic aid, and not prove positive of a dysplastic joint. It is perfectly possible that some of the symptoms may be indicative of conditions other than hip dysplasia and conformation of such should be by radiography.
As with most other conditions, which effect the dog, the veterinary profession is still debating the issue. The consensus of opinion, being that the causes of hip dysplasia can be attributed to heredity, nutrition and environment. The degree apportioned to each of these appears to be approximately of equal proportions.
There are various methods employed to calculate the degree of severity of hip dysplasia. These vary from country to country, and we must admit that we have doubts as to whether the results from each system are comparable with each other. Ideally it would be much preferred if the authorities involved with the various systems would get together and develop one system which could be applicable to all. Unfortunately although this would be of great benefit to the vast majority of people involved in the canine world, it seems, that this would appear to be an insurmountable problem, which is a great pity and an opportunity missed. Surely one would think, it should not be beyond the capabilities of the eminent people involved, to agree on a compromise method, acceptable to all.
The method currently employed by the British Veterinary Association / Kennel Club, is to subdivide the hip joint into nine separate features and to assess each of these, awarding to each a score from 0 which represents the ideal for each feature, to 6 which would be the worst. The features assessed include the norberg angle, subluxation, cranial acetabular, the dorsal acetabular edge, the cranial effective acetabular rim, the acetabular fossa, caudal acetabular edge, femoral head/neck exostosis and finally the femoral head recontouring.
We feel that this system of assessing the hips gives the breeder a much clearer picture. This then allows them more freedom to use their discretion within their breeding programme.
For those who wish to know more about canine hip dysplasia we would recommend that they read "Genetics of the Dog" by Malcolm B Willis and "Canine Hip Dysplasia" by Fred L Lanting. These are both excellent books, which cover the subject in such a way that makes it easy for the lay man to understand.
Various breeders, in their hunt for a panacea for hip dysplasia, have suggested that the main contributory factor is diet, and that dogs which are reared on less than the optimum food intake, will not develop hip dysplasia. We believe this not only to be incorrect, but detrimental to the well being of the young dog. We agree that to keep a young dog in a fit hard condition, without any excess weight, is the correct way to rear a dog. However this can be achieved by the feeding of a correctly balanced diet in the desired quantities. We can see no advantage in reducing the food intake below the optimum, in the hope of reducing the degree of hip dysplasia. To the contrary, in our opinion, it is likely to be the cause of far more problems than it will solve.
A strongly held point of view, is that the restriction of exercise and in general the practice of keeping the dog confined during the period until adolescence is past, will again reduce the likely-hood of hip dysplasia. It is our opinion that such a suggestion can only be put forward by a person who is paranoid about hip dysplasia. At birth each puppy is free of hip dysplasia, and if the dog never uses the hips i.e. playing and exercising etc, then we agree that the wear and tear of the hip joint will be minimal. In theory, if the hips of such a dog were to be x-rayed, then this would show very little degree of such wear and tear. However as mentioned at the beginning of this section the hip joint is held together primarily by the muscle mass surrounding it. If a dog is confined and deprived of normal exercise then there will be muscle wastage; the results of which, in our opinion, would be that the joints would display more subluxation.
We cannot understand the logic of depriving a dog of a natural way of life including normal activities such as running, jumping and playing, in the hope of slightly improving the hip joint. The aim of every dog breeder should be to produce dogs, which are typical of the breed and can lead a normal life until they die of old age. This applies to all parts of the dog, not just the hip joint. It is becoming common for some breeders to concentrate on producing dogs with good hips at the expense of the rest of the dog. Surely it is better to produce dogs which are typical of the breed and having hips which will last the dog throughout his normal lifespan without causing any problems whatsoever than to produce a dog with a perfect set of hips but who looks nothing like a Bullmastiff. If one wants perfect hips at the expense of everything else, then one has only to breed racing greyhounds.
These are the two ligaments of the stifle joint, which prevent over extension of the joint; their configuration through and around the joint is that of an "X".
Degenerative changes of one or both of these ligaments can give rise to lameness. Intermittent lameness which generally occurs more and more frequently as the pain increases and the dog visibly taking the weight off an affected leg when standing can indicate the initial stages of this condition. Degeneration can, in severe cases lead to rupture, with the resultant instability of the joint. In the case where both ligaments rupture, the dog will lose all control of the lower portion of the leg, from the joint downwards. The only obvious solution in this case would be surgery, performed to repair the rupture.
There are various techniques to achieve this, some will stretch the existing ligaments and affect a repair in this way, others will insert an artificial portion of the ligament and others, we have heard, use a portion of the leg muscle to repair the damage and in more recent times better surgical procedures. It is advisable to follow the advise of your veterinary surgeon as to which method would give the best results for your dog. Physiotherapy after surgery is highly beneficial and later still allowing the dog access to controlled swimming can help immensely. However in some cases strict rest and confinement for a period in excess of eight weeks have been found to be successful.
Although this is common in most breeds, the dogs who appear most susceptible to this condition seem to be those who are engaged in strenuous exercise, the ones who get little exercise and are then allowed to run riot and those carrying excessive weight. All of which can place excess stress on the ligaments, at a crucial time.
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, this is a degenerative and progressive deterioration of the joints, rather than an inflammatory disease, and is the result of a combination of ageing and mechanical process. It would appear that the joints most common affected in the dog, are the hips, stifle and elbow joints.
Though naturally more common in the older dog, it can occur in younger dogs, as the result of trauma or an injury. Dogs suffering from this condition should be kept clear of cold and damp conditions. Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis should never be over exercised, as this can cause undue pain, then as the condition progresses the dog will find movement more and more painful. You should also keep a careful watch on your dogís weight and under no circumstances should you allow the dog to become overweight, as this will place extra stress and strain on the joints.
This is a viral infection of the intestines, very similar to a severe form of gastro-enteritis. The symptoms are a refusal to eat or drink, vomiting, diarrhoea, listlessness and the dog is completely depressed. Usually the first sign observed by the owner is the dogís loss of appetite; he becomes very quiet and looks slightly dejected. Soon after this the diarrhoea may develop, which is the one symptom, that is always present, vomiting can occur at about the same time or shortly afterwards. As the disease progresses the frequency of the diarrhoea will increase and in severe cases this will be very loose and maybe blood stained. Quite often it will have a vile smell about it, reminiscent of old rusty tins, and once smelt will never be forgotten. We feel that we must stress that there is still a high mortality rate with this disease, often dogs become so ill that the only humane thing left to do, is to put them painlessly to sleep, in order to prevent any further suffering. In ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, all the suffering could be avoided if only owners would have all their dogs vaccinated against this cruel disease. Treatment is mainly of a supportive nature, being the giving of fluids to combat the dehydration. The cause of which is the consistent vomiting and diarrhoea, plus extra vitamins to compensate for the loss of these, which may occur as a result of the constant vomiting and diarrhoea, together with the dogsí refusal to eat and drink. Any dog so effected requires immediate veterinary assistance, where, in some cases it may be decided to administer a drug to help prevent vomiting and give fluids. An effective way of giving the fluids is by an intravenous drip, the contents of which are designed to replace both fluids and electrolytes. In the late 1970s when this disease was first recognised, there were few if any dogs, which had any degree of immunity. Due to this it was common at that time, that if very young puppies contracted the disease it could affect the heart muscles, causing a condition known as Myocarditis. Many young puppies that recovered from Parvovirus later unfortunately died from the effects of Myocarditis. As bitches built up immunity to Parvovirus, then more and more puppies were protected by their damís antibodies until such time as they could be vaccinated. The degree to which a dog is dehydrated, can be easily assessed by gently pinching and raising, between finger and thumb, the skin over the top of the shoulders, and then releasing it. In a fully hydrated dog this skin should return to normal almost instantly, whereas in the dehydrated dog this will return more slowly, and in a severely dehydrated case it will stay as it is.
Canine Viral Hepatitis
This is a virus, which can effect the liver, eyes, kidney and respiratory system, CAV 1. The virus CAV 2 is associated only with respiratory disease.
It is possible for a dog to be infected and yet not display any symptoms. In such dogs the condition can only be confirmed by laboratory tests. Some of the more common symptoms can be a high temperature, anaemia, lethargy, and a weak irregular pulse, vomiting accompanied by a tenderness of the abdomen and diarrhoea. It can also happen that a dog can display no symptoms whatsoever and yet, within 24 hours it can be dead.
As there are adequate vaccines available to prevent this disease it should not occur in the well-run kennel.
Ectropion is the opposite of entropion, whereby the eyelids and lashes turn outwards. This outward turning exposes the conjunctiva, with the resultant possibilities of infections and inflammation. As with entropion a minor surgical procedure can alleviate this problem.
Entropion is a condition of the eye, whereby the lashes of the eyelids are turned inwards onto the cornea. It would appear that the incidence of the condition occurring on the lower lid far exceeds that of the upper lid, and of course to have both lids affected is even less common. If this condition is left untreated, as you can imagine, it will cause extreme pain and discomfort to the dog and will eventually cause ulceration of the cornea, leading possibly to blindness.
In the majority of cases the condition can be detected as early as four weeks of age. Unfortunately however it is not unknown for the first signs to appear in the dog, as late as two years of age and it has also been known in some breeds for these first signs not to appear until the dog has reached seven years of age.
Surgery is the most effective form of treatment, with an almost 100% success rate. Over the years we have heard of various other treatments, of which no doubt, breeders have used with varying success rates, however whenever we have discussed this problem with members of the veterinary profession, the only permanent solution from their point of view, would seem to be surgery.
As to the causes, there have been numerous suggestions put forward. The only two of which, in our opinion, have any creditability, are firstly, that the cause is a hereditary factor, and secondly, that it is due to the shape and size of the eye required, plus the general configuration of the head. As far as we are aware, at this moment in time, the veterinary profession has not yet reached a firm conclusion about either of these.
With regards to the causes being hereditary, the situation is still not clear. It has been suggested by Burns and Fraser that the mode of inheritance may be by a simple dominant, or could possibly be by means of a dominant with variable expressivity. Other research suggests that the mode of inheritance be of a recessive nature.
The second suggestion put forward is that the shape of the eye together with excessive wrinkles of flesh on the head will tend to turn the eyelids into the eye.
The more we have discussed this condition, the more we have found examples that contradict each of the suggested causes. We have seen dogs that have shown no hint of entropion either themselves or their ancestors for three generations, produce one or more affected dogs in their litters. We have also known of dogs, which were affected with entropion, being mated on more than one occasion, and all the resultant offspring have been clear. The offspring from one such mating was mated back again to the parent; the whole of this second generation did not display signs of entropion.
As far as the suggestion for over wrinkled heads being a possible cause, we have seen such dogs who were so heavily wrinkled that they were nicknamed sharpeis, these dogs were completely free of all signs of entropion. We have also seen plain headed dogs, which were affected in both eyes.
A condition sometimes confused with entropion is Dry Eye Syndrome. We believe that the confusion possibly arises due to the similarity in the discharge from the eyes in both conditions. In dry eye syndrome, the mucus is produced as a result of the lack of lubrication over the cornea. The cause of this is the insufficient quantity of tears produced by the moisturising system.
Once the dog has this condition it will need treatment consisting of the application of substitute tears, for the rest of its life.
The majority of cases of kennel cough are contracted by dogs being in close proximity to affected dogs, this can be at dog shows, ringcraft training clubs, playing in the park with other dogs, or boarding kennels, in fact anywhere where there are a number of dogs. There is many a shocked exclamation from dog owners, declaring that, their dog cannot have kennel cough, as it has never been in kennels. These owners have obviously been misled by the identifying name kennel cough. The veterinary profession informs us that there are five different viruses and one bacterium, which have been proven to be directly involved. The bacterial infection is known as bordetella bronchiseptica the five viruses are two adenoviruses, a herpesvirus, a reovirus and parainfluenza virus SV5.
The first sign of kennel cough is a little rasping cough or huff, usually when the dog becomes excited, and which can be missed when the dog is lying quietly or asleep. Sometimes if there is a secondary infection there will be a green coloured mucous that seeps from the nostrils. As a rule this does not upset the dog as much as it upsets the owner.
In the past we almost lost two dogs to such a secondary infection. This was brought about by bordetella bronchiseptica. The bacteria had settled into their lungs, leaving them in a very sorry state, and of course this was a worrying time for all of us. It was only by a bi-hourly treatment of steam and inhalants that we were able to relieve the congestion from their lungs. Together with the administration of antibiotics, needed to combat the bacteria, this then produced a good recovery.
The veterinary surgeon will tell you that there is no instant cure for Kennel Cough. The use of antibiotics alone helps very little, as in the majority of cases the cause is an airborne virus. Treatment for the most part consists of decongestants, cough medicine to relieve the symptoms of coughing, and occasionally antibiotics to deal with any secondary infection.
We have found that one of the best ways of dealing with kennel cough is to put the animal in a warm steamy environment. The kitchen, or bathroom, is ideal for this purpose. In whichever room is used, you should place a warmed receptacle containing a decongestant mixed with water. The heated water will cause the decongestant to fill the atmosphere, allowing the dog to inhale it. This hopefully should clear the nasal passage and bronchial tubes.
As to the actual cough, we find that, for an adult dog, 10ml of cough syrup (we use Benylin) given three times a day gives a welcome relief. The dog accepts this medicine readily, since it has a sweet taste.
The incubation period for kennel cough can usually vary from three to ten days, and the coughing can last for more than three weeks. A false sense of security after the dogs have ceased to cough, tends to see people taking them out where they are likely to meet, and contaminate, other dogs. Unfortunately, the cycle of kennel cough is thus given the means to start all over again. One should allow a lapse of at least six weeks, after the commencement of the cough, before allowing your dogs to mix with others.
The two types of leptospirosis most commonly associated with the dog are L.Caniola and L.Icterohaemorrhagiae. Leptospirosis is a very serious infection and has the potential of being fatal to man.
L.Canicola can present various symptoms, such as loss of appetite, depression, fever either with or without excessive thirst and vomiting, loss of weight and an ulcerated tongue accompanied with a foul odour. The progression of the disease is from the blood in the early stages to the kidneys at a later stage. Death can occur from kidney failure or chronic interstitial nephritis.
L.Icterohaemorrhagiae is the other most commonly associated with the dog. Transmission of this disease is either by, contamination by urine from an animal carrying the disease, or in rare cases, involving the terrier type dogs, from killing rats which are already infected. Ingestion is not the only method; the disease can also be contracted through abrasions of the skin.
The symptoms displayed are mainly of a high fever, depression, reluctance to eat and a severe loss of weight; signs of kidney and liver damage follow these. Jaundice is seen in a high percentage of cases and death can occur as a result of excessive damage to the liver and kidneys. Again as with some other diseases this can be avoided by vaccination.