Health Problems in Tibetan Mastiffs

by Andrea Cespedes
Tibetan mastiffs grow to be 24 to 29 inches tall at the withers.

Tibetan mastiffs grow to be 24 to 29 inches tall at the withers.

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Hailing from China, Tibetan mastiffs have served as guard dogs since as far back as 1100 B.C. Large dogs with distinctively broad heads and deep-set eyes, Tibetan mastiffs are quite intelligent but very independent -- making them ill-suited for obedience and agility training -- and they have a reputation for being excessively protective. Before you invest in one of these, you'll want to be sure the big breed's a fit for your family. Tibetan mastiffs are generally healthy, but they are known to a develop a few conditions, some of which are common to many breeds.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is diagnosed when a dog's hips don't develop normally, resulting in degeneration over time. Elbow dysplasia is a similar malady, occurring at the elbow joint. These conditions usually result from genetics and are more often seen in large dogs. Certain bloodlines of the Tibetan mastiff are more vulnerable to this osteopathic disorder. Early onset dysplasia occurs in pups as young as four months, but it may develop in older dogs as a result of osteoarthritis. Breeders regularly X-ray their dogs to identify the problem and to prevent it from being passed to future generations.

Hypothyroidism and Weight Gain

The Tibetan mastiff is among the breeds whose thyroid is prone to malfunction, reducing hormone production. Hypothyroidism symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, infertility, regular infection and poor coat quality. Tibetan mastiffs' body type makes them particularly vulnerable to obesity, and hypothyroidism can compound the problem. Keep your dog healthy by exercising him regularly and controlling his portions. If he demonstrates any symptoms of hypothyroidism, have him checked out by your vet.

Eye and Ear Problems

Tibetan mastiffs are at risk of developing various eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy, in which the retinas gradually degenerate and cause blindness. Entropion, in which the eyelid curls inward, and ectropion, when it curls outward, are not uncommon; either malformity may damage the cornea if not corrected with surgery. Tibetan mastiffs are prone to lingering persistent pupillary membranes, which are strands of nutrient-providing tissue that usually disappear when a puppy is 4 to 5 weeks old. Lingering strands can obscure a dog's vision, causing opacities or cataracts. Sometimes the strands cause no problems at all, but all dogs should be screened to avoid passing the disorder through the bloodline. Normal geriatric cataracts may also develop in Tibetan mastiffs. The breed's narrow ear canals make them vulnerable to regular ear infections, too, especially if they aren't cleaned regularly.

Skin Issues

Tibetan mastiffs may develop demodex, a mangelike condition caused by a mite that regularly lives on the skin. Not all dogs develop a reaction to the mite. Genetics and the state of a dog's immune system determine whether this treatable skin problem occurs. Without regular brushing, the coat of your Tibetan mastiff may become matted and home to parasites, which can also cause skin irritation.

Canine InheritedDemyelinative Neuropathy

Canine inherited demyelinative neuropathy, which appeared in one bloodline of the Tibetan mastiff in the 1980s, is an extremely rare condition that affects the nervous system. In affected dogs, the nerve impulses between the brain and the limbs failed, leading these dogs to lose function of the hind or forelimbs. The condition usually developed before puppies reached 12 weeks of age. Only one bloodline ever had a verified case of CIDN and no affected puppies are believed to exist in the world.

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About the Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.