If your mastiff drools and breathes heavily or nasally, congratulations: You probably have a normal mastiff. But be sure: Note the color of his gums, then have a rousing game of fetch or a long walk. Check his gums again: If they look more bluish than pink, get him a respiratory evaluation.
Why Does He Slobber All the Time?
The mastiff (English, French, Neapolitan, Brazilian, American or other) is descended from an ancient Greek and Roman war dog called the molossus. Mastiffs were bred for giant size, great strength and gentle disposition; nevertheless they make excellent guard dogs. Molossus-descendant breeds are brachycephalic, meaning they have broad heads and short muzzles.
Most mastiffs drool because their flews (the sides of their upper lips) are soft and fleshy, and don't form a tight seal around the mouth. American mastiffs are said to have more of a "dry mouth" than other mastiff types, but all mastiffs should come from the factory with a drool rag attached.
Why Does He Have So Much Trouble Breathing?
The mastiff's head shape can result in four physical abnormalities -- narrow nostrils, an elongated soft palate, a small windpipe that compresses easily, and little sacs in the larynx that evert, or turn wrong-side out -- that cause breathing problems.
Narrow nostrils can keep a mastiff from drawing in enough air through his nose. An elongated soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth) is too long for the mastiff's short muzzle and obstructs airflow. The windpipe can collapse and block his airway. Everted sacs in the larynx can develop from his efforts to breathe. Put them together and they spell BAS, or brachycephalic airway syndrome.
Can It Be Fixed?
Your mastiff may not have BAS -- only your vet can say for sure -- but if he does, there are remedies that will correct the problem to some extent. Steroids are sometimes helpful, and your vet may try these. Surgery's an option, too: His nostrils can be enlarged and his soft palate shortened to allow easier breathing, and the abnormal sacs obstructing his larynx can be removed.
What Can I Do at Home?
Don't let your big boy get fat. BAS or not, excess weight can contribute to restricted breathing, and all that blubber needs extra oxygen.
Get your mastiff a harness instead of a neck collar to keep any pressure off his windpipe.
Exercise your mastiff gently. Pay attention to his breathing during exercise and stop if he starts showing signs of distress -- panting excessively, gagging, coughing or even vomiting.
Keep your mastiff cool. Let him stay indoors in the air conditioning in hot weather. If he likes to swim, that's fine, but stay with him -- his big bones may make him sink like a rock.
Have your BAS mastiff neutered. It's best that those with the syndrome not reproduce, since three of the four abnormalities that cause it are hereditary. Baby Huey will still be a great pet, but take him out of the gene pool.