Neapolitan Mastiff

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Neapolitan Mastiff

The Neapolitan Mastiff is a giant guardian breed from southern Italy, though its roots stretch across the world over several millennia. Few can match its ability to both deter and tackle a threat to family or property, as its great size and fearlessness make it a fearsome foe. Affectionate and devoted to its owners, it has a deeply ingrained distrust of strangers that needs to be handled from puppyhood, and the breed is also often aggressive towards other dogs. Although it may adore kids if raised with them, the Neapolitan Mastiff is too big and clumsy to be considered a suitable pet for younger children.

As impressive and appealing as the breed may be in many ways, it is far from being the right choice for everyone, as it needs firm leadership, plenty of space within a very secure yard or garden, and an owner who can tolerate the unending stream of drool that issues from its pendulous lips. While many of the giant breeds suffer from a plethora of health problems, the Neapolitan Mastiff is perhaps in a league of its own, commonly suffering a wide range of ailments, and its large size will inflate any veterinary expenses proportionately. Those owners with the experience, space, and finances to accommodate this enormous beast can expect their Neo to have a life expectancy of around 8 to 10 years.

About & History

The breed has a long and storied history with its ancestors in Central Asia being chosen for interbreeding with dogs belonging to Alexander the Great’s armies. The large, powerful dogs descended from these matings were later adopted by the invading Romans as they marched east, and were assimilated into their armies as war dogs. Later, with the conquest of Britain, these Roman dogs were cross-bred with the forebears of the English Mastiff, who were much admired by the invaders for their fiercely protective attitude and loyalty to their master.

Over the following centuries, the breed became more or less confined to the area of southern Italy around Naples, and was forgotten about by the rest of the world. That is, until a journalist, Piero Scanzania, spied a Neapolitan Mastiff at an Italian dog show in 1946 and was instantly smitten. His efforts, along with those of a small group of breeders, led to the breed being adopted by the Federation Cynologique Internationale several years later. Since then, the Neapolitan Mastiff has, in its characteristic, plodding manner, gradually made its way across the globe, and is now recognised internationally.


Neapolitan Mastiff Large Photo

The overall appearance of the Neapolitan Mastiff is that of a massive, heavy dog with an intimidatingly large and powerful head. Its skull, which is generously endowed with wrinkles, is approximately twice the length of the muzzle, and is broad and flat. The muzzle is square, its top line running parallel to the skull, with a well-defined stop between the two, and the nose is large and well opened. The Neo’s lips are thick and full, and hang loosely, showing plenty of flew, and the jaws are powerful and broad, not tapering. Its eyes are round and set wide apart, while the ears are small, triangular, and sit close to the cheeks.

The dog’s massive frame comprises a neck in the shape of a truncated cone, a long back, and a broad, deep chest, with a relatively level abdomen. It is heavily boned throughout, with remarkably wide ribs. The tail is appropriately heavy and thick at the base, and it hangs to around the level of the hock. In order to support its massive weight, the Neapolitan Mastiff’s limbs must be well formed, with heavy bone stock and generous angulation in the joints. It has a slow, ponderous gait that has a suitably bear-like quality.

The loose, wrinkled skin is one of the characteristic traits of the breed, forming a thick double dewlap on the neck. It is important that the facial wrinkles should not interfere with the eyes, nor be so deep as to predispose to fold infections. The coat is short, dense, and coarse, and may be coloured:

  • Grey
  • Black
  • Fawn
  • Brown
  • Blue
  • Brindle

White patches may also be seen in combination with these predominant colours. Male Neos are generally 65 to 75 cm (26–30 in) in height, with females being 60 to 68 cm (24–27 in), and their respective weight ranges are 60–70 kg (132–154 lb) and 50–60 kg (110–132 lb).

Character & Temperament

While it more often appears laid-back than on edge, the Neapolitan Mastiff is ever-watchful for danger, and will react fiercely to any intrusion onto its property by persons unknown. However, within the home it is as placid and easy-going as the next dog, and spends much of its day in slothful repose. Although it is not a clingy or highly strung breed, it should be kept in the owner’s company as much as possible, as it can wreak havoc with its large jaws if bored or frustrated, chewing every inanimate object within reach.


Photo of Neapolitan Mastiff puppy

Training this headstrong, sometimes stubborn dog can be a challenge. It needs firm and steady guidance from an experienced owner, with a focus on basic obedience and safety training; it is vital, as a guardian breed, that the Neapolitan Mastiff recognises a “cease” command in case it is over-reacting to a perceived threat. Socialisation training must start from a very young age in order to prevent problems with aggression in later life.


As alluded to earlier, there is a very high incidence of health problems in the breed, and it is vital that anyone thinking of buying a Neapolitan Mastiff checks out the dog’s family history in great detail. Not only will this help the buyer avoid taking on a lifetime of substantial veterinary bills, but it ensures breeders are encouraged to look after their dogs’ wellbeing, by breeding only from the healthiest individuals, thus promoting the future health of the breed as a whole.


It is suspected that the early onset of cataract development seen in some adult Neos is the result of an inherited disorder.

Cherry Eye

Prolapse of one of the eye’s major tear-producing glands. Generally seen in young puppies as a pink, spherical mass of tissue in the corner of the eye. Requires surgical correction.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture

A very common orthopaedic injury that often affects both knee joints, leading to instability and chronic lameness. Seen to occur more frequently in certain families of dogs. Surgical repair required to prevent long-term mobility problems.


Overgrowth of parasites within the skin’s hair follicles causing crusting, hair loss, and irritation. Due to an underlying immune deficiency and often requires lifelong medical management.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Progressive weakening of the heart muscles leading to fluid congestion in the lungs and abdomen. Causes coughing, breathlessness, exercise intolerance, and abdominal bloating.

Elbow Dysplasia

Malformation of the elbow joint. Most often an inherited disorder – parents should be screened and have veterinary certificates to show they are free from the problem, thus reducing the risk of their pups being affected.


Inward rolling of the eyelids, causing irritation and discharge from the eyes.

Hip Dysplasia

Similar to elbow dysplasia, this is a major cause of hindlimb lameness in young dogs, for which their parents should be screened.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy

A transient problem of severe pain and inflammation in the limb bones in young, rapidly growing pups that usually passes within a few weeks. Managed with anti-inflammatory medication.


Decreased thyroid function in middle age can cause weight gain and skin changes.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

Twisting of the stomach around its long axis, leading to rapid abdominal bloating and catastrophic effects on blood circulation. Rapidly fatal unless identified and treated surgically.

Osteochondritis Dissecans

Lameness due to weak, brittle joint cartilage. Most commonly seen in young giant-breed dogs being fed poor diets or unnecessarily supplemented with mineral powders.

Vaginal Hyperplasia

Benign condition in which large vaginal swellings can occur during the female’s oestrus cycle. The protruding tissue is fragile and easily injured, especially in such a large, heavy dog, and affected bitches should be neutered at an appropriate time in their cycle to prevent recurrence.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Neapolitan Mastiffs, even as puppies, do not need a lot of vigorous activity. While walking on the lead, they should be brought for 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day, preferably away from other dogs so as to avoid inter-dog conflict. In addition, they need a good-sized outdoor area that is securely fenced, both to prevent escape and to protect any passers-by that might be misconstrued as intruders.


The breed sheds reasonably heavily, given its short coat, and so should be brushed two to three times per week. In addition, because of the skin folds, frequent baths are necessary to remove any accumulations of grease or dirt in the dog’s creases. These should also be wiped out frequently with a damp cloth, but it is vital to immediately dry the skin to prevent bacteria multiplying in the warm, damp environment.

Famous Neapolitan Mastiffs

Fang, the fearsome yet cowardly giant dog belonging to Hagrid, of the Harry Potter film series, is the most instantly recognisable member of the breed to many cinema-goers. However, in the book, Fang is actually a Boarhound, which is more popularly known as a Great Dane. The name derives from its historical use of hunting wild boars.


Neapolitan Mastiffs are occasionally used to introduce their protective qualities into cross-bred offspring, as in the following examples:

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