Boerboel (South African Mastiff)

Published Mar. 15, 2023
large tan boerboel dog sitting in front of fall leaves

In This Article

General Care

The gigantic Boerboel, also known as the South African Mastiff, was originally bred to protect South African farms from predators, including hyenas and lions. Though the large dogs have worked alongside humans for centuries, it was only in the 1980s that people began working to preserve and perfect the Boerboel breed, according to the World Boerboel Breeders Association.

Standing 22–27 inches tall and weighing up to 200 pounds, these imposing dogs are excellent livestock guardians while also possessing a loving and calm personality toward their family, especially children. The Boerboel is a smart and trainable dog, and their devotion to their family makes them an attractive breed. However, their massive size and their need for physical and mental stimulation mean they do best in a home with more experienced pet parents.

Caring for a Boerboel

chart depicting a Boerboel's breed characteristics

The Boerboel’s gentle-giant nature and low-maintenance grooming needs can be misleading for first-time pet parents. Boerboels can actually be challenging to manage, thanks to this breed’s confident nature and independent thinking.

The South African Boerboel is highly devoted to their family and can be good with children, but they can put their guard up around strangers, whom they might perceive as a threat. If you bring home a Boerboel puppy, know that early socialization and consistent training are vital for helping this breed be comfortable in new situations.

Boerboel Health Issues

Like other giant-breed dogs, the Boerboel generally has a shorter lifespan than small-breed dogs, at 9–11 years. During their life, they can develop a handful of health conditions, though responsible breeders will screen for genetic problems that commonly affect the breed.

Eye Problems

Boerboels can be predisposed to eye disorders such as ectropion (when the eyelid rolls away from the eye, causing irritation due to exposure) or entropion (when the eyelid grows inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the surface of the eye). In most cases of ectropion or entropion, veterinarians can diagnose the dog and treat them with surgery.

Elbow and Hip Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia are when the bones of the elbow or hip joints don’t align appropriately. This causes the bones to rub and grind, resulting in the joint’s deterioration and loss of function.

Elbow and hip dysplasia can be hereditary conditions in Boerboels, but it can also be exacerbated by other factors such as exercise habits, weight, and nutrition. These conditions can be screened for with X-rays, and treatment will vary depending on the condition’s severity.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition that affects heart muscles, leading to a decreased ability to pump blood to the body. While diet and infections can contribute to DCM, some breeds, including the South African Boerboel, also have a genetic predisposition for the disease.

DCM can affect dogs at any age, and the first signs are commonly lethargy, weakness, and exercise intolerance. As the disease progresses, dogs may start coughing, have an increased respiratory rate, and have a distended belly.

Treating DCM typically involves medications to help the heart function more normally. If caught early, medical therapy can significantly improve both the dog’s lifespan and quality of life.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is a severe form of bloat in dogs that can affect any deep-chested breed, such as the Boerboel.

Bloat and GDV typically happen when a large amount of food and gas in the stomach (such as after a big meal) prevents the stomach’s normal outflow. The increase in pressure from the gas builds up, causing the stomach to expand and putting pressure on the diaphragm. This prevents normal breathing as well as the major veins from returning blood flow to the heart, ultimately leading to rupture. Many deep-chested dogs undergo a prophylactic stomach-tacking surgery (gastropexy) to help prevent GDV.

GDV is a life-threatening condition, so seek immediate veterinary care if you notice any of these signs:

  • Distended abdomen

  • Retching without producing vomit

  • Drooling

  • General signs of abdominal pain, such as standing and stretching

What To Feed a Boerboel

In general, Boerboels do well on a large-breed diet that is appropriate for their current life stage (puppy, adult, or senior). But choosing the best diet for your Boerboel comes down to your individual dog’s needs. While it’s always important to select a diet with high-quality ingredients, your dog’s veterinarian can make recommendations based on your pup’s specific medical history.

How To Feed a Boerboel

Boerboels are deep-chested dogs, which means they’re susceptible to gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) and bloat. To help prevent these conditions, feed your dog multiple smaller meals (two or three) throughout the day. Boerboels should not use elevated food bowls and should avoid vigorous exercise around mealtimes.

How Much Should You Feed a Boerboel?

Full-grown South African Boerboels can weigh 150–200 pounds, which means they need a lot of food—typically up to about 10 cups every day. Make sure you have the budget for this big eater, and always talk to your veterinarian about how much you should be feeding your dog.

Nutritional Tips for Boerboels

For Boerboels that have growth disorders affecting their joints, such as elbow or hip dysplasia, nutritional supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin can help keep their joints healthy. Omega-3 supplements can also aid in protecting joint health, and they can keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy, too. 

Behavior and Training Tips for Boerboels

Boerboel Personality and Temperament

At home, Boerboels are generally calm. Their gentle demeanor makes them suitable in families with children who understand how to interact with dogs, but Boerboels may be best in homes without smaller children who could be easily harmed by an accidental bump or squish from this enormous dog. South African Boerboels also tend to do well with other pets when they have been raised in the same household.

Boerboel Behavior

Despite their docile nature at home, Boerboels are quite agile for a Mastiff-type dog, and need to be kept physically and mentally stimulated. Their needs can be met with daily long walks (always on a leash!) or playtime in a fenced yard. If their physical and mental needs are not met, they can become destructive and have been known to chew.

Boerboel Training

Training and socialization are very important for Boerboels. Because they’ve been bred as guardians, these dogs can view new people, animals, and situations as something to approach with suspicion. Boerboels need a trainer who will consistently set boundaries and use positive reinforcement.

With patience and consistency, the Boerboel’s intelligence can help them thrive in obedience and agility training.

Fun Activities for Boerboels

  • Obedience

  • Agility

  • Weight-pull activities

  • Stock work

Boerboel Grooming Guide

Boerboels tend to be low-maintenance to groom, thanks to their short, medium-shed coat.

Skin Care

Skin care for the Boerboel can vary depending on each individual dog’s needs. The breed does not typically have sensitive skin, but pet parents might find themselves spending a lot of time wiping their dog’s face. Boerboels can drool a lot, and that drool (plus food bits) can get stuck in their wrinkles. To clean your pup’s face, use a damp cloth or dog-specific face wipe.

Coat Care

Boerboels have a short, dense coat and are moderate shedders. Weekly brushing reduces the shedding, and bathing is only necessary once a month.

Eye Care

Boerboels are not typically prone to eye issues—with the exception of ectropion and entropion. That said, they may require routine cleaning around the eyes to help prevent tear stains and infection.

Ear Care

Routine cleaning with a veterinarian-approved ear cleanser is important to keep your Boerboel’s ear canals healthy. This should also be done any time your dog is in water, such as after swimming or bathing.

Considerations for Pet Parents

The Boerboel’s docile and gentle demeanor makes this breed a loyal, lovable companion—but they need early socialization to help them learn that new people, animals, and situations are not scary or threatening. A home with experienced pet parents who will dedicate themselves to socializing and training their Boerboel puppy is a must for this breed.

Potential pet parents must also consider this breed’s sheer size. Because they can reach 200 pounds, these dogs require a lot of food and space. They won’t do well crammed into a little apartment, and prefer to have a fenced yard where they can sniff and roam.

Boerboel FAQs

Is a Boerboel a good family dog?

Yes, Boerboels can be good family dogs. They have an affectionate nature toward their family and are known for being gentle with young children who understand how to interact with dogs.

Is a Boerboel bigger than a Cane Corso?

Yes, Boerboels are larger than Cane Corsi. Boerboels typically weigh 150–200 pounds, while a Cane Corso is typically 88–110 pounds. 

What is the average Boerboel lifespan?

Boerboels have a lifespan of 9–11 years.


American Kennel Club. Boerboel

Featured Image: iStock/EstrellaBuena


Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM


Teresa Kho-Pelfrey, DVM


Dr. Teresa Kho-Pelfrey graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2015 and completed her clinical year at Purdue...

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