Cane Corso

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
Written by:
Published: September 29, 2022
Cane Corso

The following may contain Chewy links. PetMD is operated by Chewy.

The Cane Corso, or Italian Mastiff, is a smart, affectionate, and assertive breed known for its large stature and protective nature. A Cane Corso can weigh over 100 pounds and typically stands 28 inches tall at the shoulders. Corsos have large heads, expressive faces, and a muscular appearance that can be quite intimidating.

The Cane Corso is a working breed. Historically, Corsos served as watchdogs, farmhands, and even canine soldiers. The breed’s ancestry dates to ancient Rome, but it wasn’t popular in the United States until the 1980s. The name can be translated from the Latin as “bodyguard dog” or “guard dog of the courtyard.” It’s an apt description, since the Cane Corso strikes a perfect balance between family companion and protector.

Caring for a Cane Corso

Cane Corsos are intelligent, eager to please, versatile, and intensely loyal to their humans, but they can also be assertive and willful. As with other large guardian dogs, it’s important to provide early socialization with people and other dogs. Once Corsos are properly socialized, they will bond closely with families. Like most large dogs, they require a good amount of exercise to keep up with their muscular shape and medium energy needs.

The Cane Corso coat comes in black, black brindle, chestnut brindle, fawn, gray, gray brindle, and red. They may also have a black or gray mask on their face. The coat is smooth and short, requiring minimal grooming. Their ears are often cropped and tails often docked, but that is a mostly cosmetic procedure and is not necessary.

Cane Corsos have a life span of approximately 9-12 years, average for a large-breed dog. They can adapt to extreme temperatures but typically do better in warmer climates.

Cane Corso Health Issues

Cane Corsos are generally healthy, as most breeders screen for common health conditions. However, owners should be aware of the following possible health issues.

Obesity

Maintaining a lean body weight is ideal for all dogs, but especially for large or giant breeds, as obesity can cause stress on the body and lead to other health issues. Your Cane Corso will benefit from regular exercise and being on a well-balanced AAFCO-approved diet to avoid obesity. Always work with your veterinarian to determine the best nutrition plan depending on your dog’s life stage.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease that affects the hind limbs. Bone and joint problems are a common cause of pain in large- and giant-breed dogs. Clinical signs include limping, decreased range of motion, and other signs of pain—especially later in life, as arthritis sets in.

Treatment for degenerative joint diseases can include:

  • Weight loss

  • Reduced activity

  • Joint protection supplements

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Pain medications

  • Surgery

Testing such as the PennHIP can predict your dog’s lifetime risk of hip dysplasia.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder, and idiopathic refers to a condition that arises spontaneously, when there is no known cause. These seizures usually develop in dogs around 3 years of age; while there is no cure, the seizures can be managed with medication. Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can live long, productive, happy lives.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic mange is a skin condition in dogs that can come from a genetic predisposition. It is mostly transmitted from mother to puppy during nursing. Puppies have an immature immune system, which can leave them susceptible to demodex mites. The skin condition is not contagious to other dogs if they have a normal immune system.

Clinical signs of demodectic mange include:

  • Hair loss

  • Scaly skin

  • Red bumps

  • Darkening and thickening of the skin

  • Varying degrees of itch

While common around the face and head in puppies, the lesions can develop anywhere on the body.

Not all cases of demodex require treatment; very small lesions can resolve on their own in 1-2 months. Larger skin lesions or those distributed all over the body can be treated with topical and/or oral medications. Affected dogs should not be bred.

Eyelid Abnormalities

  • Entropion is the most common eyelid abnormality in dogs. The eyelid grows inward, and the eyelashes rub on the cornea, the eye surface.

  • Ectropion usually affects the lower lids, causing a “droopy eye” look. The eyelids appear to fold away from the eye.

  • Cherry eye or glandular hypertrophy occurs when the gland of the third eyelid is out of its proper position. The third eyelid is in the inner corner of the eye (close to the muzzle), and when it is out of position, it appears as a pink or red mass.

These conditions can cause chronic irritation and secondary conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection of the eye. Surgery is the only way to correct these eyelid issues, and eye medications will likely be part of the recovery process.

Bloat and GDV (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus)

Large, deep-chested dog breeds are susceptible to this life-threatening stomach condition. It can occur suddenly when the stomach enlarges with gas (bloat) and then twists on itself (GDV). If you notice your dog’s stomach area enlarge quickly, or your dog appears to have abdominal pain (whining with or without touching belly, stretching with front legs down/back legs up, reluctance to walk, not eating), contact an emergency veterinarian immediately.  

While bloat can sometimes be treated with aggressive medical intervention, a GDV requires emergency corrective surgery to save the dog’s life. To limit the risk of GDV, Cane Corsos should not be given any exercise until 30 minutes to one hour after eating.

Another way to keep your Cane Corso from developing a life-threatening GDV is gastropexy. This surgery is most successful when done at the same time the dog is spayed/neutered as a young puppy. A gastropexy permanently attaches the stomach to the inside body wall. This fixation of the stomach keeps it from being able to twist upon itself.

What to Feed a Cane Corso

The Cane Corso is considered an all-purpose working dog. Corsos require a high-quality, age-appropriate diet to meet their nutritional needs. These diets are usually labeled puppy, adult, or senior. Any dog food that is labeled for “all life stages” should only be used for puppies, as these are not usually formulated for older dogs.

It is highly recommended that all dogs consume a diet approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which ensures that the ingredients meet established standards. Basic vitamin and mineral supplements are not needed if your dog’s food is AAFCO-approved.

Avoid offering your pet table food or animal bones, as this may cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite. High-fat foods can cause pancreatitis.

How Much Should You Feed a Cane Corso?

In general, puppies should be fed 3–4 times per day, and adult dogs should be fed twice a day. How much you feed is determined by the specific food. Ask your veterinarian, follow the package instructions, or contact the dog food manufacturer, as AAFCO-approved diets have veterinary nutritionists who help determine these requirements.

Nutritional Tips for Cane Corsos

Dogs that are on a well-balanced, AAFCO-approved diet do not need additional vitamin and mineral supplements to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, the following supplements may be helpful for joint health, digestive health, and providing a well-rounded health plan.

Joint supplements

Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM supplements (such as Dasuquin with MSM) are great for promoting joint health. MSM has all-natural anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids (high-quality fish oil) are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties as well when given at appropriate doses. Research shows that reducing inflammation helps to control pain associated with osteoarthritis, which is a common problem in dogs with joint issues.

Probiotics

Probiotics are great for promoting gut health. Some come with added benefits, such as Calming Care, which helps ease anxiety, and Zesty Paws, which contains pumpkin, adding fiber to the diet.

Behavior and Training Tips for Cane Corsos

Cane Corso Personality and Temperament

The Cane Corso is a dominant breed and makes an excellent watchdog. These dogs are also great companions and enjoy having a family with children to watch over. However, their instinct to take charge can be an issue for pet parents who cannot establish their role as the pack leader and control this behavior.

Cane Corsos must be trained and socialized starting at a very young age, to ensure that their dominance will not be misguided into aggression toward other pets and people. Training can start as young as 8 weeks old. This breed might be best suited to a family with older children due to its larger size.

The Cane Corso is reserved and confident, territorial, and extremely attentive to its surroundings.  It tends to be a quiet breed, indifferent to the approach of unfamiliar people and pets unless a real danger is apparent.

Cane Corso Behavior

With a deep ancestry as working dogs, Cane Corsos can be sensitive and serious. Their behavior largely depends on the care and training they receive when they are young. These dogs are assertive and confident. They can be gentle and affectionate in the right hands, but if the pet parent is inexperienced or unkind, the Cane Corso can become aggressive.

Make sure to supervise your Cane Corso during interactions with children or other pets, and always teach children how to properly interact with dogs. Corsos like to have their family close by, ideally in the same room. Consider placing dog beds in the rooms where you spend the most time.

Cane Corso Training

This intelligent working breed thrives on activity and having a job to do. Like most large dog breeds, the Cane Corso benefits from a fenced-in yard and frequent walks. These dogs enjoy agility training, skills training, dock diving, and other activities that keep their mind enriched. If they are not exercised and stimulated often, they may get themselves into trouble with bad behaviors such as digging, pawing, and jumping. The Cane Corso is not as toy-oriented as many other breeds, and most are not interested in retrieving.

Fun Activities for a Cane Corso

  • Nose games

  • Flirt pole

  • Obstacle or agility courses

  • Sled-pulling

  • Dock-diving

Cane Corso Grooming Guide

The Cane Corso has a smooth, short, double-layered coat that does not require much maintenance. The undercoat varies in length depending on the climate in which the dog lives. While Corsos do shed, it is minimal compared to other long-haired dogs. They shed throughout the year, especially during spring. Their nails should be trimmed regularly, as excessively long nails can be painful and cause problems with walking and running.

Skin Care

The Cane Corso is a low-maintenance breed when it comes to skin care. Corsos only need to be bathed a few times a year, usually during high shedding periods in the spring. Bathing often strips the coat of the natural oils that protect the skin and the undercoat.

Coat Care

Weekly brushing—daily during shedding season—with a medium-bristle brush, a rubber grooming mitt or tool, or a hound glove will remove dead hair before it can fall onto the furniture, and it helps remove dirt and promotes new hair growth as well.

Eye Care

Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Ensure that the eyelids and eyelashes are not rubbing on the eye or drooping outward, which would indicate a need for surgical correction. Using a mild eye-cleaning wipe can help prevent tear staining.

Ear Care

Check ears weekly for redness or a bad odor, which can indicate an infection. Regularly cleaning a dog’s ears, if the dog is not having any issues, can be more harmful than helpful. Adding excessive moisture to a dog’s ear with frequent bathing, swimming, or overuse of ear-cleansing liquid may promote bacterial growth in the ears, causing an ear infection.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Before bringing a Cane Corso into your home and family, consider whether you can put the time and effort into training, socializing, and exercising your new pet. Since these are large dogs, having a big space, ideally with a large yard, would be best. A tall, sturdy fence in the backyard is recommended. A Cane Corso is not a good dog breed for those who live in apartments. However, for those who like the idea of a very large dog that is protective and athletic, the Cane Corso is a breed to consider.

Cane Corso FAQs

Is a Cane Corso a good family dog?

With proper socialization, Cane Corsos can be good family dogs, as they are bred to be protective. The Cane Corso is best suited to a family with older children, due to its large size and the nature of its behavior. Make sure to supervise your Cane Corso during any interactions with children or other pets, and teach children how to properly interact with dogs.

Are Cane Corsos smart dogs?

The Cane Corso is extremely intelligent and needs consistent lifelong training from an owner who will be clear about expectations. If they aren’t given direction, they will act on instinct, which is to treat anything outside of their family unit and property as a potential threat.

What are the drawbacks of a Cane Corso?

Their large size and dominance can be drawbacks for some owners. It is essential to begin the training and socialization process as early as possible to keep your Cane Corso from becoming aggressive.

How much does a Cane Corso cost?

The average cost of purchasing a quality Cane Corso puppy from a reputable breeder is about $1,500-$2,500. However, for a Cane Corso puppy with top breed lines and a superior pedigree, the cost may be $3,000-$5,500.

Is the Cane Corso a Pit Bull?

The Cane Corso and the Pit Bull are different breeds but they have some similar qualities. They have many of the same physical characteristics, but their temperaments are different.

What is the origin of the Cane Corso breed?

Italy is the birthplace of two mastiff-type breeds, the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Cane Corso. These are both descendants of an ancient Roman war dog, the canis pugnaces.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Ilona Didkovska


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs
Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs
Heatstroke in Dogs
Heatstroke in Dogs
Hepatozoonosis in Dogs
Hepatozoonosis in Dogs
Connect with a Vet

Subscribe to PetMD's Newsletter

Get practical pet health tips, articles, and insights from our veterinary community delivered weekly to your inbox.