Boxer dogs are a joy to behold. They are full of youthful exuberance regardless of their age. Their athleticism and energy is boundless. Adorable when puppies and beautiful when physically mature, Boxers command attention. They love to make their owners laugh with their playful personalities. And they are loyal and protective when it comes to their family members. Unfortunately, Boxers are prone to several serious genetic disorders, many life-threatening and life-shortening. Diseases have even named after the boxer, such as a "boxer ulcer" or "Boxer cardiomyopathy." A Boxer should never be bred without undergoing health testing in advance to rule out disorders and prevent them from extending through the lineage of the breed.
Boxer Cardiomyopathy (BCM)
Boxers are prone to cardiomyopathy, which is a serious, inherited defect of the heart. Cardiomyopathy is well-known in boxers because the breed has the highest incidence of this form of heart disease. Cardiomyopathy causes an arrhythmia or irregular heart beat that does not pump blood efficiently, leading to compromised circulatory action, which can result in fainting or sudden cardiac death without warning, even during exercise. It has been estimated that nearly 50 per cent of all boxer dogs have this disease. Often when a Boxer collapses, it is the first symptom of the disease. Unfortunately, it can also be the last as quite a few dogs do not recover. According to Washington State University veterinary cardiologist Kathryn M. Meurs, who in 2009 discovered a genetic mutation responsible for the defect, the disease can often be managed with medication for a period of time so that other diseases will be the cause of the boxer's death. Initial diagnosis may be made with an EKG, X-ray and then ultrasound, which is the most accurate measure of the heart's function in real time, but there is no 100 per cent accurate way to diagnose the disease. There are no cures for cardiomyopathy, but early stages may respond to medications such as diuretics, beta blockers and the amino acid L-Carnitine, if the boxer has a deficiency.
Aortic stenosis/sub-aortic stenosis (AS/SAS)
Another common Boxer heart defect is aortic or sub-aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aorta, just below the aortic valve. This narrowing is caused by a fibrous band of tissue which forms, causing a partial obstruction of blood flow from the left ventricle of heart. The heart has to work overtime to pump an adequate supply of blood through the narrowed portion of the aorta. Symptoms are fainting or sudden collapse and death. Diagnosis must be made by a veterinary cardiologist, after detection of a heart murmur via stethoscope. General veterinary advice to the owners of Boxers with aortic stenosis is to avoid strenuous exercise, and to keep the dog at a healthy weight. Beta-blocker medications may be prescribed to help improve exercise tolerance, reduce heart workload and prevent abnormal heart rhythms.
Hip dysplasia is a degenerative condition that affects the ball and socket hip joint area of the pelvis. If the socket is malformed, or ligaments are loose, the ball can slide out of the socket, causing crippling pain, often resulting in lameness and swaggering movement of your Boxer dog. It is degenerative, meaning it does worsen over time. Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition in the boxer dog and other factors which worsen the disease are obesity, too much exercise prior to maturity, and high-protein diets. Unfortunately, dogs with the disease may show no symptoms until they are severe. Diagnosis is made with x-ray. Hip dysplasia is not curable, but your Boxer dog can live a long life with proper care. Treatments such as glucosamine may be prescribed, and careful exercise and an aspirin regimen can be included.
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in dogs, and of all the dog breeds, Boxers are particularly prone to the development of mast cell tumours, lymphoma and brain tumours. Early detection can often lead to effective treatment. Unfortunately, some boxers may develop tumours in their lungs or other locations which aren't as easy to detect. A Boxer dog owner should examine their pet for lumps and swollen areas or other abnormalities, and the Boxer should be inspected by a vet upon discovery. Sometimes, an open, ulcerated wound that doesn't heal for a long time can potentially be cancerous. Behavioural signs that a Boxer has cancer might include a loss of appetite, change in temperament or personality, lack of energy or breathing difficulties. Treatments for cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and depends upon the Boxer's age, quality of life and other risk factors.
If a Boxer dog scratches its cornea or gets shampoo, an eyelash or other foreign body in its eye, corneal ulceration can occur. This condition can be a very distressful, expensive and prolonged incident because Boxers have inherited an abnormality that prohibits healing of the cornea. Simple ulcers usually go away with 5 to 7 days' treatment of topical antibiotic ointment, applied three to four times daily to prevent infection. Deep corneal ulcers may need minor surgery, along with topical antibiotic. Corneal ulcers caused by lash or lid abnormalities may also require corrective surgery. A collar may need to be worn to prevent further scratching from the dog, as this condition is very painful for the dog. Watch for symptoms such as red eye and continual rubbing of the eye. Do not delay in seeking treatment, as the ulcer could get deeper and do great damage to the eye. Healing of ulcers may take weeks to months and recurrence is not uncommon.