Boxers are a wonderful breed of dog, friendly, loyal, and energetic. Unfortunately, they can also fall victim to genetic diseases that will shorten their lifespan.
- Cardiomyopathy: The most serious condition that afflicts this breed is Cardiomyopathy. Right ventricular arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy tends to strike at an early age, sometimes seen in dogs as young as three years. Diagnosis is generally made on routine physical examination when the veterinarian detects an abnormal heartbeat or murmur on auscultation with a stethoscope. Radiographs may show heart enlargement and an EKG (electrocardiogram) will show an arrhythmia. An echocardiogram (ultrasound) is recommended to determine extent of heart disease. Occasionally, owners will notice symptoms prior to discovery of the disease, which may include coughing, increased respiratory rate, lethargy, fainting, and sudden death.Treatment will include medications to strengthen the heart contractions as well as stabilize the heart rhythm. Diuretics may be needed later in disease to decrease fluid load. Genetic testing is available to screen dogs used for breeding.
- Cancer: In the past, Boxers have occupied the top position for dogs susceptible to cancer and tumors. Mast cell tumors and lymphoma are the most commonly diagnosed in this breed. Brain tumors are also seen more often in Boxers than other dog breeds. Hemangiosarcoma and other blood vessel tumors are becoming more common. Any new lumps or masses should be checked by your veterinarian as soon as they are found. Early treatment is the best prevention. Avoid over-vaccination and use of chemicals on these dogs. A high quality species-appropriate diet is a must.
- Indolent ulcers of the eye: These are generally seen in dogs over five years of age. The cause may be trauma to the eye, but often the cause is unknown. Symptoms include redness, squinting, light sensitivity, and excess tears from the eye. These are very painful. They are diagnosed using fluorscein stain to dye the cornea. The ulcers will glow bright green when using a black-light to illuminate them. Treatment includes topical antibiotic drops and pain medications. These are slow to heal and commonly require surgical intervention to debride the edges of the tissue of the cornea involved in the ulcer. Medications to repair the cells or contact lenses may also be used. Board certified ophthalmologists may be needed for treatment.
- Hypothyroidism: This disease is commonly caused by autoimmune thyroiditis, a condition in which the body attacks the thyroid gland, eventually causing decreased function. The thyroid gland is responsible for metabolism. Dogs with this disease may be lethargic, overweight, and have poor haircoat with thinning along the flanks and darkening of the skin. They will be more prone to skin infections. Laryngeal paralysis has been associated with decreased thyroid function later in life. Blood tests will determine whether a dog has low thyroid function. Treatment includes administration of thyroid hormone. Avoid excess feeding of broccoli and cabbage to this breed, as this may suppress thyroid function.
- Histiocytic Ulcerative Colitis: This is a disease of the colon, or large intestine. Uncontrollable diarrhea with blood and mucous is a telltale sign of the disease. This disease is generally seen in young dogs less than two years old. Weight loss and poor growth may occur. Diagnosis may require colonoscopy and biopsy. Overgrowth and adherence of E. Coli bacteria has been seen in these dogs. Treatment success has been noted with use of the antibiotic, enrofloxacin. Fecal transplants may be a good option for these dogs.
Boxers make wonderful family pets, but they are prone to diseases which may shorten their lifespan. Be sure to have annual physical examinations with laboratory testing (cbc, chemistry, urinalysis, and thyroid function) to keep your dog as healthy as possible. Feed a high quality, species-appropriate diet and avoid use of chemicals as much as possible. Vaccinate according to your dog’s lifestyle, avoiding over-vaccination and over-stimulation of the immune system.