Boxers are beautiful, expressive and friendly. Their nubby tails seem to always be wagging. Unfortunately, they do seem to be predisposed to certain issues, of which all owners should be aware.
Certain diseases seem to crop up more often in certain types of dogs. These are known as breed associated disorders. Each type of dog has its own list, but many of the issues are shared by multiple breeds, and very few of these types of issues are exclusive to a single breed.
Three particular groups of issues come to my mind when I think of Boxers and their health.
Mast cell tumors are a common skin tumor in dogs. According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, mast cell tumors (MCT) make up 16-21% of all skin cancers in all dogs, but Boxers have the highest incidence. Mast cells are a part of a normal immune system and play a role in protecting the entire body, but when they become malignant, they are a risk. Malignant cells are those that grow faster than normal cells and reproduce unchecked, displacing normal cells and normal functions. There are many stages and types of MCT and your own veterinarian can help clarify. As an owner of a Boxer, you should be intensely proactive about any bump or mass you notice on your pup’s skin, and see your vet regularly so he or she can check for any that you may have overlooked. It is critical to include your vet because some MCTs can be life-threatening, while some are less dangerous, and only your vet will know the difference.
Orthopedic issues include trouble with bones and joints. Hip Dysplasia (HD) and Osteoarthritis (OA) are common problems in Boxer and Boxer crosses. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint and hip dysplasia causes malformation of the components, leading to instability. There can be abnormalities in the either the ball or the socket (or both) and the chronic laxity causes abnormal wear and leads to osteoarthritis. There is a strong genetic correlation for hip dysplasia in certain breeds. Hip Dysplasia and OA are both painful conditions that impact the quality of life for Boxers. The signs in affected dogs can be managed, but most cases require lifelong management. You need your vet’s help to find out if these issues are a problem for your Boxer.
Boxers have their own cardiac disease known as Boxer Cardiomyopathy. In this disease, there seems to be a problem with the electrical conduction of the heart. The end result is that a seemingly healthy young Boxer dies acutely. Research is currently underway to try to identify the gene that is responsible for this issue. Humans seem to have a similar condition, but cardiac disease is other dogs is not genetically the same Boxer Cardiomyopathy. Boxers are also over-represented for other cardiac disorders, too. Aortic Stenosis has also been suggested to be a breed-associated risk. Although work is ongoing into Boxer Cardiomyopathy and other cardiac disease in dogs (and specifically Boxers), ask your vet if your Boxer should also be under the care of a veterinary cardiologist.
What Can You Do?
See your vet regularly for a “once over” of your Boxer’s skin. Be sure to mention anything that you have noticed and both of you should feel every inch of your dog frequently. Mark your calendar to do an at-home skin check and schedule (at least yearly, and probably more often as your Boxer ages) a visit with your vet.
Always observe your dog in motion and when he is rising from lying down, noting any slowness or reluctance to move. If your dog is not engaging in activities that he used to enjoy, alert your vet.
Talk frankly with your veterinarian about heart disease in Boxers. He or she may be familiar with the specific bloodlines prominent in your region and be able to advise you well for your individual dog.
Knowledge is power and just knowing the risks for your dog’s breed helps you be proactive about managing his/her care for a long and happy life!
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