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This Heart Condition Is So Common In Boxers, It’s Actually Named For Them

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on December 6, 2016

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a life-threatening disease seen almost exclusively in Boxers, and is often referred to as Boxer cardiomyopathy.

In ARVC, normal cardiac muscle is replaced by fibrous or fatty tissue, resulting in an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. The condition causes fainting, heart failure, and even sudden death.


The ventricles are the heart’s main pumping chambers. When the powerful muscle tissue that makes up the ventricle is replaced with less-efficient fatty tissue, the electrical system of the heart is disturbed and its ability to beat correctly is affected. ARVC is usually seen in Boxers over 2-years-old, but has been diagnosed in dogs as young as 6 months.


Over time, episodes of arrhythmia become more frequent and prolonged, leading to a dangerously rapid heartbeat known as ventricular tachycardia (VT). During VT, the heart can beat at rates greater than 300 beats per minute, resulting in fainting spells or even sudden death.


Advanced Boxer cardiomyopathy can eventually result in congestive heart failure due to the weakening of cardiac muscle and enlargement of the heart. The heart cannot efficiently pump blood out to the tissues of the body, leading to weakness, lethargy, and collapse.


If your veterinarian suspects that your Boxer may have ARVC, he or she will run a series of tests and possibly refer you to a veterinary cardiologist. Electrocardiograms and genetic testing are helpful in diagnosing ARVC, but there is no 100% accurate test for the disease.


Annual cardiac testing is recommended for all Boxers ages 3 and up. Early diagnosis is extremely helpful in slowing down the progression of the disease and prolonging the patient’s life. Some dogs may not show any symptoms at all, others may be experiencing arrhythmias, and a third group may present with signs of heart failure.


Boxers with ARVC can live for years after diagnosis and eventually pass away from another condition altogether. Sadly, other dogs experience rapid disease progression and pass away very quickly. One of the first signs of Boxer Cardiomyopathy is sudden death, which just proves how important it is to have your dog tested early and often.


When humans have ARVC, a cardiac defibrillator is often surgically implanted to control the heart rate. This has not been successful in Boxers and is extremely expensive, so anti-arrhythmic drugs remain the most common method of treatment. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may also help reduce the frequency of arrhythmias and are a healthy addition to any dog’s diet.


Symptoms that your Boxer may be experiencing ARVC-related arryhthmias include weakness, wobbling, fainting, coughing, difficulty breathing and swollen belly. If your Boxer experiences any of these signs or has reached 3-years-old, it’s time for a cardiac checkup and a discussion with your vet.

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