The Boxer is one of my favorite canine breeds due to their amiable personalities and goofily charming faces. Boxers were not always on my most-liked list, as their large size and exuberant energy can be intimidating to children and other smaller-sized creatures.
You see, a neighbor frequently kept a sizable, property-protecting Boxer chained up outside their home. The dog would repeatedly pace its allotted yard space and scare the neighborhood kids with his intimidating bark when we walked by or rode on our bikes.
Once I started working as a technician in veterinary practice during my undergraduate years at the University of Delaware, I quickly overcame my childhood fears. Now that I am all grown up and working as a veterinarian, I always enjoy seeing my Boxer patients eagerly awaiting to be petted while wiggling their hind ends and nubs of tails.
Unfortunately, the breed is host to a myriad of medical problems ranging from mild to severe. The following are the Boxer health issues I have seen in my clinical practice.
Boxers can be afflicted with cancers affecting a variety of organ systems, including:
- Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) – Skin and internal organs such as the spleen, liver and heart
- Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) – Also affects the skin and internal organs
- Lymphoma – Affects the lymphatic system (the circulatory system, paralleling arteries and veins allowing for movement of immune system cells) and internal organs
I have seen many Boxers that have chronic skin inflammation, leading to self mutilation (licking or chewing in attempt to relive their discomfort) as a result of environmental or food allergies.
These painfully itchy dogs often need a variety of treatments for their skin, such as:
- Medication – Antibiotics, antihistamines and steroids, or other immune system modifying drugs (such as Cylosporine)
- Special Diet – A protein/carbohydrate-based diet of either home-prepared, commercial or prescription food (such as rabbit and peas, duck and sweet potato, Science Diet Z/D or Purina HA
- Dietary supplements – Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish oil, which has beneficial anti-inflammatory effects for the skin
- Immune system hyposensitization – “Allergy shots” made from the Boxer’s own blood can help control dermatologic disease
- Bathing – Consistent or frequent bathing with hypoallergenic, anti-seborrheic (scale lifting) or antimicrobial (bacteria or yeast killing) shampoo
Boxers’ typically sweet, family-friendly personally lends to the analogy of them having big hearts. Unfortunately, bigger hearts are not always better, and certainly do not often function as well as their normal-sized counterparts.
- Dilative cardiomyopathy (DCM) – Boxers are prone to DCM, where the heart muscle stretches out and causes the electrical impulse that regulates heart contraction to travel through the heart in an inefficient manner. It can ultimately lead to heart failure.
- Other heart conditions, some developmental and others congenital, may also be seen in Boxers.
- Hypothyroidism – A low-functioning thyroid gland commonly affects Boxers as they age and lends a predisposition to skin problems, weight gain, generalized weakness, neurologic abnormalities and other conditions. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is relatively easy to treat with hormone replacement. The symptoms are typically resolved when blood levels are appropriately regulated.
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) – I have performed surgery to correct GDV in Boxers on multiple occasions during my years of emergency clinical practice. GDV, also known as “bloat” (it’s what did in Marley in “Marley and Me”), is a life-threatening condition where the stomach flips, causing a terrible cascade of abnormalities affecting every body part. The Boxer’s physical conformation, featuring a deep chest and narrow abdomen, is speculated to be one of the potential contributing factors permitting the stomach to shift.
I don’t mean to be “Dr. Depressing,” but I feel potential Boxer adopters should know that their beloved pet may need frequent and potentially costly veterinary care. If you adopt a Boxer, establish a long-term relationship with your veterinarian and schedule a physical examination for your dog at least every 12 months. Additionally, be aware of the veterinary specialists and emergency hospitals in your area that can provide treatment beyond that of your regular veterinarian.
Thank you to my veterinary acupuncture intern, Stefanie Scheff, for her contributions to this article.
PHOTO: Cary Bass