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Big-Hearted Boxers: How to Care for Their Genetic Health Conditions

Boxers, as most purebred dogs, are prone to many genetic conditions. While their muscular, athletic build suggests robust health, genetic testing can identify otherwise.

Dr Treat
Big-Hearted Boxers: How to Care for Their Genetic Health Conditions

Key takeaway

If this big-hearted breed is part of your family, genetic testing can identify whether your boxer has inherited one of these conditions, so you can monitor them for signs, and plan for their care. You can also use our Dr. Treat team’s guide to boxer care, and learn to manage their lifelong health.

B
oxers are known for their high-energy and playful personalities. Their bright, beady eyes and wiggly tails perfectly capture their silliness and zest for life, mixed with a hint of good-natured mischief.

If this big-hearted breed is part of your family, genetic testing can identify whether your boxer has inherited one of these conditions, so you can monitor them for signs, and plan for their care. You can also use our Dr. Treat team’s guide to boxer care, and learn to manage their lifelong health.

Boxer breed at a glance

Boxer breed at a glance

The boxer is a popular family pet because they display a positive temperament and patience with children. Boxers are loyal, affectionate, and high-energy, always craving attention. The breed is intelligent, and with training to curb their slight stubbornness, they are typically well-behaved. Introduced in Germany during the late 1800s, the boxer was originally bred as a working dog, but quickly became popular as a pet because of their friendly personality. Because the breed is prone to many health conditions, your boxer’s health depends on your cooperation with your veterinarian to create a personalized, preventive care plan.  

Degenerative myelopathy in boxers

Often considered an elderly dog’s disease, degenerative myelopathy (DM) causes hind-end weakness in the early stages, and eventually progresses to paralysis. A genetic mutation causes this neurologic condition, and a boxer must inherit two copies of the mutated gene—one from each parent—to be at risk for developing the disease. Boxers who have only one copy of the gene do not develop DM themselves, but can pass the condition to their offspring. Remain vigilant, and alert your veterinarian if your boxer begins exhibiting early-stage DM signs:

  • Dragging or scuffing their hind legs
  • Knuckling over of the back paws
  • Incoordination (i.e., ataxia)
  • Weakness in their hind legs
  • Decreasing muscle control
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Loss of balance
  • Decreased mobility (e.g., difficulty walking)
Early stage DM signs
“DM is currently incurable, but canine wheelchairs, kinesiology tape, and medication can help you keep your boxer comfortable.”

Cancer in boxers

Unfortunately, boxers are predisposed to cancer. The most common cancers they develop include:

Mast cell tumors

Mast cell tumors are a skin cancer type that often looks similar to benign skin lumps and lesions. The primary treatment for mast cell tumors is surgical removal, and the earlier the tumors are removed, the better your boxer’s prognosis. Some mast cell tumors can be treated and cured, but high-grade tumors can be fatal.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma causes the body to form abnormal lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell—and usually originates in immune support organs, such as the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Lymphoma signs include:

  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Labored breathing

Lymphoma is most commonly treated with chemotherapy, and in some cases, radiation therapy or surgery.

Brain tumors

Primary brain tumors originate in the brain, whereas secondary brain tumors originate from cancer that has developed in another body location, and spreads to the brain. The most common brain tumor sign is seizures. Other signs may include:

  • Abnormal behavior
  • Reduced vision
  • Circling
  • A wobbly gait
  • Head tilt

Treatment depends on the brain tumor type, and may include surgical removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and palliative care.

Hip dysplasia in boxers

A malformation of the hip’s ball-and-socket joint causes hip dysplasia—a hereditary condition common to many breeds, including the boxer. Over time, this condition can cause your boxer to  limp and become lame, and can lead to significant pain. Hip dysplasia signs depend on the joint malformation’s severity and degree of the joint’s instability. Signs include:

Hip dysplasia signs in boxers
  • Limping
  • Lameness in the hind legs
  • Stiffness after resting
  • Decreased range of motion
  • A hopping gait
  • Hesitancy to jump onto furniture or go up stairs

Veterinarians usually prescribe long-term medication to manage the joint inflammation and pain hip dysplasia causes. Other hip dysplasia treatments include surgery, physical therapy, weight control, acupuncture, anti-inflammatory medications, and massage therapy.

Boxer cardiomyopathy

Boxers have an increased cardiomyopathy risk, specifically arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy—boxer cardiomyopathy (BCM)—caused by abnormal scar tissue and fat accumulation in the heart muscle. This condition causes frequent arrhythmias (i.e., irregular heartbeat), resulting in weakness, fatigue, fainting, and sudden death. BCM signs vary depending on the disease’s progression, and may include:

  • Fainting
  • Excessive panting at rest
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing
  • Potbelly appearance (often mistaken for simple weight gain)

The most common BCM treatment is antiarrhythmic therapy, with the aim of decreasing arrhythmias’ frequency and severity. If your boxer has been diagnosed with BCM, through medication and monitoring, you can continue to enjoy many happy years together, but recognize that—even with treatment—your boxer’s sudden death is always a risk.

Final Notes

Boxers have an increased disease risk, but genetic predisposition is not an absolute certainty that your pet will develop the hereditary condition. However, genes do play an important role in their health, and it is best to be informed about the conditions your pet may develop. With a Dr. Treat One™ membership, you have unlimited access to personalized preventive care based on your pet’s genetic breed. Become a Dr. Treat One™ member to help your boxer live their healthiest, happiest, and longest life.

Written by:

Dr Treat

A veterinary practice that is reimagining the approach to the health and wellbeing of companion animals.

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