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Boxers: A Family Medical History

Certain diseases and conditions “run” in certain families. This is certainly true of the Boxer breed.  Knowing these predispositions can help in choosing appropriate health screening tests.   Boxer recommendations for wellness and preventative care (see below for explanation):
  • Heartworm Prevention: all year long
  • Checking of ALL New Lumps: as they occur 
  • Yearly Complete Physical Exam: until age 7, then a complete physical exam every 6 months 
  • ECG or Echocardiogram: After age 5 yearly and before any anesthetic procedure 
  • Bloodwork: (complete blood count and organ chemistry profile): Yearly after age 7 and before any anesthetic procedure 
  • Buccal Mucosa Bleeding Time: before the first surgical procedure 
Boxers have specific genetic tendencies to certain diseases compared to other breeds- here are some of the things you should be wary of:

Cardiovascular and Blood Disorders

  • von-Willebrands: This inherited clotting disorder usually does not affect a dog except during severe trauma or surgical episodes. A decreased amount or complete lack of a blood protein causes the blood to initially clot, but then begin to bleed again in a few hours. This usually does not affect dogs in their every day life, but can make surgery or significant trauma very dangerous. A blood test for this protein is the definitive way to diagnose this disease. A Buccal Mucosa Bleeding Time is often used as a screening test before surgical procedures. 
  • Cardiomyopathy: This disease of the heart muscle can be very frustrating since the ideal time to begin management of this disease starts when there are no symptoms. The heart muscle begins to become thinner and thinner, eventually not having enough strength to effectively move the blood. In some dogs, this disease, if caught early, can be reversed with nutritional supplements. In any case, the earlier this disease is caught the better. An echocardiogram is the definitive way to diagnose a cardiomyopathy, and an ECG (electrocardiogram) is typically used as a screening tool. An ECG is recommended for every boxer before surgery, and yearly after age five. 
  • Arrhythmias: Heart arrhythmias are often without symptoms until severe, and can cause death if untreated. Electrocardiograms (ECG) are the screening tool of choice for this disease.  
  • Heartworm Disease: Due to a short hair coat allowing mosquito bites more easily, Boxers are more prone to the mosquito borne parasite. 
Ocular Disorders
  • Corneal Dystrophy: This disease causes eye injuries to be difficult to heal, and sometimes requires surgical intervention. While no potential eye injury should be ignored, this is especially true in the Boxer breed.  
  • Cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): both occur in Boxers, and can be detected on most routine physical exams. Cataracts affect the lens, or center part of the eye, while PRA affects the rear portion, or retina; both can lead to blindness. 
Muscle, Bone and Nerve Disorders
  • Cranial Cruciate Ruptures (ACL injury): Due to an overly straight knee stance of some Boxers, they are predisposed to this injury of the knee. 
  • Hip Dysplasia: A poorly formed hip joint can lead to debilitating osteoarthritis. Feeding boxer puppies a food specifically formulated for a “large-breed puppies” food can reduce the chances of this condition. 
  • Osteochondrosis dessicans: Cartilage defect of the knee or shoulder can cause sudden severe joint pain. 
  • Degenerative Myelopathy: This disease of the spinal cord can, in the early stages, look similar to a dog with hip dysplasia. Any rear end discomfort or weakness should not be diagnosed as hip dysplasia unless an x-ray confirms the diagnosis. 
  • Cervical Vertebral Instability: This condition occurs when the bones of the neck are formed abnormally, leading to weakness in either 2 or all four legs in a dog, as well as neck pain, and even paralysis. 
  • Patellar Luxations: This occurs when the knee cap slides out of place to the side of the leg, and can cause pain in itself or lead to significant knee arthritis. 
  • Epilepsy: This seizure causing disease often starts in middle age. The seizures can be “grand mal,” causing a non-responsive state with intense muscle spasms, or “petit mal,” which can be subtle, such as muscle spasms or sudden changes in awareness. 
Skin Disorders
  • Demodectic Mange: “Red Mange” can reoccur at any time in a dog’s life, but often follows stressful events such as a change in home or illness. The predisposition to this parasite leads to patchy, typically not-itchy, hair loss. 
  • Mast Cell Tumors: These tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or highly malignant (cancerous), and can appear as a small moist pink round “button”, or a small lump on or under the skin the size of a mosquito bite or larger. They can change in size or even temporarily disappear.  Mast cell tumors are very common, and are the reason why no lump should ever be ignored in a boxer. 
Oral and Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Gingival Hyperplasia and Epulis: These overgrowths of the gums can lead to difficulty eating and tooth damage. They are treated by surgical removal.  
  • Gastric-Dilatation-Volvulus: (GDV, Bloat or Twisted Stomach) This disease of all deep chested breeds occurs when the stomach rotates internally, cutting off its own and the spleen’s blood supply. It can be life-threatening in a matter of hours. The first symptoms are typically nonproductive retching and swelling of the abdomen. Surgical intervention is nearly always recommended. The chances of this emergency can be reduced by feeding multiple smaller meals instead of a single meal and preventing heavy exercise after eating. Elevated food bowls were originally thought to help prevent this condition, but recent studies have shown them to be no help. 
Hormonal Diseases
  • Cushings Disease: Caused by excessive coritsol production by the adrenal glands, this disease triggers excessive thirst and urination, excessive hunger, muscle loss and poor hair growth. Untreated it can lead to diabetes and many other organ problems. 
  • Hypothyroidism: Caused by a lack of adequate thyroid hormone production, it can cause excessive thirst and urination, excessive hunger, muscle loss, lethargy, slow heart rates and poor hair growth, although not all dogs will show all these symptoms. Untreated it can lead to seizures, facial paralysis and severe weakness. 
Other Diseases
  • Lymphoma: This cancer of the white blood cells can affect any organ or tissue or be generalized within the blood itself. Common places for lymphoma include the lymph nodes and the spleen. 
  • Atopy: This allergy to environmental substances, such as pollen, dust mites or even people dander, typically presents as itching at the feet and or repeated ear infections, though it can have many presentations. 
  • Renal Dysplasia: This congenital condition causes progressive kidney failure, often at a young age.  
Acepromazine Sensitivity: Boxers are very sensitive to the tranquilizer Acepromazine (or Ace) and the drug should be used with great caution or avoided.