As with any breed of dog that has a huge surge in popularity there is always the risk that poor breeding practices will occur as everyone tries to get in on breeding the most in demand type of dog. Unfortunately this is what did happen with the Boxer breed, particularly in the United States, in the years immediately after World War ll. During this time the small number of puppies and dogs brought over from Germany were used in almost all American breeding programs, leading to some inherited genetic conditions becoming pronounced. Through selective breeding by responsible breeders most of these issues are now well managed, however backyard breeders and puppy mills are still cashing in on the breed popularity and breeding genetically inferior puppies.
One of the biggest concerns within some of these lines of Boxers are different types of heart conditions which can be very difficult to diagnose until the symptoms are quite advanced. Cardiomyopathy is a condition that affects several large breeds of dogs and can be found in the Boxer. In the dilated form of cardiomyopathy, the most common in dogs, the chambers of the heart actually expand, forcing the muscular walls of the heart to stretch and become much thinner than normal. This reduces the amount of blood that the heart can pump since the chambers no longer contract properly. In Boxers often there is a significant abnormal heart rhythm that accompanies the swelling of the heart, which doesn't have to be that much to cause dramatic decrease in the amount of blood being pumped through the body.
Typically cardiomyopathy is not seen until the dog is over 5 years of age and it is often most commonly seen in very healthy, very active dogs. The first signs are very subtle and include lack of energy, easy fatigue, lack of interest in play, poor appetite and general lethargy. As the condition progresses the abdomen and stomach swells due to building fluid and the dog may become very despondent. There is no treatment for cardiomyopathy and full heart failure will typically occur in less than one year after diagnosis.
Sub-aortic stenosis is anther heart condition found in the Boxer as well as several other large breeds. German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundlands are also prone to this inherited condition. With sub-aortic stenosis or SAS the heart is malformed with extra tissues below the aortic valve, which restricts the blood flow into the other chambers of the heart. The heart has to pump much harder to result in normal blood flow, leading to damage of the heart muscle over time.
There are various degrees of SAS, not all which are fatal or even diagnosed. In mild cases the dog may have a very normal life but may just tire quicker than other dogs when exercised. In severe cases the dog may have congestive heart failure as they age or they may have a sudden fatal heart failure. All dogs with SAS are more likely to develop heart infections and other heart related problems as they age.
Epilepsy, an inherited neurological disorder also found in humans, can occur in the Boxer breed. As with humans, seizures can range from very mild and unnoticed to very significant and frightening for the owner. Typically the dogs are not adversely affected by the seizures although they may be disoriented or very tired after a grand mal type event. Medications can be provided to control the seizures as well as the environment managed to help eliminate any triggers. Most Boxers with mild forms of epilepsy can live very normal lives with routine medications and supervision.
Hip dysplasia, another inherited condition, is common in Boxers and other large breeds. A malformation of the muscles and ligaments that hold the hip joint in place leads to movement problems, pain and arthritis as the dog ages. Treatments are possible to help manage the pain and treat the arthritis, but it is important to ask to see hip certification from both the mother and father in the Boxer breeding program.
Skin allergies, which are also inherited in the Boxer breed, may be a concern. These dogs should only be bathed when completely necessary as bathing can dry out the skin and coat, leading to skin irritation and the development of skin infections. Routine use of flea medications is essential to prevent flea allergies from becoming a concern. Unfortunately the Boxer breed is also the breed most prone to skin tumors, many which develop when the dogs reach full maturity, and seem to peak with this breed at about the age of eight. Some of these tumors are cancerous while others may be benign so early biopsy and treatment with your vet can help prevent further complications and problems. Mast cell tumors can be removed typically have a good prognosis of full recovery however if the tumor or cancer has spread to the internal organs or the bone the prognosis is typically not favorable.
White Boxers, which are actually any Boxer with more than one third of their coat white, may be more prone to being born fully or partially deaf. This is not unique to the Boxer breed and any white dogs are likely to have this concern. White Boxers that are born deaf can be trained to be outstanding companion pets although they do need to be kept on a leash when outside of a fenced yard for their own safety.
Most of the conditions mentioned above are found in several breeds. There is no condition that is exclusive to the Boxer breed and working with a reputable breeder is the best way to ensure you are purchasing a healthy, genetically sound Boxer. Getting a Boxer from a rescue or shelter may also allow you to have a full vet check done on the dog, giving you an accurate picture of their health right from the start.
As with many of the shorter muzzled breeds, Boxers may also be prone to heat stroke, although they are not as sensitive as many other very short muzzled dogs. Avoid extreme or intense exercise in the heat and always provide lots of fresh, clean water. Snoring and drooling may also be an issue with the breed but it is not a health concern and many owners just see it as one of the many unique aspects of dealing with these outstanding dogs.