I lost my first boxer to heart disease (a type of cardiomyopathy) before she turned 5 years old. Cardiomyopathy is hereditary in Boxers. The 24 holter test is the only reliable way to screen for this. Further information on heart problems and tests on my HEART TESTING PAGE.
Potential health problems in the breed
You can learn about some health issues of the Boxer breed on the following sites:The American Boxer Club's Site Health Index. The Genetic Diseases section is a nice summary of the conditions that breeders need to be particularly careful of. Another summary of health issues - From Boxerworld.ABC Foundation Newsletters. Great summaries of the latest research into Boxer health issues Information on heart problems and testing for them.Information on puppy heart murmurs (by the UK Boxer Breed Council).
In my opinion, Boxer health is no worse than any other purebred dog if you base your view on dogs from good breeders. Boxer health is certainly better than a mixed-breed where you don't know what problems may lurk in the background. As I say elsewhere on this site, all dogs, like people, could potentially suffer from health problems - the fact that breeders should check for a small number of conditions does not mean the whole boxer breed is going to be susceptible to them. The very good thing about Boxers is that some of the most worrying health conditions are able to be tested for in adults and therefore the risks dramatically reduced before breeding. Unfortunately, health testing isn't done by all breeders.
Don't all breeders check their dogs' health?
Sadly many breeders don't appear to place a high priority on breeding healthy long-lived Boxers. Many don't carry out any proper health tests. Some only test when their dogs are already displaying symptoms of serious problems. The dodgy breeders tend to put forward a raft of excuses about why they don't need to be screening for health problems - this website covers the most common excuses you'll hear from irresponsible breeders of any breed:
I have been concerned to learn of some breeders claiming to health test, when all they do is get general vet checks done on their dogs and/or puppies. Most of the serious genetic problems facing the breed can not be detected through routine vet exams (read the material on the links above), and are also not able to be assessed until a dog is fully grown. That's why the breeding stock need to be screened BEFORE breeding - you can't rely on checking the pups before or after they go to their new homes.
There are also some breeders who exaggerate the nature of the tests they have carried out. For example I know of breeders who claim to have their dogs’ hearts thoroughly checked or state in advertisements that their dogs are 'free of heart disease'. In fact most have their dogs checked ONLY for Aortic Stenosis and proper checks for Boxer Cardiomyopathy have NOT been done (this page explains why that's a problem). There are also some breeders who post on their site that tests are 'pending' or that they are 'planning' to do particular tests in the future. You have to question the integrity of someone who happily proceeds to produce more puppies BEFORE they bother to get around to doing the tests. The testing is available to anyone no matter where they are, and the cost of testing is not great compared to the prices charged for puppies or for stud service. (Ask yourself this: why are they even bothering to mention tests they haven't yet done when the dog is old enough to be tested and is already being bred from?!?)
If you are concerned about the health of your future Boxer, be very specific with your enquiries. It can be tricky asking a breeder questions about health but if you can find a way to frame them tactfully, there are questions you might want answers to. NB: I am not suggesting that every dog bred from must have had all possible tests – I haven’t been able to find a stud dog yet who has!! The overall health of a line is more important, but the point here is that if a breeder CLAIMS to carry out tests, then it’s appropriate to check on those claims and what the test results mean. Here are some possible questions to ask:
HEALTH TEST QUESTIONS
While we can't do screening tests for cancer, collitis, allergies, or eye ulcers. These are also things you may like to ask about as some lines are more prone to them than others.
- Are your dogs’ hips assessed under a recognised hip scoring scheme? What scores did the sire and dam get? (The lower the score, the better, <15 total for both hips essential)
- Are your dogs’ hearts checked for murmurs by a cardiologist (ie not just their local vet)? What grade of murmur do the sire and dam have? (Grades 0-1 are good. Grade 2 can be OK if blood flow rate <2.0-2.4 on Doppler)
- Are your dogs DNA tested for ARVC/Boxer Cardiomyopathy? (negative result is good, heterogenous positive is risky but OK, homogenous positive is bad). Note that the scientist who offers this test states clearly that the test is NOT sufficient to CLEAR a dog of ARVC/BCM and there is some doubt being expressed over the usefulness of this test generally.
- Are your dogs' hearts checked for ARVC/Boxer Cardiomyopathy with a 24 hour heart monitor? How many VPCs did the sire and dam have on their last holter? (<50 is good, 50-100 is OK). Note that *regular* holtering is required.
- Are your dogs checked for thryoid problems via blood tests? (Normal ranges: TT4 20-66, TSH 0.015-0.6ng/ml)
- Are your dogs DNA tested for Degenerative myelopathy (DM)? ('clear' is ideal result, 'carrier' is OK, 'at risk' is not good)
- In some countries they also test for spondylosis (a type of calcification of the spine), knee and eye problems. These tests are not so common elsewhere in the world yet.
But my vet said....
Unfortunately many vets don't know much about Boxer health issues and I've heard many disturbing stories of people who have been given extraordinarily bad advice by their vets. This is not a criticism of vets – my own father is a vet so I know all too well that while they know a lot, they don’t know it all.
A local vet is not as familiar with Boxer health conditions as the specialists who have researched them. Most vets are the equivalent of a human GP, except they’re expected to treat not only several different species of animal, but also hundreds of different breeds within each species. How on earth could they be experts on all those breeds? Staying up to date with all the research would be impossible.
Fortunately we can get access to information from the specialists who research our breed specifically. If you're academically inclined you can find and read articles in research journals online. If you need information in layperson's terms, then the pre-digested information on the internet (like the links I give above) are more likely to be up-to-date than your local vet. In the USA in particular a lot of money is being put into researching Boxer health and the The American Boxer Club and American Boxer Charitable Foundation are often able to report on the latest findings.