Boxer Rescue and Adoption, Inc.

Health Checks Urged Before Breeding Boxers

There are a number of diseases that Boxers are prone to developing - conditions that are thought to have some hereditary basis. It is advised that those who consider breeding their Boxers carefully choose the healthiest Boxers possible, paying special attention to the following diseases:


Boxers are known to be prone to tumors and cancers. However, many of these are found to be relatively harmless "benign" tumors that pose no threat to longevity. Even when Boxers do develop malignant lesions, many experts have noted that they tend to live longer, and have more quality time after diagnosis, than a dog of another breed might have with the same diagnosis. However, there are tragic exceptions.

There are no tests at this time to screen for the tendency to develop life-threatening cancer. Our only weapon is a family history, or an IN-DEPTH history of the potential breeding Boxer, checking the pedigree for age at death, general health while alive, and cause of death of the dogs' ancestors. Most experienced breeders will have this sort of information memorized for all or most of the dogs in a 5 generation pedigree, and will avoid families with a consistent history of early death.

Heart Disease:

There are two major heart problems that Boxers are prone to develop, both are felt to have a very strong hereditary basis.

Aortic Stenosis

This is a condition in which the aortic valve does not function properly. The more severe forms of the disorder are detectable by auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of the heart by a specialist. Ideally, this will be done by a veterinary cardiologist. The great majority of general practice veterinarians will not have the careful practice and training needed to detect milder forms of the disease, and so screening by your local vet is NOT considered sufficient. Studies suggest that even the mild forms of the disease can be passed on in a more severe form to any offspring of the dog, so it is important to find even the mild cases. A more objective test, used to confirm the diagnosis suggested by auscultation, is an ultrasound of the heart. This would also ideally be done by a veterinary cardiologist. Veterinary cardiologists are not available in every state in the United States. It is advisable to seek out a specialist in internal medicine if a cardiologist is not available locally. If this disease is not present at one year, it will almost certainly not develop. OFA certificates are available for dogs that pass auscultation after the age of one year.

Boxer Cardiomyopathy

This is a disease in which the heart muscle of the dog deteriorates. In Boxers, it seems to affect the parts of the heart that regulate the heart beat first. Therefore, in contrast to other forms of cardiomyopathy in which a long deterioration in function known as "heart failure" occurs, the first sign of a problem maybe that the heart has a sudden spasm of abnormal beats, resulting in sudden death. The form that Boxers are prone to is particularly difficult to deal with, because as described above, the first symptom may be sudden death, so that by the time the owner suspects a problem, the dog is dead. Also, dogs may not develop the actual disease until well after breeding age, making screening before breeding almost impossible.

However, many experts now agree that the best way to detect the disease at the earliest possible stage is to perform a test called a Holter monitor. This test involves recording an EKG for 24 hours, and reviewing for abnormal beats. It is recommended some form of Holter monitor screening be performed annually on any Boxer, starting at a year of age. This will help screen out of the breeding population affected individuals as soon as possible, and will help those who may be affected get the earliest possible treatment. Studies do suggest that early treatment may help prevent further deterioration of the heart.

Hip Dysplasia:

This is a disease that is influenced by many factors. Heredity plays a role, as do diet, exercise during growth, and many other factors in the dogs life. Two types of screenings for hip dysplasia are available, though experts have widely varying opinions about their usefulness. The currently available tests are OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of America) and PennHip.

OFA involves taking x-rays of the dog's hips in one position, and sending them in to OFA, at which point a panel reviews the x-rays and gives a consensus opinion about the dogs's hip anatomy. OFA claims great success, as the numbers of x-rays they receive that are reviewed as positive for hip dysplasia have decreased since the screening began. Other experts are skeptical, and say that people have just learned what will pass, and don't bother to send in those they think won't pass. If the dog passes OFA screening, s/he receives a number which becomes a permanent part of his/her AKC record.

PennHip involves sedating the dog, and taking x-rays of the hips in three positions. All dogs tested must have x-rays sent in, so some feel the data is more complete and accurate than the OFA system. The report that comes back discusses hip anatomy and another factor - "laxity", or how loose the hips are. This is a new test, and as such, does not have the statistical history that OFA does. It is also a confidential test, the only persons notified of the results are the owner and the owner's vet. It is therefore difficult for another person to confirm claims made by the owner, if any dishonesty is suspected.

Other tests available before breeding are CERF eye certification to certify that the dog is free of eye disease, and OFA Thyroid testing. Check on these with your vet. The diseases detected by these tests are seen as infrequent in Boxers, and may have less support for a definitive hereditary basis.

Other tests may be suggested by diseases noted in reviewing the dog's pedigree.

Another disease that is important to discuss is demodectic mange. Boxers are not necessarily more prone to this disease than other breeds, but it is felt to have a hereditary component in at least some dogs. The mite that causes the problem here is common on the skin of dogs, and usually causes no problem. If puppies develop small spots of this skin problem, it may be simply a sign of an immature immune system, coupled with stress. It is particularly common during teething.

If, however, the mange begins to spread an cover the body, despite treatment, it may be a sign of a more serious immune system problem. It is generally recommended that if the mange is not resolved by one year, then that individual should be neutered/spayed, and not bred. Others have the opinion that if the mange is not curable by simply reducing stress, and improving the diet, that the individual should not be bred.

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