With a telltale wrinkled face and squared jaw that gives the look of affectionate concern, it is no wonder Boxers have wriggled their way right into a top spot as one of the most popular dogs in America. The AKC gives the boxer an 11 out of 195 breeds for popularity in the modern-day, and these dogs have held many titles as working canines over the years. The Boxer has a remarkable reputation for being well-socialized and loyal, but they are also great guardians with their non-aggressive alertness and intimidatingly large stature. Whether chilling on the couch, playing with the kids, or suspiciously standing alert, Boxers are a versatile breed that joyously adapts to various home-life settings.
History and Background of Boxers
Most people have no idea that Boxers have a really impressive history. Original ancestors of the breed have been traced all the way back to 2,500 B.C. during the Assyrian empire in which mastiff-relatives were used as war dogs in battle. However, the bulk of the Boxer's history stems from Germany in the 1800s. Bullenbeissers (which literally translates to bull biters in German) were heavily relied upon in Germany as a fierce hunter of everything from wild boar to bear. When these big-game hunters fell out of favor in the mid-1800s, they were crossed with smaller canines from England. This is where the breed gained its new name as a "Boxer" in reference to how the dogs seemed to spar like a real fighter while playing or fending off other animals. The more agile and elegant dog eventually made its way into everything from cattle herding and leading the blind to acting as a police dog or protective guardian. The very first Boxer was registered in the U.S. by the AKC in 1904, and the breed held a steadfast place as one of the top-ten breeds for nearly half a century.
Lifespan: 10 to 13 years
Height: 21.5 to 25 inches
Weight: 50 to 80 pounds
Breed Type: Working Group
Personality and Temperament: Active, Affectionate, Intelligent
Common Boxer Health Problems
It's ever-important to work with a good, responsible breeder when you want a healthy dog, but with Boxers, this can be more important than ever. Historically, the breed has been known to have several health issues related to genetics, but tremendous efforts have been made to research and developing testing methods for these conditions that are specific to the breed. The American Boxer Charitable Foundation has managed to raise more money for genetic research than any other breed club globally. Thanks to diligent efforts of organizations like this and reputable breeders, many Boxer-related health problems are being carefully screened for and slowly eradicated. Nevertheless, there are certain health conditions every Boxer owner should watch for.
1. Heart Problems
Boxers can have a list of heart problems that are either related to genetics or environmental factors like lacking nutrition and exercise. Cardiomyopathy is a condition that affects the right ventricular valve, and the condition is most often fatal. Thankfully, this is a condition that can be genetically screened for by breeders. Another condition referred to as aortic/subaortic stenosis (AS/SAS) causes the valves within the heart to narrow due to fibrous tissue growth.
Symptoms of Heart Problems
- Lack of energy
- Tiring easily with little activity
Unfortunately, the two main canine cardiac conditions like those that tend to affect boxers are not readily treatable. The majority of veterinarians will recommend that the owner closely monitor the dog, keep their weight in check, and make sure they are getting proper nutrition. Mild problems may be aided with prescription medications, however. A dog with a heart condition should have an annual heart-health checkup with the vet every year during their wellness exam. A typical cardiac exam that includes ECG/EKG can run as high as $1,000.
Tips for Boxer Owners
- Always get your Boxer puppy from a breeder that has properly screened their stock for heart issues
- Keep your dog's weight and nutrition in check and make sure it gets plenty of exercise
- Pet health insurance can help cover some of the costs associated with canine heart issues
2. Degenerative Myelopathy
Degenerative myelopathy (DM) is most often associated with dogs of a larger stature, and, unfortunately, Boxers are included for being at risk. Degenerative myelopathy is a neurological condition that is progressive and there is no known cure for the condition. It tends to show up sometime between the 8 and 14-year mark in older dogs and it leads to a breakdown of the spinal cord. The breakdown can lead to the gradual loss of hind limb usage and loss of control over the bladder or bowels. On average, DM can progress rather rapidly over the course of six months to roughly a year. Thankfully, genetic testing can determine DNA markers that are related to DM.
Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy
- A house-trained dog that suddenly has more accidents in the house
- Awkward gait or wobbling while walking
- Dragging the hind feet occasionally
Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments available to reverse the effects of DM. The most proactive thing owners can do is to work with their vet to get a proper diagnosis and then develop a care plan that is primarily aimed at keeping the dog comfortable. For example, using a cart or doggy wheelchair to enhance mobility may be something that could improve the quality of life for the diagnosed dog. Something like a wheeled mobility device can be obtained for larger dogs for around $400, and some dogs do learn to use these devices well.
Tips for Boxer Owners
- A dog diagnosed with DM may have a shorter life span
- Euthanization may be necessary if the situation is so severe the dog has no quality of life
- Dogs with DM can be more prone to urinary infections and pressure sores, both of which require direct care and vet attention
Boxers are a more sizable breed with a deeper chest cavity, which can mean they are more prone to a condition referred to as bloat. Bloat involves a dangerous condition in which the stomach expands with large volumes of air, which can lead to gastric torsion; more generically known as a twisted stomach. When this occurs, the blood flow throughout the body can be interrupted, which can be deadly if the condition is not immediately treated through emergency veterinary care.
Symptoms of Bloat
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing or gasping for air
- Excessive panting
- Changes in soft tissue colors in the mouth
- Drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Swollen abdominal cavity
- Weakness or lethargy
- Retching without vomiting
It is incredibly vital to get your Boxer to the vet immediately if you suspect bloat. If a twisted stomach does occur, the dog's bodily systems can start to shut down in a matter of hours. Treatment tends to involve an x-ray or ultrasound for diagnosis and a sterile line being inserted through an incision to release air pressure from the stomach. If the stomach has already twisted or rotated, the vet will have to do emergency surgery to correct the organ. During the surgery, the vet may also place permanent sutures to attach the stomach to the internal walls of the dog's body to prevent further movement. Even an uncomplicated case of bloat can be as costly as $2,500 to 5,000, and surgery can add to these costs.
Tips for Boxer Owners
- Bloat must be treated promptly and can happen suddenly without warning, so always know how to get in touch with an emergency vet for your Boxer
- Mild cases of bloat can cause similar symptoms as already mentioned but may subside on their own
- Prevention is vital and avoiding the use of elevated dog dishes may help
4. Skin Problems
Boxers have a relatively short, brisk coat and skin folds which can make them a bit more prone to skin problems than dogs that have longer and thicker fur. Your Boxer may be more sensitive to sun exposure and cold temperatures, and they are quite prone to developing problems with their skin just due to exposure to the elements or something irritating in their environment. Skin issues can also stem from allergies, which is a health condition common in Boxers.Common Skin Conditions
- Allergies and rashes
- Dog Acne
- Red Mange
- Tumors & Cancer
Our friends at Italian Boxer Dogs of Aurora have done a nice write up on each condition here.
Symptoms of Skin Problems
- Lesions on the skin from excessive biting or scratching
- Dark spots on the skin
- Flaky, dry skin
- Hot spots or reddened areas that seem to have a fever
- Hair loss
Treatment for various skin problems can range according to the condition. Some Boxers may need special shampoos and other grooming products that are hypo-allergenic or contain all gentle or all-natural ingredients. The vet may prescribe topical antibiotic ointments for something like skin lesions or hot spots. There are also natural topical options too. More frequent bathing can help with some skin conditions, especially those that are related to allergies.
Tips for Boxer Owners
- Always talk to a vet when you initially notice a skin problem to avoid risks of infection
- Keep your dog protected from direct sunlight with vet-approved sunscreen and ample shade
- use only gentle cleaning agents when bathing and grooming your Boxer
Boxers are genetically predisposed to having issues with allergies, and these allergies can be both environmental and food-related. Some people assume that their Boxer is a finicky eater with a sensitive stomach when there could potentially be an issue with a food allergen. Allergies can show themselves as problems with the skin, but they can also lead to various other symptoms. Boxers can be allergic to fleas, cleaning solutions, detergent, shampoos, dust mites, cigarette smoke, and ingredients in some dog food. Some Boxers will develop food allergies suddenly, so they can eat a certain food for years without a problem and suddenly start having a reaction. The breed is particularly sensitive to high-grain-content foods that have a lot of wheat or corn-based ingredients.
Symptoms of Allergies
- Relentless itching
- Sores or scales on the skin
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Respiratory issues
- Red and swollen gum tissue
- Hair loss or hair pulling
Most allergies are fairly easy to treat, but it can be a challenge to determine exactly what is causing an allergic reaction. Since Boxers can be more prone to allergies, there may be a long list of potential agents that are causing a problem. The best plan of treatment is to slowly take away certain elements and monitor the dog carefully to see if symptoms subside. Allergy tests can be performed at the vet just as they can be performed on humans, but these tests are rarely as accurate as they are for humans. The vet can prescribe medications, such as antihistamines and anti-inflammatories to help negate the allergic reactions, but it is always best if you can eradicate the allergen as much as possible. Allergy shots may be available as well for anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per year.
Tips for Boxer Owners
- Closely monitor your Boxer for signs of allergies and work with the vet immediately
- Dogs with allergies can live full lives with the proper care and attention
- Keep your dog's bedding and environment clean and bathe them frequently with a gentle shampoo
A Note About Boxer Breed Variations and Health
Even though there is technically only one type of Boxer according to the AKC, it is important to note that one particular color variation can be more prone to a few particular health concerns than others. The white Boxer, which is not a rarity but a common occurrence in the breed, may be more prone to deafness than other dogs from the same breed of a different color. White Boxers are not considered albinos, but they do happen as a result of a genetic mutation, which is a mutation that is also linked to deafness. Additionally, white Boxers can be susceptible to sunburn and have a heightened risk of some forms of skin cancer. Therefore, any owner with a white Boxer should keep their pup shielded from the sun and even use a vet-approved sunblock if the dog will be out and about in direct sunlight.
The Boxer: A Gentle Guardian and a Loyal Canine Companion
Whether you bring home a Boxer because you live alone and want some company or you want a protective playmate for your children, Boxers can step into these roles and fill them like it was what they were meant to do all along. The mastiff roots of this breed bring about a working dog that has a stellar reputation when at work, but the careful breeding over the years has led to a beloved animal with the temperament of a gentle giant that has an equally giant heart. For a large canine breed, Boxers are generally healthy with attentive care by their owners.