The Good and Bad News About the Boxer Breed

Boxers are lovable dogs, but it’s important to know the unique health risks that can cause turmoil for the breed.

Boxers are prone to serious ailments such as heart disease and corneal ulcers. By: macronix

Ever had a moment when you realize that knowledge is a mixed blessing?

Recently, it happened to me.

While walking my dog, I bumped into a favorite client, Mr. B, who I hadn’t seen in a while because last year he’d lost his elderly dog to cancer.


New Puppy News

Mr. B beamed at me. “I’m coming to see you next week.”

My heart lifted. This could mean only one thing.  “You’ve got a new dog?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “A puppy. Collecting her Saturday. A Boxer.”

What is your reaction when friends tell you they’re getting a puppy?

I bet it’s not the same as mine — even I was surprised when the first thought on discovering she was a Boxer was “Mast cell tumors! Does he know about the risk of mast cell tumors?”

Then more thoughts popped into my head: Heart disease, ulcerative colitis, indolent corneal ulcers, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma and hip dysplasia, to name but a few.

A Vet’s Skewed Perspective

After the sad loss of his previous dog, I wanted Mr. B to have a problem-free pup. I’ve seen quite a few Boxers in my time, and a good percentage of them had significant health problems.


OK, those of you with Boxers — don’t panic or be unduly worried. There are a lot of healthy Boxers out there. As they say in the research world, my data sample was skewed toward sick dogs because my job is to make them better. Of course I’m going to see more ill ones than healthy.

In my glass-half-empty frame of mind, I momentarily forgot that Boxers are a lovely breed who unerringly make me smile with their eagerness to say hello and that wiggly rear end.

So what was I worrying about? Let’s take a brief look at some typically Boxer-related problems so you can be vigilant if you have one.

Before bringing home a new Boxer puppy, ask the breeder about the health of the breeding stock. By: dryfish

Mast Cell Tumors (MCT)

Mast cell tumors account for 20% of all skin tumors in dogs. They are worthy of mention because they have the potential to be life-threatening and sometimes mimic less serious skin lumps and bumps.

Some breeds, like Boxers and bull breeds, are more likely to develop MCT than others, probably because they share a common ancestor. Early diagnosis makes all the difference to the outcome. Check your dog’s skin once a week and get any new lumps (regardless of how innocent they look) checked by a vet.

Ulcerative Colitis

This condition also goes by the name of boxer colitis because it’s inextricably linked to the breed. Symptoms develop in young dogs, typically around 2 years of age, with males more often affected than females.The signs include vomiting, a particularly unpleasant bloody diarrhea and weight loss.

This condition used to be a showstopper because dogs responded poorly to treatment, only getting thinner and weaker. However, we now know the cause to be a particular bug invading the mucosal lining of the gut and damaging it. Happily, a course of a special antibiotic makes all the difference, so again, early recognition and treatment means a happy ending.

Here are a few more reasons to love Boxers:

Heart Disease

Unfortunately, Boxers are prone to many types of heart disease, ranging from a narrowed aorta to fluid around the heart, and a problem with electrical conductivity that can cause sudden death in otherwise healthy dogs.

Heart disease linked to the Boxer includes:

  • Aortic stenosis (a narrowing in the major artery from the heart)
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (a.k.a. “boxer heart”)
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged, saggy heart)
  • Pericardial effusion (a buildup of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart)
  • Atrial septal defect (a hole in the wall dividing the entrance chambers to the heart)

Looking for a Boxer puppy? Quiz the breeders on how many of their dogs have died unexpectedly (boxer heart), and if their breeding stock has been scanned for heart defects.

It may sound like I’m trying to discourage you from welcoming a Boxer into your home, but I’m not — I love them! Boxers have unique health challenges that people should certainly know about, but I think I also need to live more in the moment and not be looking ahead for problems that aren’t necessarily there.

Now go give your Boxer a big hug from me.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Dec. 30, 2016.


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