How Long Do Boxers Live? What Health Conditions Do They Have?

Boxers have been one of the most popular dog breeds for decades. If you’re looking for an athletic dog who is energetic, loyal, and a joy for any family, Boxers are an excellent choice. If you’re concerned about how healthy this breed is, then this article will dig into their life expectancy and the kinds of diseases and conditions that can affect a Boxer’s life.

How long do Boxer dogs live? 10-12 years based on information provided by the American Kennel Club. Life expectancy is affected by various issues such as body condition (are they chronically obese), genetics, and how well the pet owner takes care of their dog. Check out my in-depth Boxer guide here!

As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, I believe we can get Boxers to live longer. I will lay out a plan on how you can accomplish that. Trust me, I LOVE my Boxer patients and I want then to stick around as long as possible for their families.

How To Pick The Healthiest Boxer Puppy

Having a healthy Boxer starts first and foremost with picking the right breeder. There are two ways you can go about finding a quality breeder:

  • Use the AKC site to find one
  • If you’re lucky enough to already know and love a Boxer, find out who the breeder of the litter was. That’s a great start.

If you’re getting a Boxer from a rescue organization, try to find out the medical history of the dog as completely as possible. Understand that, while problems can emerge at any time, chronic health conditions that have been dealt with (successfully or unsuccessfully) for years are going to be your responsibility going forward.

There are quite a few diseases that the American Boxer Club recommends for breeders to screen for in order to produce the healthiest puppies possible. You can see the official list here. If you’re buying from a breeder, do they screen for any/all of these conditions?

What Are The Most Common Diseases That Boxers Can Suffer From?

The most common diseases that can affect any Boxer include:

  • Heart Disease (multple conditions including Boxer Cardiomyopathy, Sub-aortic Stenosis, and
  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Corneal Ulcers (ones that are indolent/slow healing)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Cancer (most common are mast cell tumors, lymphoma, brain tumors)
  • Gingival Hyperplasia

Heart Disease In Boxers

There are a couple of major heart conditions that Boxers are known for:

  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricle Cardiomyopathy/Boxer Cardiomyopathy
    • This is an inherited condition that doesn’t appear until the Boxer is an adult. Fat cells begin to replace the normal heart muscle cells. This will ultimately affect the electrical system of the heart that triggers the heart to beat.
    • When the normal rhythm of the heart beat is altered, that’s called an arrhythmia. This can be serious because if the heart beat it messed up enough, blood won’t get pumped out properly to the rest of the body. This can actually cause fainting, lethargy, and even sudden death.
    • Arrhythmias can sometimes be picked up by your veterinarian listening to the heart. However, many times these arrhythmias start out randomly and may not be present during a routine exam.
    • A veterinary cardiologist can use a Holter monitor (a little pack that the dog wears that detects and records arrhythmias to detect this issue.
    • There are genetic tests that can screen for this disease, but this article from the NC State School of Veterinary Medicine explains why genetic testing isn’t always a sure thing.
    • There are treatments available but should be done in conjunction with the proper specialist.
    • The best way to screen for this disease in your adult Boxer would be to get a consultation with a veterinary cardiologist at the age of 4 or 5 years for your dog.
  • Subaortic Stenosis
    • The aorta is the the major artery that takes blood out of the heart and delivers it to the rest of the body via a network of other smaller arteries.
    • Subaortic means “below” the aorta. Specifically this would be where the heart and the aorta actually come together, just in front of the aortic valve (the aortic valve is what opens to allow blood into the aorta).
    • Stenosis means “a narrowing.” Subaortic stenosis is where the heart tissue right in front of the aortic valve thickens for some reason and somewhat blocks the flow of blood into the aorta.
    • Symptoms include fainting, especially when exercise is attempted.
    • This disease can be identified with a cardiac ultrasound/echocardiography by a veterinary cardiologist.
    • Some dogs may only be mildly affected and there are medications that can be used to treat this disease.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is fairly well known but many pet owners don’t realize that the same condition can develop in the elbows as well. Unfortunately Boxers are a breed that seem to be prone to either or both conditions.

Ultimately the disease occurs when the hip or elbow joint isn’t properly developed so that the joint functions as it should. The bones don’t develop properly to provide the normal amount of surface to cushion the joint and make it comfortable.

When dysplasia is present, the bones end up rubbing together excessively and wearing away at the cartilage that is present. Over time this causes the bones to try and stabilize the joint by producing excessive bony tissue/bone spurs. This condition is pretty painful and can range from causing no visible symptoms to a dog that can’t walk at all due to the pain.

Xrays are the only way to definitely diagnose this disease. If caught when a dog is still growing, there may be a surgical treatment that could help mitigate the disease’s severity later in life.

Corneal Ulcers/Indolent Corneal Ulcers

This is a condition that you likely won’t find in many Boxer breed health lists, but it’s common enough in the Boxers I see in my practice. This is a condition in which a Boxer has some sort of scratch or damage to the cornea of the eye that has a hard time healing.

An indolent ulcer is an ulcer that doesn’t heal within a week (although most veterinary ophthalmologists might say its indolent if it doesn’t heal in 5 days). Healing is determined by applying a special stain that will stick to any break in the cornea.

It’s so prevalent in Boxers that I will automatically do a grid keratotomy during the first visit on any Boxer that presents with anything more than a pinpoint ulcer. A grid keratotomy is a procedure that I can perform in my office with a few drops of a topical anesthetic and a very small needle. The needle is used to make very tiny marks in the cornea to allow for a more complete and stronger healing.

Hypothyroidism

This hormonal condition is quite common in many breeds of dogs (as well as humans). Having an inadequate amount of thyroid hormones in your body can be damaging to the metabolism of your Boxer. This can result in persistent obesity despite exercise and dieting, very poor new hair growth, mental dullness, and lethargy.

A simple blood test can diagnose this condition. For most Boxer owners, you’ll start to wonder about this when your adult Boxer is overweight and, no matter what you try, can’t lose the weight.

Routine annual bloodwork at around 5-6 years of age can help to identify this type of problem early.

Degenerative Myelopathy

While most commonly associated with German Shephers, Boxers can have this devastating neurological condition happen to them as well. Symptoms are a weakness that begins in just the rear legs and slowly worsens over time despite any treatment.

Likely your vet will want to take xrays of the back, hips, and potentially the knees to rule out any orthopedic conditions (hip dysplasia, disc disease, lumbosacral stenosis) that could mimic DM in its early stages. For my clients I will recommend pain medication and some physical therapy at home to try and strengthen the rear legs. If this doesn’t seem to help and the weakness worsens, DM becomes a more likely diagnosis.

Cancer

A Boxer can unfortunately get just about any type of cancer. However, the most common cancers I see in my patients are:

  • Mast Cell Tumors
    • Mast cells are cells of the immune system that respond to things like insect bites. They contain histamine which causes localized swelling and redness (think of what a mosquito bite looks like).
    • In mast cell cancer, a collection of mast cells will reproduce in one area and form a mass. It can look like any kind of mass. Frequently it will change size becoming larger or smaller every so often.
    • In any dog that has been diagnosed with a mast cell tumor, any additional masses should be aspirated and the cells examined, even if it looks like “nothing.”
    • Treatment usually involves surgery excision followed by a histopathology assessment to determine how aggressive the cancer is. A higher-grade mast cell tumor will require systemic treatment/chemotherapy usually.
  • Lymphoma
    • This type of cancer is actually a collection of diseases involving a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. It’s a normal part of the immune system. When it becomes cancerous, the normal turnover of new/old lymphocytes becomes greatly distorted as massive amounts of young/immature lymphocytes are pumped into an area.
    • Most commonly we see this in lymph nodes but it can appear in just about any area of the body.
    • Quite frequently when we diagnose lymphoma, the pet owner has asked us to check out a lump in their dog’s neck. That’s usually a lymph node that has increased in size by 3x or more. Many times we can palpate other lymph nodes in the body that are also enlarged.
    • Treatment usually involves chemotherapy.
  • Brain Tumors
    • The most common sign of a brain tumor in a dog will either be a seizure or a change in the dog’s normal behavior that isn’t accompanied by any other issue. Bloodwork is usually normal (you may find another disease in your search for a cause but a brain tumor can’t be diagnosed with lab work).
    • Any seizure in a Boxer over the age of 7 would make me very nervous about a brain tumor.
    • I’ve also seen Boxers begin to exhibit abnormal behaviors (staring at nothing, walking strangely) with brain tumors as well.
    • The only way to diagnose would be an MRI. Brain surgery is possible but has to be done with a veterinary neurologist.

Gingival Hyperplasia

I wanted to end the disease list with something very characteristic of Boxers that was also very treatable. Gingival hyperplasia is when the gums in the mouth grow excessively. They can be very hardened or somewhat soft.

If you have an adult boxer, pick up his/her upper lip right now and look at the teeth. Can you actually see them? I always check my middle-aged and older Boxers during their exams to check for this condition. The excessive gum growth can be uncomfortable for them to play with toys or chew bones (has your boxer stopped chewing bones? Check their mouth).

Gingival Hyperplasia In One Of My Boxer Patients

I use an electrocautery device to trim back the excessive pieces of gum tissue. There’s not a lot of bleeding associated with it. Care should be taken that any excessive gum tissue, no matter how small, should be removed at this time. Then the teeth need a thorough cleaning. Frequently there’s a fair amount of tartar and plaque hiding underneath that gum growth.

The gums will be sore for a little while but once they’re fully healed your Boxer will be so much happier and healthier!


How Can I Get My Boxer To Live Longer?

Healthy Weight

There is no “magical weight range” for a Boxer. Each dog is different and their optimal weight will vary based on their height and the amount of muscularity. Typically you should see an hourglass shape when looking at your Boxer from above. Big chest, narrow waist.

Boxers that are overweight will be less likely to exercise and more likely to develop arthritis. The longer this is allowed to go on, the more likely that the muscles will weaken and your dog will struggle later in life with getting up and simply walking around.

If your Boxer is overweight, and you can’t get the weight off with reducing their diet, have a thyroid screen done. A hypothyroid dog can not lose weight unless they get proper thyroid supplementation.

Preventative Medicine/Wellness Exams

I’m a veterinarian so of course I’m going to tell you that regular wellness exams at the vet is extremely important. A good vet can spot conditions so early that you may not even be aware of yet.

When your Boxer reaches 5-6 years of age, there are two things that you should consider doing:

  • If you haven’t already had it done, have the vet run some bloodwork to check out all the internal organs. Primarily we are screening for kidney and liver disease, but there are literally hundreds of disease conditions that can be picked up by basic lab tests. Start doing this every year to catch issues early.
  • Consider a consultation with a local veterinary cardiologist to check on your Boxer’s heart. Many times that’s the only way to know if there’s any heart disease present at all.

In Conclusion

I don’t agree with the 10-12 year old lifespan for a Boxer. I believe these dog should routinely live to 13-14 if they are properly cared for and they don’t develop one of the more serious cancers or cardiac diseases listed above. Enjoy your Boxer!! They are quite wonderful dogs.

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