RVC study identifies cancers as health priority in Boxer dogs.

In the largest ever study of Boxer dogs using veterinary records, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College have identified the most common health disorders in the breed in the UK.

Research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has found the most common health conditions in UK Boxer dogs are ear problems, tumours and eye ulcers. These results will help owners and vets provide breed-focused targeted preventative healthcare and better inform and prepare potential owners for what to expect from the unique breed.

The Boxer dog has long been a popular dog breed in the UK, with this study finding that one in every 100 dogs in the UK are Boxers. Previous to this study, there were concerns that their relatively flattened faces (moderate brachycephaly) might mean Boxers were more likely to suffer from the problems commonly associated with flat face breeds such as breathing problems and skin fold infections. However, despite these concerns, until now, there has been limited evidence on the overall health status of Boxers.

This study, led by the RVC’s VetCompass programme, aimed to explore these and other important health concerns in Boxers. They did so via analysis of the clinical records of a random sample of 3,219 Boxer dogs who received veterinary care in 2016.

Disproving some false narratives about the breed’s health risks, the study found that many of the common disorders that Boxers experience are typical of all dog breeds, including ear infections, dental problems and obesity. So, in that sense, many of the health issues of Boxers are just typical dog problems overall. However, the study did identify some specific conditions that Boxers were at a substantially higher risk of developing. These included tumours/cancers (neoplasia), gum mass (epulis) and eye ulceration. These show that the Boxer also has some important health concerns that are specific to the breed.

The study found that 14.2 per cent (one in seven) of Boxers were diagnosed with cancer (neoplasia) each year. Cancer was also found to be the most common cause of death (12.43% of all deaths), suggesting cancer should be considered a health priority for the breed. Following neoplasia, the next most common causes of death identified were brain disorders (9.54%) and mass lesions (lumps) (8.38%). The most commonly reported overall groups of disorders alongside neoplasia, were skin disorders (17.74%) and ear disorders (10.41%).

The most commonly recorded specific disorders of Boxers included otitis externa (ear infection, being diagnosed in 7.15% of Boxers in 2016), epulis (fleshy lump on the gum) (5.84%); corneal ulceration (eye ulcer) (5.00%); periodontal disease (gum disease) (4.63%); heart murmur (abnormal sound in heartbeat) (4.29%); and skin mass (abnormal skin growth/lump) (4.29%).

Boxers were shown to be quite large dogs, weighing on average 30.4kg, which owners should take into account when considering acquiring a Boxer dog (e.g., cost of feeding, issues around handling). Female Boxers (27.6kg) on average weighed quite a bit less than males (33.0kg)

Additional findings include:

The most common colours of Boxer dogs were brindle (23%) and dark red (23%) but 11% of Boxer dogs were white. Despite previous concerns, there was little evidence of major health differences between white and non-white Boxers.

Among the 34 most common specific disorders, females had a higher risk of periodontal disease, skin masses, and urinary incontinence than males, while males had a higher probability of heart murmurs, aggression and aural (ear) discharge than females.

Among the 22 most common groups of disorders, females were more likely to be diagnosed with mass lesions (lumps), dental disorders, and urinary system disorders, while males were more likely to be diagnosed with behavioural disorders.

White and non-white dogs did not differ in the risk for any of the 34 most common specific disorders.

The average lifespan of Boxer dogs overall was 10.46 years. There was no difference in the average lifespan of females (10.41 years) and males (10.53 years).

These results will assist veterinary surgeons to identify preventative health priorities for Boxers and provide prospective and current Boxer owners with information on health issues to look out for.

Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC, and lead author of the paper, said: “Boxer dogs are an iconic breed with a long and rich history. This study provides modern evidence to help owners to choose and care for their Boxer dogs today based on a solid scientific grounding that should ensure better lives for both the dogs and their owners.”

Alison Skipper, Researcher in Canine Health Research at the RVC, and co- author of the paper, said: “This study provides useful evidence that the Boxer, which is a moderately brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed, has fewer common health problems directly related to its body shape than the extreme brachycephalic breeds investigated by previous VetCompass studies. This both suggests that less extreme brachycephalic conformation has less impact on health and also shows how disease patterns may vary considerably between breeds, supporting the value of breed-specific health data.”

Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeding Services Executive at The Kennel Club, added: “This widescale research, supported by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, enables better understanding of breed-specific health concerns, and these findings will feed into the breed’s Health and Conservation Plans, managed by The Kennel Club to identify and monitor any concerns, and continue to improve health.

“We’re pleased this study indicates that most disorders faced by Boxers are fairly common for all dogs, and that there don’t seem to be any prevalent extreme health conditions, including those which can be associated with other Brachycephalic breeds. It remains crucial that puppy buyers do thorough research regarding breed health and go to a responsible breeder; this plays an important part in improving the health and welfare of all breeds, now and in generations to come.” 


O’Neill et al. (2023) “Demography, common disorders and mortality of Boxer dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK”. Canine Medicine and Genetics.

The full paper is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40575-023-00129-w


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