Intelligent, energetic, playful, and fiercely loyal, Boxers are a great choice for a canine companion if you can give them the time they need for physical interaction and exercise. But all Boxer owners should be aware that this breed of dog is highly prone to several types of cancer, especially hemangiosarcoma. This particular cancer in Boxers often leads to death as it is usually detected too late.
Mast cell tumors, lymphomas, brain tumors, and hemangiosarcoma are the types of cancer that commonly afflict Boxers.
Boxers, particularly white ones, are more prone to mast cell tumors - which is a type of skin tumor - than any other dog breeds, but the condition is usually easily treatable when caught early. As with all skin tumors, excessive exposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for mast cell tumors.
Lymphomas affect the white blood cells, which play a key role in the immune system. Because white blood cells travel throughout the body, lymphomas can appear practically anywhere and spread aggressively. But this type of cancer often responds well to chemotherapy. This type of cancer is usually associated with aging and a weakened immune system.
Brachycephalic dogs, or dogs with a short muzzle and flat face such as Boxers, are highly susceptible to brain tumors. The underlying cause of brain tumors is usually unknown, but the increased risk of certain dog breeds indicates a genetic predisposition.
Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that affects the cells that line blood vessels and can occur anywhere in the body. Boxers are especially at risk for this type of cancer, which is typically asymptomatic during its early stages. The cancer is common among dogs 6 years and older and is most likely hereditary in nature.
If you notice any of the following symptoms in your Boxer, have him checked by a veterinarian immediately.
- Appearance of new bumps, lumps, or skin pigmentation.
- Changes in the appearance of bumps, lumps, or skin pigmentation.
- Any sudden change in or difficulty with urinating and/or defecating.
- Lethargy or unwillingness to engage in any physical activity.
- Swollen gums; bleeding mouth; foul breath; or poor appetite.
- Cold-like symptoms, such as coughing, runny nose, and sneezing.
- Stumbling, poor vision, facial paralysis, or behavioral changes.
When it comes to hemangiosarcoma, Boxers do not exhibit any symptoms until the cancer has already reached an advanced stage. The disease progresses silently, although some dogs may become lethargic every now and then and develop anemia, which may be made evident by pale mucous membranes.
In addition to a physical examination of any observable symptoms, such as lumps or skin pigmentations, your veterinarian may require blood tests and medical imaging, such as an X-ray, MRI scan, CT scan, or ultrasound to help with diagnosis. A biopsy may also be necessary if results of the blood tests/scans remain inconclusive or to confirm a cancer diagnosis. A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure that involves taking a tissue sample from the suspected cancerous growth/mass for laboratory testing.
Hemangiosarcoma is rarely detected early, however, due to its asymptomatic nature. When the cancer is diagnosed, the dog is usually already suffering from severe internal bleeding. Sudden death is not unusual; otherwise, Boxers often only live for a few weeks without treatment or up to six months with treatment.
Hemangiosarcoma that affects the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, bladder, muscle, bone, and brain is fatal in most cases. Hemangiosarcoma of the skin, on the other hand, is less aggressive and often responds well to treatment when detected early enough.
Treatment and Prevention
The type and stage of the cancer will determine the most appropriate course of treatment for your Boxer. A combination of treatments is often the best option to completely eliminate all of the cancer, minimize chances of recurrence, and increase the dog’s odds.
Localized cancer in Boxers, or cancer that has not yet spread to other parts of the body, can often be surgically removed. Surgery is a common option for brain tumors. Radiation and chemotherapy are also widely used treatments. Unlike chemotherapy in humans, however, dogs are given much lower doses to minimize side effects, such as hair loss and nausea, and to make sure that our pets’ quality of life is not compromised.
Treatment or management of some side effects of the cancer is also given, particularly for pain.
If your Boxer has hemangiosarcoma, surgical removal of the primary tumor may be done and chemotherapy may also be required as this cancer has usually already spread by the time it is detected. Treatment for hemangiosarcoma is only aimed at extending your Boxer’s life by preventing severe blood loss; more often than not, the cancer is not treatable.
Hemangiosarcoma is among the most deadly cancers in dogs, and its high incidence in Boxers has underscored the need to improve understanding of the disease so it can be detected early and to develop effective treatments.
If you have a Boxer, it is important that you know what symptoms to keep an eye out for and to take your dog to a veterinarian for regular and comprehensive check-ups on a regular basis. As much as possible, find out your dog’s medical history to learn if there is a high occurrence of hemangiosarcoma in his particular genetic line.
Keeping your dog healthy with a nutritious diet and regular exercise may not prevent a cancer that he’s genetically predisposed to, but you can help him increase his chances of fighting off the disease.