Hives are a skin rash defined by welts or swellings that usually appear suddenly. They may or may not be very itchy.
According to the veterinary literature, hives are relatively uncommon in dogs.
That might be the theory.
In practice, Boxer groups are awash with welts and swollen faces.
Owners quote the dosage for Benadryl off the top of their heads. Some even have their Boxers pop over-the-counter antihistamines on a daily basis.
Hives in Boxer dogs are most frequently caused by bee stings, medications including vaccines and exposure to chemicals found in everyday products that can be inhaled, like household cleaning products, air or fabric fresheners and hair sprays.
The key to preventing hives is minimizing the toxic load your Boxer’s body is carrying from things like chemical wormers and kibble so that incidental environmental exposures don’t tip him over the edge into crisis.
What Are Hives?
The technical term for hives is urticaria.
The condition is understood by vets (and human doctors) as an allergic reaction.
The telltale bumps or wheals come up suddenly — within minutes to hours of exposure to the toxic substance.
Circular in shape, the wheals are anywhere from half a centimeter to three centimeters in diameter. Alternately, they can become very large and form straight lines or have wavy edges.
Hives usually appear on:
- head and face
In severe cases, hives can also affect:
- mucous membranes of mouth
- lining of the eyes
Hives can be associated with a more total swelling of a whole body part, often the face. But a leg or the chest/abdomen can also be affected. This is known as angiodema.
There might be fever, loss of appetite and subdued demeanor.
How Are Hives Diagnosed?
Hives are easily recognizable by their very distinctive appearance.
The usually circular wheals “pit” when pressure is applied with the fingers.
What clinches a diagnosis of hives is that they rapidly subside on administration of antihistamines or steroids.
If the hives are chronic or occur alongside other symptoms, vets sometimes want to take a biopsy.
How Serious Are Hives In A Boxer Dog?
Hives are not usually life-threatening. But in rare cases they may be a precursor to:
- breathing difficulties/swelling of the airway, and
- anaphylactic shock
…both of which can be rapidly fatal.
If a dog has anaphylaxis, steroids won’t work.
It’s treated with an epinephrine (adrenaline) shot followed by fluid therapy and other supportive care. With this treatment, the prognosis is typically good.
How Long Do Hives Last In A Boxer Dog?
Hives are generally self limiting.
Mild cases can resolve without treatment in as little as a few hours, but generally within 12-48 hours.
The lumps may wax and wane repeatedly as the skin reaction runs its course
While hives do not necessarily require intervention, they can recur and become chronic if the cause is not removed.
Causes Of Hives In Boxer Dogs
While hives have many individual causes, they all boil down to the same thing: contact with an irritating substance.
According to vet Dr Nicole Heinrich of the McKeever Dermatology Clinics, the largest veterinary practice in the Midwest, that substance can be:
- injected (via a vaccine or an insect’s stinger)
Bites And Stings
Insect bites and stings cause a dramatic swelling of the face, eyes and lips in Boxers.
The danger is that if the swelling progresses to the throat it can interfere with breathing and fast become a medical emergency in the form of anaphylaxis.
At this point your dog is having a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal if not immediately treated.
Potentially dangerous insects for Boxers include:
- black flies
Exposure To Chemicals
Chemicals that can cause problems for Boxers range from the relatively obvious to the more insidious.
- washing powder used on bedding
- dog shampoo/conditioner
- lawncare chemicals and weed killers
- perfume and scented products
- fabric deodorizer
- air freshener
- household cleaning products
- cigarette smoke
- chemicals like carbolic acid, turpentine, carbon disulfide and crude oil
- chemical wormers
- flea and tick treatments (ingested or topical)
- medication (topical or systemic)
- kibble (and other processed dog food)
- tap water
Specific drugs that have been acknowledged to cause hives in animals include penicillin, ampicillin, tetracycline, vitamin K, propylthiouracil, amitraz, ivermectin, moxidectin and doxorubicin.
Hives are sometimes attributed to naturally-occurring environmental irritants like:
- toxic weeds/plants e.g. stinging nettle
According to vet Dr Stephen D White at the University of California, hives can be caused or exacerbated by:
- heat or cold
- genetic abnormalities
- estrus (heat) in a female
- intestinal parasites in a puppy
Treatments For Hives In Boxers
According to VCA Hospitals, most cases of hives will abate of their own accord without any treatment, and pose no significant health threat to your dog.
Typical veterinary responses to hives include:
- antihistamines like Benadryl — fast acting
- glucocorticoids i.e. steroid injections or pills
- ongoing Cytopoint injections or “allergy shots”
Antihistamines and steroids, when given by injection, usually take effect within minutes.
Be aware that these measures might suppress symptoms in an emergency but do nothing to address the cause and so won’t prevent recurrence.
Drugs, by their synthetic nature, add to the toxic load on the body.
They interfere with normal bodily functioning, inadvertently creating new symptoms. Many of these symptoms are recognized as side effects. Some can be serious and lasting.
What Is the Benadryl Dose For Boxer Dogs With Hives?
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dogs should be given 1-4mg/kg of diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for hives, which equates to 0.5mg-1.8mg/pound of bodyweight. So, a 31kg (68 pound) Boxer would receive about 31-124mg.
Most owners administer this themselves at home, by mouth. But the antihistamine can also be given by injection.
For more severe cases, additional treatment with a glucocorticoid will resolve the symptoms faster than the antihistamine alone. The steroid can be given intravenously but the Merck Manual says oral prednisone at a dose of 0.5-1mg/kg (0.23-0.45mg/pound) is usually enough for milder cases.
Hives generally respond quickly to treatment, but can reappear as the drugs are metabolized.
Merck recommends following up the initial dose of Benadryl with additional doses every 8 hours for 3-5 days after initial treatment to prevent acute recurrence.
Consult your veterinarian if you’re considering using liquid Benadryl as it can contain ingredients like alcohol which make it unsuitable for dogs.
The American Kennel Club advises to never give time-release capsules to a dog as they are absorbed differently than in humans. They can also break open if chewed, releasing all the medication at once and creating a possible overdose.
Benadryl will make your dog drowsy.
A Closer Look At Cause: Are Hives “Allergies” or Toxicity?
The prevailing view of allergies is that they are something in-built that a dog either has or doesn’t.
Many owners are under the impression that the best they can do is avoid whatever their dog is allergic to.
When unable to pinpoint the allergen, they resort to drugs that block the immune response (antihistamines) or suppress the immune system as a whole (steroids).
As explained in this Dogs Naturally article, treating with drugs aimed at symptomatic suppression might appear to fix the problem, but actually sets the dog up for more serious disease longer term. When the toxins are no longer expressed and released via the skin, they are driven back into the deeper organs where they can do even more damage down the road.
There is increasing awareness that allergic symptoms have their origin in toxic accumulation, a concept many of us — including many of our conventionally trained vets — are less familiar with.
If your vet is only offering symptom suppression with drugs (and endless expense!) it might be time to seek out to a holistic veterinarian who knows how to address the root cause of your Boxer’s hives.
Even better, furnish yourself with a better understanding of “allergies” and get empowered to address the problem yourself.
This owners group is a great storehouse of knowledge gleaned from direct experience in doing just that.
Checklist Of Things To Do To Avoid Hives In Your Boxer
Some owners end up drugging their dogs daily with Benadryl, at a dose of 2mg/kg twice daily, in order to prevent outbreaks of hives. (This is about 1mg/pound.)
However, Benadryl comes with its own risks, outlined here.
Hives are preventable without drugs by identifying and removing the underlying cause, or toxicity.
As a starting point, you can:
- feed a fresh, raw, species appropriate diet instead of kibble
- wash paws when your Boxer comes inside, especially if you’ve been in public parks
- run an air purifier to remove irritants, VOCs and particulates from your indoor air
- vacuum frequently
- use a steam cleaner instead of mopping with chemical cleaners, fumes from which can be inhaled, and residues ingested
- provide properly filtered or spring water
- avoid using lawncare chemicals and weed killers on your own yard
- in the home, use natural products like citrus and vinegar to clean in place of store-bought chemicals
Not all of these might be immediately feasible for you. Do what you can. The fewer toxins your dog is exposed to, the better.
If you can only do one thing? Fix the diet. What you put into your Boxer’s body daily has a huge impact.
Every toxin you avoid makes it less likely your dog will ever reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back and causes an outbreak of hives, or worse.
See Also: How To Raw Feed A Boxer: A Starter Guide
A Note On Baths
Resist the inclination to bathe your Boxer more frequently to prevent hives.
Bathing a dog actually strips essential oils from the coat. Frequent washing can make the skin prone to microfissures, cause irritation and lead to skin problems.
Four baths a year is plenty for a Boxer.
To remove irritants from the coat in between times, which is worth doing if you live in a city environment, wipe or rinse down with water only.
Hives can be acute, or can become chronic.
Keeping in mind that the cause is exposure to an irritant or toxin, prevention is the key.
This amounts to protecting your Boxer from stinging insects and from toxins contained in everything from processed food like kibble to medication and household chemicals.