To scroll through the social media feeds of Boxer groups is to come away despairing at the state of a breed apparently beset by endless health problems.
10 to 12 years is the average lifespan usually ascribed to Boxers. But quite a few owners lose their dogs much earlier, frequently from cancer.
On the other hand, some Boxers reportedly reach 13 to 15 years. There are documented cases of Boxers living as old as 16.
Making Sense Of The Boxer Dog Lifespan
According to Karla Spitzer, who penned The Everything Boxer Book, 10 years of age for a Boxer equates to about 60 for you or me.
However, just as in people, there is an enormous amount of variation between individual Boxers at age 10.
Spitzer says some Boxers that compete in agility are still sailing over jumps at age 12 and beyond, whereas others can hardly get air once they hit six years old.
It’s worth noting, too, that the information out there on the Boxer dog lifespan is not particularly reliable, for a number of reasons.
Geneticist Dr John Armstrong, who headed the Canine Diversity Project investigating longevity in pet dogs told the The American Boxer Club in an interview before his death that a host of problems undermine the reliability of the information we have on breed lifespans, from errors in data collection to mistakes in its analysis.
Neither vets nor owners are required to report dog deaths and much of the information that exists is gathered by surveys. This methodology relies on owners’ memories and the samples may not be representative of all dogs. Studies that record deaths in veterinary settings, for instance, overlook dogs that live long, problem-free lives and die naturally at home from old age.
Yet the fact remains that smaller and mixed breed dogs generally live longest — and the Boxer is neither of these.
What Do Boxers Usually Die From?
According to a 20-year study of 70 000 dogs of 82 breeds by the University of Georgia, cancer is the leading cause of death for Boxers, accounting for 44.3% of deaths.
During the research period, neurological disorders accounted for 18.2% of Boxer deaths and trauma claimed 7% of Boxer dog lives.
Keep in mind, though, the study is now approaching two decades old.
Most of the dogs involved would have been kibble fed, vaccinated, neutered and pumped full of chemicals in the form of wormers, flea and tick preventatives and medication.
All of these things are now understood to contribute to ill health and early death in not just Boxers, but all dogs. (More on this shortly.)
Why Do Boxers Die Young ..And Have So Many Health Issues?
A Boxer’s lifespan is determined by a combination of nature and nurture.
Genetics play an inescapable part in determining a Boxer’s lifespan.
Choose a breeder who screens breeding stock for every possible disease known to occur in Boxers.
Some bloodlines are longer lived than others, so do your research. You want to know not just how long the parents of the dam and sire lived, but how long their parents lived, and how long siblings and extended family lived and with what health issues.
Lowered genetic diversity is why purebred dogs tend to have shorter lifespans and more health problems than mongrels, which benefit from what’s known as “hybrid vigor”.
Over-use of popular sires within a breeding community can exacerbate the genetic bottleneck.
Based on genetics and inbreeding alone, you might be tempted to think your dog’s lifespan is set by his lineage and there’s little you can do but enjoy the time you have.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
His owner is either the single best or worst thing a Boxer has going for him.
A puppy is born with a range of infinite possibilities contained within his genes. Which of those possibilities are unlocked depends on an interplay of environment, lifestyle and the various inputs that go into his body over a lifetime.
In other words, your Boxer’s health and longevity will depend on the multitude of choices YOU make about his care.
Some of these choices, like whether or not to neuter, you make once and can’t un-make. Others, like what food you put in your Boxer’s bowl and what drugs you have him take, are made over and over, on a daily basis — for better or worse.
Little by little you are either building a healthy Boxer, or laying the foundations for disease.
Things that form part of many modern pet dogs’ lives but which increase the likelihood that a Boxer will suffer ill health and die young include:
- tap water
- chemical wormers
- flea and tick preventatives
- trauma and misadventure
- too little (or too much) exercise
- exposure to environmental toxins
Some of these are no brainers. Clearly a lean dog is healthier.
Others come as a shock to owners who have, after all, been advised by trusted vets to neuter their dogs and feed them kibble.
Often the result of a visit to a conventional vet is another medication prescribed or vaccine given.
Chemical wormers are doled out month after month, with no discussion of potential side effects. There’s even less education of owners in the concept of toxic accumulation and how this will inevitably end up affecting their dog.
Hives appear out of nowhere and Benadryl is popped on the regular. “Boxer acne” is the name given to bleeding chins, like it’s some rite of passage. Plastic bowls are blamed.
Dogs itch and gnaw their paws and suffer repeated “UTIs”, ear “infections”, room-clearing gas and diarrhea that never really seems to stay away for long. Irritable Bowel Disease, the vet says. “Boxer colitis”. Chalk it up to the breed. They have “sensitive stomachs”.
“Allergies” are diagnosed and shots scheduled from here to eternity. Skin lumps and bumps are biopsied and excised.
All the while neither vet nor owner ever arrives at the faintest understanding of the root cause of all this chaos.
The cause? Multifactorial, yes. A mystery? No. Have a look back at the dot pointed list above.
We’ll address each one in turn.
Neutering has long been synonymous with responsible dog ownership.
The motivation has always been the prevention of unwanted litters but many owners are under the impression it is better for their dog’s health.
The weight of current evidence suggests just the opposite.
Diseases that occur more commonly in neutered and spayed dogs, include:
- mast cell tumors
- bone cancer
- acute pancreatitis
- hemangiosarcoma (both splenic and cardiac)
- transitional cell carcinoma
- hip dysplasia
- cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCL tears)
- endocrine disorders like Cushing’s disease
- behavior problems including noise phobias, fear of storms, aggression
Spay incontinence is not uncommon in females.
There is a lot of misinformation circulated when it comes to spay and neuter procedures, but the only health conditions they definitively cut the incidence of are pyometra (uterine disease) in females and testicular cancer in males. In much the same way, you could say a mastectomy prevents breast cancer in a woman. An organ can’t ever become diseased if you’ve cut it out when it was healthy.
Prominent integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker stopped routinely desexing her patients after seeing dogs go on to develop disease like clockwork.
The damage done by removing an animal’s hormone-producing sex organs is more pronounced the younger it’s done.
Even vets who still advocate the neutering of all pets are generally aware that Boxers, as a slow maturing breed, should absolutely not be neutered or spayed until two years of age.
Australian vet and breeder of Rottweilers and Great Danes, Dr Ian Billinghurst draws a causal link between the adoption of widespread kibble feeding and the emergence of many of the diseases now seen in pet dogs.
His observations in both his own and client dogs over many years led him to pioneer the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) model of raw feeding.
He found dogs fed on a raw meaty bone-based diet thrived and were spared many of the health complaints common in dogs fed highly processed commercial dog food which is a) cooked and b) full of fillers, preservatives and GMO ingredients of dubious quality that are contaminated with pesticides, herbicides and other chemical residues.
Weed killer in dog food? That doesn’t sound right! They’d never allow it.
In 2015, research scientist Anthony Samsel and his Massachusetts Institute of Technology-based colleague Stephanie Seneff tested pet foods and found every single one they examined contained “significant levels” of glyphosate.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the ubiquitous herbicide Roundup, which has been classified by the World Health Organization as a “probable carcinogen” since 2010.
Monsanto, the company responsible for Roundup, disputes the link between its product and cancer but has made payouts to people who’ve developed Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma after using it. You can read Samsel and Seneff’s paper “Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases IV: cancer and related pathologies” here.
Aside from the problems with kibble, the sheer absence of raw meaty bones in a dog’s diet is, on its own, highly detrimental — regardless of what is fed in their place. Raw meaty bones are the single most important food for ensuring the overall health of a Boxer, including the dog’s dental health. It’s a subject vet Dr Tom Lonsdale explores in great detail in his book Raw Meaty Bones Promote Health.
Nutrition starts in the womb and what the mother of your Boxer puppy is fed will make a difference to your dog’s early development and long term health prospects.
Tap water contains a raft of well-documented contaminants including pesticide residues, trace industrial chemicals and disinfectants used in the water treatment process.
Boxers should drink only properly filtered or spring water.
Vaccines, Chemical Wormers, Flea And Tick Treatments
What all these products have in common is that they introduce into your Boxer’s body harmful toxins.
Whether in the form of the “adjuvants” and preservatives in vaccines or the chemical ingredients responsible for the anti-parasitic effect of de-wormers and flea and tick killers, these substances accumulate in your dog’s system, in what The Natural Vets describe as a “stacking effect” that eventually breaks out in disease. All these products can and do cause serious side effects up to and including seizures and death.
Boxers are not infrequently represented in these grim tallies.
Make informed decisions. Consider your dog’s actual exposure to the diseases and parasites these products are designed to prevent. Explore natural alternatives. Know about titers and how heartworm is and isn’t transmitted.
Your dog’s best defence in all cases is proper diet. One of the many benefits of a fresh, raw, species-appropriate diet is that dogs develop a level of vitality that means they’re less susceptible to disease in all its forms.
Medication treats health complaints by suppressing symptoms.
One of the weaknesses of this approach is that it does nothing to address the cause of those symptoms, which inevitably return.
On top of that, drugs add to the body’s toxic burden, paving the way for more serious and chronic conditions down the track.
A majority of American pet dogs are overweight or obese, a problem never seen in their closest free-living relative, the wolf.
There is plenty of evidence that obesity contributes to all kinds of secondary disease and shortens lifespans.
One way to keep your dog lean and fit is to incorporate regular fasting into his routine, as happens in the wild.
It is totally unnatural for dogs to eat every day and their bodies are not designed for it.
Fasting not only reduces the overall fat content of the diet to more healthy levels, but is known to accelerate healing and detoxification.
One fast day each week is a good place to start in an adult Boxer.
Emotional wellbeing is as important as physical fitness.
Boxers are sensitive souls. If yours is crated inappropriately, kept too hot or cold, lonely, allowed to develop separation anxiety, denied the psychological satisfaction of chewing raw meaty bones, it will detract from his overall health and wellbeing.
Stress in dogs can be triggered by:
- changes to the daily routine
- dog daycare
- vet visits
- illness or injury
- lack of exercise and play
- lack of mental stimulation
- death of another dog in the household
- moving house
- an owner going to hospital, or away on holiday
- divorce and the sudden absence of one family member, and
- the addition of a new puppy, or baby, to the household.
Trauma And Misadventure
As the third leading cause of death for Boxers, trauma takes many forms.
Boxers’ exuberance perhaps makes them more vulnerable than more sedate breeds to:
- escaping the backyard if left alone
- being hit by car
- jumping out of a moving car when unrestrained
- being thrown from a car when unrestrained during a collision
- dog fights
- bee stings (can lead to obstructed airways and anaphylactic shock)
- snake bites
- injuries ranging from sprains and tears to impalement on branches
- joint damage from jumping too high or on hard surfaces
Thankfully, many of these scenarios are preventable with proper supervision, training and management.
Too Little (Or Too Much) Exercise
For Boxers, overdoing it is as much of a risk as not getting enough exercise.
Be sure not to take your Boxer on long walks until he’s two years of age. The repetitive, jarring action can result in joint damage that only shows later in life. Short play sessions with stop-start action and rest are better exercise for puppies than lengthy walks.
Throw frisbees and balls so that your Boxer leaps low to the ground and long rather than performing acrobatic jumps high in the air.
Be careful of causing him to make too many sudden changes of direction.
Exposure To Environmental Toxins
Household cleaners, scented candles, paint, lawncare chemicals, pesticides and herbicides are all sources of toxins that damage the health of your Boxer.
Consider ways to reduce your dog’s toxic exposures. You might:
- use vinegar and citrus to clean
- invest in a steam cleaner in place of mopping floors with strong-smelling chemical cleaners
- get an air purifier to filter harmful particles including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) commonly found in indoor air
How To Make Your Boxer Live Longer
You can extrapolate from the information above what not to do if you want your Boxer to be by your side for many years to come.
Helping your Boxer live a long and happy life boils down to essentially three things:
- Feeding a fresh, natural, raw meaty bone-based diet
- Minimizing toxic exposures (ingested and environmental), and
- Keeping your Boxer safe with good training, supervision and control.
You might do everything right and your dog still encounters health problems. Equally, some randomly bred dogs in laissez-faire homes live to a ripe old age running amok and eating nothing but junk.
Some people smoke a pack a day and never get lung cancer, too. It doesn’t change the fact it’s bad for you.
There are no guarantees. The key is to lay the conditions for health in as many ways as you can.
Remember the average expected lifespan for a Boxer is based on experiences with kibble-fed dogs exposed to a range of toxins.
If you can do better on those fronts, 10 to 12 years needn’t necessarily reflect the limits of your dog’s life.