While boxers are generally a healthy breed, many suffer from ongoing health problems. For a significant number of Boxer dogs, it’s their eyes that will cause them trouble throughout their life.
Common eye problems in Boxers include:
- Corneal Ulcers
- Indolent Ulcers
- Cherry Eye
- Dry Eye
According to the British Veterinary Association, Boxer dogs are much more prone to eye issues because they are brachycephalic.
This means they have short faces and snub noses and their eyes can protrude abnormally. There are breeding schemes in place that can check breeding parents for eye issues that may be passed on.
Boxer breeders and owners should be aware of the common eye problem Boxer dogs can have. This is so we can work towards eliminating them from the population. It is also so they can be promptly diagnosed and managed in those who suffer from them.
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7 Main Eye Problems Boxer Dogs Suffer From
Sadly, there is a long list of eye problems that Boxers can develop. These will include genetic (passed on from the parents) and congenital (present at birth) conditions. For some, the problems are evident in early life. For others, they are only an issue in middle age or even in their senior years.
As we know that Boxers are so predisposed to ocular issues, their eyes should be closely examined at every routine health check, such as during their annual vaccination exam. Vets should assess the eyes closely, checking for signs such as tear staining or corneal pigmentation. It is also advised that a Schirmer Tear Test is performed. More on this later.
Some of the problems that vets will be looking out for include:
1. Corneal Ulcers
Ulcers on the surface of the eye pose a real issue to Boxers, more so than most other breeds. In fact, there is a type of ulcer (called an ‘indolent ulcer’) that is strongly associated with this breed.
Ulcers can cause signs including blepharospasm (squinting of the eye), tearing, and pawing at the eye due to discomfort.
They are diagnosed with a Fluorescein Tear Test. During this brief test, an orange dye is dripped onto the cornea. It is then cleaned away and the eye is examined under a slit lamp while the lights are off. Any stain uptake is consistent with an ulcer.
The vet will assess and measure any ulcer that is present. Dogs will usually be treated with a combination of topical antibiotics, pain relief (such as atropine drops) and a buster collar to prevent rubbing. Most ulcers heal quickly, within a matter of days. It is important to re-stain the eye to ensure the ulcer has healed after a couple of days. If the eye appears to worsen at any time (perhaps it becomes cloudy or there is a visible dip in the surface of the eye ), an urgent vet visit is needed as ulcers can become infected or even rupture.
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2. Indolent Ulcers
(also called ‘Boxer Ulcers’) have more commonly been called SCCEDs (Spontaneous Chronic Corneal Epithelial Defects). These non-healing ulcers do not act like regular ulcers and persist despite routine treatment. The healing process and cells that are present are thought to be abnormal in those dogs that are affected.
Vets will be suspicious of an indolent ulcer if your dog is an older Boxer with a non-healing ulcer. They will be able to spot certain changes when examining the eye, such as a ‘halo’ of stain that forms around the ulcer. Treatment will depend on the extent of the lesion, your dog’s medical history, and finances.
Oftentimes, we can perform a quick debridement with a cotton swab under local anesthesia to remove the abnormal cells. Frustratingly, this is not always effective and some dogs will require more aggressive treatment such as a Grid Keratotomy.
Eyelids that turn inwards cause issues as they scrape the surface of the eye and are very uncomfortable. Normally, this disorder is diagnosed in young dogs. Entropion can be diagnosed by an experienced vet by looking at the eyes. Treatment usually consists of surgery to repair the deformity. The sooner this is done, the better the long-term prognosis. In young dogs, the eyelids may be temporarily ‘tacked’ open as the tissue develops and a more permanent surgery is performed later, once the Boxer is more mature.
The iris, ciliary body, and choroid all form the uvea of the eye. Inflammation of these structures is called uveitis. Causes can include infections, immune-mediated disease, or trauma. As this is a painful disease, your Boxer may squint their eye shut, rub at it and act subdued. Vets will monitor affected dogs for glaucoma, which can be a complication.
5. Cherry Eye
A prolapse of the nictitans gland causes a red swelling at the corner of the inner eye that is said to look like a small cherry. While one eye may be affected initially, it is not uncommon for the other eye to follow suit shortly after. Surgery under a general anesthetic is required to replace the gland. Previously, vets would trim away the gland but this is no longer recommended as it can lead to Dry Eye in later life. In a small number of patients, the cherry eye will recur after surgery and a further procedure will be required.
Increased intraocular pressure is known as glaucoma. Signs can include severe pain, sudden vision loss, and obvious redness. It may occur secondary to other conditions such as uveitis. Measuring the eye pressure should be part of a routine eye exam and is usually done with a tonometer. The pressure in a Boxer’s eye should measure from 12 to 25mmHg.
7. Dry Eye or “Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca”
A lack of a tear film causes a scratchy feeling on the surface of the eye, a build-up of thick discharge, and ongoing infections. A Schirmer Tear Test can quickly rule this condition in or out. This test is easily done in a conscious patient and only takes a couple of minutes. A small piece of paper is placed under the eyelid and the tears produced are measured. If the measurement of tears reads more than 15mm, we are happy that the eyes are producing enough tears. Dry Eyes require medicine including lubricants and topical Cyclosporin (such as Optimmune). Affected Boxers will need ongoing monitoring.
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Why Boxer Dogs Get Swollen Eyes
Blepharitis is the medical term for swelling around a dog’s eyes that can make them puffy. Dogs may be irritated and itchy and there might be ocular discharge. Due to the rubbing, fur loss around the eye is not uncommon. Dogs may also develop small pimples or pustules.
There are several causes for blepharitis including allergies, infections, and other inflammatory disorders. A Boxer who has had blepharitis in the past is more prone to getting it again in the future.
Of course, there are other considerations for swelling in the ocular region including a tooth root abscess, insect sting, or local trauma. Due to this, an accurate veterinary diagnosis is a very important step in the treatment plan.
How your Boxer dog is treated will depend on what exactly is going on, but many will need antibiotic eye drops, anti-inflammatories, and a buster collar to prevent rubbing and protect the peri-ocular skin.
Why Do Boxers Get Red Eyes & Bloodshot Eyes
If the white of your Boxer’s eye has suddenly become pink or red or has visible blood vessels in it, this is a concern.
We would consider:
- Trauma, such as from a bang to the head
- A clotting disorder, perhaps caused by recent toxin ingestion or lungworm
- Severe conjunctivitis
- Dry Eye
- A foreign body in the eye or under the eyelid
Bloodshot eyes are not a specific sign of any one disease but tell us there is something going wrong with your Boxer’s eyes.
Importantly, monitor for signs of bleeding elsewhere such as within the urine or stool. Check your Boxer for pale gums, panting or abdominal bloating. While uncommon, red eyes can be the first sign of a bleeding disorder.
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When To Be Concerned & When To See a Vet
Like us, our dogs only have two eyes! They are essential for being able to see and navigate the world and should not be taken for granted. Any condition affecting the eye needs to be treated with respect. Eye conditions can escalate quickly so we should seek veterinary care at the first sign of an issue.
While a mild squint or slight cloudiness may not make you overly worried, anything new or different warrants a vet visit. Most of the time, there will not be anything too untoward going on, but we do need to rule out something more sinister.
For many ocular conditions, prompt diagnosis and treatment can ensure a full and quick recovery. Conversely, conditions that are left untreated can result in chronic scarring, vision problems, and even eye removal.
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British Veterinary Association Eye Testing In Brachycephalic Breeds