Boxer Cardiomyopathy (BCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that some experts believe may affect up to 50% of Boxers. While cardiomyopathy can sometimes develop as a reaction to toxins and infections, it is believed that this is an inherited disease for Boxers.
BCM causes intermittent abnormal heartbeats, making this condition difficult to diagnose. In a small percentage of cases, the Boxer will develop a dilation of the heart and congestive heart failure.
The warning signs of BCM
Most Boxers are affected by BCM in middle age, but it has been detected in dogs that are as young as several months old. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose in Boxers without a veterinary examination that involves monitoring the heart on electrocardiogram for several hours to a few days (Holter monitoring).
These symptoms can be warning signs:Episodes of fainting or collapse
Weakness and exercise intolerance (this could be an indication of congestive heart failure)
Difficulty breathing, marked by a soft cough, even at rest (this could be an indication of congestive heart failure)*
Unfortunately, sudden death is not uncommon—and may occur even if the dog had no prior symptoms.
Early detection and treatment are vital
Difficult to detect even with radiographs, a stethoscope exam, or resting electrocardiogram, your veterinarian may choose to employ a Holter Monitor to diagnose BCM. Worn by your Boxer for 24 hours during normal activities, the monitor records abnormal heart rhythms.
If BCM is diagnosed, it is important to begin treatment immediately. In most cases, your veterinarian will prescribe anti-arrhythmic drugs that can stabilize and support the diseased heart. Rest and diet restrictions may also be part of the treatment regimen.
Controlling the arrhythmia associated with BCM is your Boxer’s best chance to live a longer life. Watch for signs of BCM and be sure to discuss BCM screenings with your veterinarian.
*This is a sign of advanced disease and should be considered a medical emergency.