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Cardiomyopathy in Boxer Dogs

Ventricular Arrhythmia in Boxer Dogs

Ventricular arrhythmia is a prevalent condition in Boxer dogs, characterized by irregular heartbeats. It can lead to fainting episodes or sudden heart failure, and in severe cases, congestive heart failure may develop. While Boxers are most commonly affected, similar symptoms have been observed in English Bulldogs. Typically, this condition manifests in dogs aged two years or older, although symptoms can present in pups as young as six months. Conversely, some affected dogs may not display symptoms until they are over ten years old.

Symptoms and Types

  • During a routine examination, a veterinarian may detect an irregular heartbeat.
  • Episodes of fainting (syncope)
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Sudden death


It is believed to have an inherited component, although a specific genetic defect has not yet been identified.


To diagnose your pet, it’s crucial to provide a detailed history of their health leading up to the onset of symptoms, including any information about their familial background. Your veterinarian will aim to eliminate the following potential causes of the symptoms before considering a congenital origin for this condition. Screening may involve an electrocardiogram (ECG) and ultrasound examinations of the heart and/or abdomen.

Conditions to rule out include:

  • Aortic stenosis
  • Other cardiac ailments
  • Aortic blockages
  • Abdominal disorders

While blood tests will be conducted, a urinalysis may not yield pertinent information in this case. A thoracic radiograph (chest x-ray) could help determine heart enlargement or any signs of heart failure. If cardiac disease is suspected, your veterinarian might recommend a heart monitor for your dog to assess the severity and complexity of the arrhythmia. This monitoring also establishes a baseline for comparison once treatment commences.


The primary goal of treatment is to restore normal heart rhythm and alleviate symptoms. Preventing sudden death, which is often associated with this condition, is of utmost importance. Treatment becomes challenging when symptoms are not apparent, and the medications typically used to address the condition may paradoxically induce cardiac arrhythmias instead of mitigating them. Your veterinarian will need to assess whether antiarrhythmic drugs are appropriate in your dog’s case.

Living and Management

Episodes of fainting and heart irregularities appear to occur more frequently during periods of stress and excitement. Therefore, it might be advisable to limit strenuous exercise with your dog. However, the relationship between adverse outcomes and exercise remains uncertain. It’s essential to adhere to your veterinarian’s guidance and exercise your own judgment.

Your veterinarian might prescribe medications to manage the arrhythmia. Response to treatment can vary among dogs, so if one medication proves ineffective, it may be reasonable to try another.

Your veterinarian may recommend periodic placement of a cardiac monitor on your dog following the initiation of therapy to assess treatment response. This helps determine the effectiveness of the medication or if a switch to another one is necessary. It’s recommended to wear the monitor for a duration once a year and undergo an ECG to monitor heart activity. Dogs with this condition are always at risk of sudden death, but many can be maintained for years on antiarrhythmic medication. Dogs with systolic dysfunction, where the heart contracts but blood flow may be compromised, may not fare as well. However, these dogs may exhibit improvement with l-carnitine, a supplement that raises carnitine levels. Carnitine is crucial for bodily functions as it aids in fatty-acid oxidation.

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