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Juvenile Kidney Disease in UK Boxers; a brief summary
(London & Home Counties Boxer Club Newsletter, February 2012 )
Bruce Cattanach


Kidney disease/failure is common in dogs.  It can be caused by anything that damages the kidneys, as for example, drinking anti-freeze.  More typically, it is a disease of old age but younger dogs can also be affected and here there is a greater possibility of the disease being inherited.  Classically, the physical signs with any form of kidney disease/failure are excessive thirst and increased urination.  Vomiting may also occur.  General lethargy may be noted.  Basically, one has a sick dog in which all systems are beginning to shut down through the failure to excrete waste.  Typically the onset of the disease is noted in dogs that are one to two years old and maybe a little later, but onset can occur much earlier.  Young puppies that are developing the disease may be hard to house-train and may appear thin and under-nourished no matter how well fed.  There is even a possibility of ill effects appearing at or before birth to result in deaths.  Such very early effects can have many other causes, however.

Veterinary consultation is essential for diagnosis but and may comprise only on-the-spot urine analysis, but ultrasound scanning may show dysplastic kidneys and scanning can be done at any age.  I believe the different kidney diseases cannot easily be distinguished from each other.  All cause swelling of the tubules and the creation of cystic non-functional sacs.  Post mortem evidence is not definitive either.

Treatment regimes to extend life of young affected dogs have been developed and appear to be improving.  In addition, low protein diets, which give the kidneys less work to do, also slow progression of the disease.

Inherited juvenile kidney disease (JKD) is found in a number of breeds.  I have dealt with recessively inherited forms in Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Cocker Spaniels and set up breeding controls schemes for each.  Inherited forms of the disease have been claimed in a large number of breeds in Sweden, including Boxers (some of British ancestry), but with none of these has evidence to support the inherited basis been presented to my knowledge. We had a probable inherited JKD in UK Boxers way back in the ‘80s.  This was localised to only a few linked kennels that did not impact the breed as a whole and was therefore dealt with ‘in house’.  Some evidence of JKD has been recently reported in American Boxers and a screen for a responsible gene has been attempted by Kerstin Linblad-Toh of the Broad Institute without success, but I don’t believe the inheritance was ever verified.  Finally, Marge Chandler of the Edinburgh Veterinary School reported about 30 possible JKD cases a few years ago, but from the pedigrees she was able to send me there was no indication that these had a genetic basis; the cases were in the main unrelated.  Further reports of kidney disease in the UK reached the previous Boxer Breed Council Health Committee (chaired by Steve Dean) about two years ago.  Although it seemed unlikely that these would be inherited, one member of the committee agreed to look into the situation.  Here the matter rested until new and frightening findings came to my attention.

As everyone knows a cluster of closely-related JKD cases has recently been recognised.  Together they indicated an inherited form of the disease is now present in UK Boxers.  Initially, these cases derived from one extensively-used stud dog.  The relationships suggested a recessive gene inheritance and, together with the stud usage of the dog in question, this meant that the responsible gene would be widely disseminated throughout the breed, although not necessarily as yet the disease itself.  But worse was to come when it was found that other seemingly-isolated cases linked up in a larger family group, and this group has impacted most of the breed in this country.  Many UK Boxers are therefore now at risk of carrying the gene and in time the disease is likely to become prevalent unless some action is taken.   I should stress that not all kidney disease in our Boxers will be inherited; some one-off cases caused by other factors must always be expected.

But what could be done?  I have instigated the following:

      • Presented all the evidence to the Breed Council Executive and the new Health Committee (chaired by Ron James).

      • Notified owners of sires and dams.

      • Arranged for a specialist in internal medicine, Rory Bell of Glasgow Veterinary School to advise as needed.

      • Collected blood samples from a number of closely-related and other JKD cases, plus a larger number of controls (hopefully free of the gene, based on pedigree).  These samples have been sent off to a Belgian lab to be used in studies to find the gene.  I have made formal application for funding this work through the European Veterinary Consortium (LUPA).

        All that can be reported from the lab at this time is that the DNA has been made, it is of sufficiently high quality for the study, and the analysis is in progress.  Finding genes is not easy so it may be some time before any results are forthcoming. 

      • I have offered one basic breeding recommendation to the Health Committee for immediate breeder application – that “inbreeding to should be avoided as far as possible”.  This single action should reduce the chances of carrier animals being mated together and so reduce the risk of further JKD cases being produced.  But further action within the breed will be needed.

      • Breeders should watch out for early puppy losses and/or reduced litter sizes in inbred ‘at risk’ litters.

Future direction on JKD is in the hands of the Health Committee.

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