White Boxers are not caused by genetic birth defects. Just as human hair color is the product of the combined genetics of the human parents so, too, is the color of a Boxer's coat a product of the genetics contributed by both the father and mother. The exclusively white coat is created when both the mother and father are carriers of the gene that makes up the white coat and the offspring inherits the white coat gene from both the father and the mother. In every way the puppy is the same as all of it's siblings, with all the energy, personality, and spirit that make them boxers.
White Boxers are not albinos. Albinos completely lack pigment. This is evidenced by pink eyes, and a complete lack of color anywhere on the body. Most white boxers have some spots on their skin (which can be seen due to their short white coats) and have some markings around their nose and mouth. Some white boxers have colored markings in their coat (brown spots around an eye or on the back etc). All white boxers have pigment in their eyes, this alone rules out albinism as the cause of their whiteness.
According to the American Boxer Club "Approximately twenty-five percent (and this is an estimation as exact records have not been maintained) of all Boxer puppies are either white or almost all white, making white puppies neither 'rare' nor 'unusual.'" Since the white coat color is recessive, both parents need to be a carriers of the gene that creates white offspring. The boxer breed standard stipulates that two-thirds of the body be either fawn or brindle in color. Because of this limitation, white boxers do not meet the breed standard and are therefore frequently euthinized at birth. Many breeders feel that white Boxers are inferior to standard colored Boxers and have more health problems that standard colored boxers and therefore this genocide is easily dismissed. The American Boxer Club does not activly discourage this behavior but it does allow white Boxers to be registered with the AKC on limited privilege.
The problem is that many local breed clubs have not adopted this same philosophy and still have by-laws calling for the euthinization of any white offspring. It is for this reason that there is much controversy over white Boxers with no end in site. It is a positive sign though that an increasing number of breeders are electing to place their non-standard boxers in pet homes rather than destroying them. It is for the same reason that there is inadequate research to either substantiate or dissuade the claims that white Boxers are more prone to problems than standard boxers. The only claims that seem to have merit is that white Boxers are more likely to sunburn and white Boxers (like many other breeds with similar loss of pigment problems) are more prone to deafness in one or both ears. Neither of these reasons provides a compelling argument for the necessary destruction of these animals.
Hopefully, with the increasing number of breeders placing these dogs in pet homes, we can finally establish some substantial research into white Boxers.
White Boxer Deafness
White Boxers and Deafness
by Bruce Cattanach
Having just written a long review article on white colour and deafness in Dalmatians for the British dog press I should make a comment on this situation in Boxers.
The terms whites and checks appear to be being used interchangeably in recent correspondence. They are different. The white Boxer may have pigmented patches around the eyes and ears and other limited points on the body, but the check, as shown in old time photos has much more pigment and could be called piebald (50:50).
The white Boxer carries two doses of the extreme white spotting gene, s-w (s-w/s-w) and is produced by the so-called flashy animals which, in the UK Boxer, carry one dose of the gene.
So, here, all our show Boxers are carriers. Crossing these together gives 25% whites, 50% flashy and 25% solid coloured.
In the classic work on coat colour in dogs by mouse geneticist CC Little, some flashy US Boxers were thought to carry a different form of the white spotting gene, s-i (Irish spotting). They would have two doses of the gene, like Basenjis or Bostons. I have not found any evidence of this form in UK Boxers.
If you find real checks appearing in American Boxers, then you may have this s-i form of the gene still present. These would be compounds of the s-w and s-i, as demonstrated recently in my cross of an s-i/s-i Corgi with a white s-w/s-w Boxer.
I might add here that there is some movement at the UK Breed Council level to recognise that the flashy show Boxers all carry the gene for white and accept that breeding them together to produce whites will soon be considered unethical. Solid Boxers may be promoted both for showing and breeding.
Whites are commonly put down here too, not just because of the risk of deafness but because they are so difficult to home happily. They are bought cheap and regrettably are liable to be treated cheap, although many do find ideal homes.
As to deafness, the genetic basis of white in Boxers is the same as in Dalmatians, albeit without the ticking factor to give the spots. In the UK the incidence of deafness in Dalmatians is about 5% bilaterally deaf and 13% unilaterally deaf, total affected 18%. In the States according to Strain the figures are somewhat higher, 8% bilateral and 22% unilateral, total affected 30%. I do not know of any good figures for Boxers but it would be reasonable to believe that the incidence is similar. Only the bilaterally deaf Boxers would be recognized of course; under 10%.
The cause of the deafness associated with the white colour is the absence of pigment cells in the inner ear resulting in a loss of sensory hair cells at about 6 - 8 weeks of age. The shortage/absence of pigment cells is also the cause of the white coat and unpigmented third eyelids (haw). Generally speaking, the more pigment in the coat the lower will be the risk of deafness, but all predominantly white dogs are at risk of being deaf.
Please note however that not all white dogs are white because of a lack of pigment cells. Some like West Highlands and Poodles just have extremely diluted pigmentation; they have a full complement of pigment cells, so are not at risk of being deaf. Biscuit shading, commonly around the ears and along the back can distinguish this form of white coat.
There are of course many other causes of deafness in dogs, people, mice etc. Very many deafness genes are known in mice. Not all are attributable to the absence of pigment cells. And deafness can be caused by external factors too.