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Beware of These Boxer Health Issues

The Boxer is one of my favorite canine breeds due to their amiable personalities and goofily charming faces. Boxers were not always on my most-liked list, as their large size and exuberant energy can be intimidating to children and other smaller-sized creatures.

You see, a neighbor frequently kept a sizable, property-protecting Boxer chained up outside their home. The dog would repeatedly pace its allotted yard space and scare the neighborhood kids with his intimidating bark when we walked by or rode on our bikes.

Once I started working as a technician in veterinary practice during my undergraduate years at the University of Delaware, I quickly overcame my childhood fears. Now that I am all grown up and working as a veterinarian, I always enjoy seeing my Boxer patients eagerly awaiting to be petted while wiggling their hind ends and nubs of tails.

Unfortunately, the breed is host to a myriad of medical problems ranging from mild to severe. The following are the Boxer health issues I have seen in my clinical practice.


Boxers can be afflicted with cancers affecting a variety of organ systems, including:

  • Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) – Skin and internal organs such as the spleen, liver and heart
  • Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) – Also affects the skin and internal organs
  • Lymphoma – Affects the lymphatic system (the circulatory system, paralleling arteries and veins allowing for movement of immune system cells) and internal organs


I have seen many Boxers that have chronic skin inflammation, leading to self mutilation (licking or chewing in attempt to relive their discomfort) as a result of environmental or food allergies.

These painfully itchy dogs often need a variety of treatments for their skin, such as:

  • Medication – Antibiotics, antihistamines and steroids, or other immune system modifying drugs (such as Cylosporine)
  • Special Diet – A protein/carbohydrate-based diet of either home-prepared, commercial or prescription food (such as rabbit and peas, duck and sweet potato, Science Diet Z/D or Purina HA
  • Dietary supplements – Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish oil, which has beneficial anti-inflammatory effects for the skin
  • Immune system hyposensitization – “Allergy shots” made from the Boxer’s own blood can help control dermatologic disease
  • Bathing – Consistent or frequent bathing with hypoallergenic, anti-seborrheic (scale lifting) or antimicrobial (bacteria or yeast killing) shampoo

Cardiac Disease

Boxers’ typically sweet, family-friendly personally lends to the analogy of them having big hearts. Unfortunately, bigger hearts are not always better, and certainly do not often function as well as their normal-sized counterparts.

  • Dilative cardiomyopathy (DCM) – Boxers are prone to DCM, where the heart muscle stretches out and causes the electrical impulse that regulates heart contraction to travel through the heart in an inefficient manner. It can ultimately lead to heart failure.
  • Other heart conditions, some developmental and others congenital, may also be seen in Boxers.

Metabolic Disease

  • Hypothyroidism – A low-functioning thyroid gland commonly affects Boxers as they age and lends a predisposition to skin problems, weight gain, generalized weakness, neurologic abnormalities and other conditions. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is relatively easy to treat with hormone replacement. The symptoms are typically resolved when blood levels are appropriately regulated.

Emergency Conditions

  • Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) – I have performed surgery to correct GDV in Boxers on multiple occasions during my years of emergency clinical practice. GDV, also known as “bloat” (it’s what did in Marley in “Marley and Me”), is a life-threatening condition where the stomach flips, causing a terrible cascade of abnormalities affecting every body part. The Boxer’s physical conformation, featuring a deep chest and narrow abdomen, is speculated to be one of the potential contributing factors permitting the stomach to shift.

I don’t mean to be “Dr. Depressing,” but I feel potential Boxer adopters should know that their beloved pet may need frequent and potentially costly veterinary care. If you adopt a Boxer, establish a long-term relationship with your veterinarian and schedule a physical examination for your dog at least every 12 months. Additionally, be aware of the veterinary specialists and emergency hospitals in your area that can provide treatment beyond that of your regular veterinarian.

Thank you to my veterinary acupuncture intern, Stefanie Scheff, for her contributions to this article.

PHOTO: Cary Bass

Dr. Mahaney

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA has a thriving veterinary practice in Los Angeles. His clients respond favorably to his combination of Eastern and Western medicine, including acupuncture. In addition to making house calls, Mahaney makes himself available via social media outlets such as his blog and Twitter. He is dog dad to i Love Dogs canine ambassador Cardiff.

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February 28, 2011 By : Category : DOGS 411 Wellness Tags:
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19 Comments Print

The Dog Park   


Hi, my boxer/bulldog is a male and almost 2 years old. Yesterday I went to bring him in from the back yard and he wouldn't get up at first. After asking him to come in numerous times he finally struggled to get up then once he stood up he wouldn't step on his back legs. It seemed like his legs were asleep and didn't want to step on them. So i tried getting him to walk around to "walk it off" The problem continued he doesn't want to get up and move around because something's wrong with his back legs, I've inspected and there is no visual injuries I could see. I put pressure or massaged his legs and hips to see if pressing anywhere would discomfort him but nothing. I have no idea what's wrong with him and would really like if someone could give me an idea of what could be wrong with him and maybe some advice on what to do to fix his problem.


Hi. My dog Apollo is 9 years old has been in 3 veterinary clinics since late june. He started drooling excessively vomiting white foam yelping like someone was hurting for no reason and not moving much at all we think he had a seizure one night as well. He has also lost 10lbs since late june. The doctors did blood tests 3x now x-rays Addisons disease test and still have nothing we have spent over $2000 trying to find out what is wrong with him. He eats everything that he can. Some days are better than others but most are not goid at all. He is not the dog he was 2 minths ago and I just want to get my baby back! If anyone has suggestions Please help thank you


What are the problems with" runts " of the litter as a boxer. He is in pain frequently and doctors say it's normal he lays in bed all day in pain wont eat won't drink for days he had a stomach virus or some type of disease when he was little if anyone has any advice or info please let me know thank you


Hi i have a white boxer she 3 and half she has allergies but in the last couple of weeks her hair is falling out across her back in a trainaler and her skin horrible red put cream on it giving her meds for itchy but doesnt seem to be helping we keep her inside all the time she cnt take the sun becof her being fare skin any help would be appropriate thank u


i am really concerned about my boxer. about three weeks a go, almost over night it looked as if he had gotten the first stages of arthritis. I took him to the vet and they gave me Rimady. this seems to help with the pain for about 8 hrs.  Let me explain what i notice.  My dog starts with pain to the front legs, then stops due to what I believe is extreme  pain. his back goes up and he looks ahead hoping the pain goes away ( sounds like an seizure) then as he stares for about 5 Min he sits down still not wanting to move his front legs. then I notice that he gets an erection for about another 5 min and everything goes back to normal.  hes 10 years old .  he has had exrays and blood work and everything came back normal.  HELP! Anyone


Oh Sally, I'm sorry to hear you still haven't gotten a diagnosis. Keeping my paws crossed for you & Roxie!!


So today I took Roxie to our Vet.  She had an X-ray and full exam.  We have eliminated pancreatitis, Addison's Disease and any obstructions.   Roxie started Metronidazole today.  I am hopeful that she will show some improvement.   

Still heartbroken and frustrated!



At this point, I am willing to try anything.  We have tried cooking for her and that worked for a few days.  It seemed to upset her belly more and she began to give that up as well.   A trip back to the vet is our first order of business tomorrow.  Wish us luck and thank you for your response and support.



Does Miss Roxie have any type of thyroid issue? When my sweet boy Bruno was first diagnosed w/thyroid disorder he was displaying some of the same symptoms. Also, my neighbor had the same low energy & eating issues w/her little boy; she changed his food to a duck & potatoes food. Its pricey but it has made all the difference in the world. His coat is shiny, his breath is not offensive & his energy has gone through the roof.

Good luck & please keep us posted!



Hello  Our boxer "Roxie" is 6 years old and we love her!  Since the fall we have experienced eating issues with her.   She began to leave a bit of kibble in her dish at each feeding.  To the point where she was not eating at all.  Needless to say she has dropped weight.  Early December we brought her to our local vet who ran some bloodwork and gave her an injection (anti-nausea), with prescription food and more anti-nausea meds for 3 days.   We saw an immediate improvement.   However it did not last.   She used to love apples.  No longer will she eat them.

She has little to no energy most days.  One of us tries to walk with her everyday.  Some days she turns right around and on others we may get a good walk with her.

What type of tests should we request? What other follow up do you recommend?  Heartbroken and frustrated!


Good morning everyone. Its been a while since I've posted anything about our boxer "Bruno". His skin issue continues. His dark parches have not subsided. He does not usually scratch or chew on himself & only licks occasionally, but he can't reach where these patches are. We had him in to see his vet, he has had 4 mass cell tumors removed & 2 teeth pulled since my last post. The vet checked his Thyroid levels again at that time, about 4 wks ago, and said everything looked great. These patches don't seem to itch him at all. We do bath him in an antibacterial shampoo & uually only bath him once or twice a month due to his being a mostly indoor dog. I'm just so worried that these patches may be an indication of a deeper issue. I love our Veterinarian, but since boxers are not common in our area, I wonder if maybe she doesn't have a lot of experience with them or maybe she just doesn't have a clue about what this could be. Thanks for all the tips & ideas, please keep them coming. Bruno is such a huge part of our family & his continued happiness & good health are so important to us.



I have owned and Bread boxers for almost 20 years, I have 3 currently. Addressing skin ussue... I bathe my dogs in head and shoulders! lol An old Vet Ive been using for years and years told me to use that, I bathe first in that and then a sensitive skin dog shampoo for oder usually and then repeat with the Head and Shoulders... IT WORKS! they get this dry skin, and scratch it then they get scabs and then infection ... so treat the source.


Good Luck!




My 6-7 yr old boxer is currently experiencing a skin issue. There are two patches (one on each side) in which his hair is falling out & skin is turning a dark color. We recently moved to a new state (SC) and the first summer (last) was when this first occured. After taking Bruno to our vet, they found he did in fact have a thyrod issue & after starting medication for his thyroid, this cleared up. Now, its back. It first occured around this time of year last year. They tested his thyroid, found it to be within the normal range (3.1). They have no idea why this is showing up. They suggested we give him a benadryl tablet along with his Thyroid meds. He's been on the allergy med for about 12 days and he's not experienced any change other than the patches have continued to grow.


Any ideas on what we can do for our Sweet boy or any ideas on which directions we can point our vet?




Jenn Stults


Linda Rounsaville
Linda Rounsaville

I am, unfortunately, familiar with all of the above. Another problem that's reared it's ugly head, but you didn't mention, is degenerative myelopathy. Of all the health issues our beloved Boxers are prone to, in my opinion DM is the most tragic...