7 Boxer Common Health Issues [+Signs and Prevention]

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boxer dressed like a doctor

Known for their affection, people love Boxers for their beauty and loyalty, but they’re also prone to developing certain health problems.

Fortunately, most of the health issues Boxers tend to face are treatable if you catch them early. So it’s helpful to know about the conditions that are common to the breed. 

The most common Boxer health issues are heart conditions, cancers, hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), hypothyroidism, and bloat.

In this article, we’ll look at major health issues your Boxer may face during his lifetime. After that, I’ll break down which conditions manifest in the different life stages and how your furbaby’s health compares with other breeds. We’ll wrap up with a list of signs to watch for and recommendations for prevention and health care.

Common health problems

Due to years of selective breeding that gives the Boxer its flat face and other endearing characteristics, the breed is prone to developing certain health problems. Below we’ll review the 7 most common issues your furbaby may face.

Heart conditions

Boxers are prone to heart conditions, some of which are present from birth. Issues that commonly affect this breed include atrial septal defect, subaortic stenosis, and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Dog breeds that are prone to developing heart conditions include Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Schnauzers, and Great Danes.

Because atrial septal defects and subaortic stenosis are congenital disorders, these conditions manifest at birth. DCM can surface in Boxers as young as 6 months old, but the condition usually appears in adulthood.

With an atrial septal defect, there’s an opening in the wall of the right and left atria that permits blood to flow between the chambers. A dog with subaortic stenosis has a narrow aortic opening that creates extra pressure in the heart. DCM is a degenerative condition involving a weakening of the ventricular muscle.

Signs of heart conditions in your Boxer include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Fainting
  • Heart murmurs
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Without treatment, each condition puts added strain on the heart muscle that can result in eventual heart failure and a decrease in both the quality and length of your Boxer’s life.

Prevention of these heart conditions centers on choosing puppies from a reputable breeder who will only breed dogs with no history of heart issues. With DCM, you should also talk to your veterinarian about supplementing your Boxer’s diet with carnitine. 

While surgical correction for congenital defects is an option, each of these conditions can usually be managed medically. Treatment options include diuretics, cardiac drugs, dietary management, and lifestyle changes.


Boxers are prone to developing certain types of cancers, including lymphoma, mast cell tumors, and brain tumors. 

Cancers of various forms affect several breeds, including Boxers, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Labrador Retrievers.

Most cancers take time to develop and are more likely to appear in the middle ages.

When certain body tissues or cells experience abnormal, uncontrolled growth, it causes cancer. Lymphomas are tumors of the lymph system. Mast cell tumors affect the mammary glands, and brain tumors grow in the head.

Common signs of cancer in dogs include:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Change in appetite
  • Visible lumps on or under the skin
  • Seizures 
  • Confusion
  • Swaying or difficulty walking

Without treatment, these cancers can spread to other parts of the body and cause premature death. While some cancers are fatal, treatment can still prolong your dog’s life and reduce his quality of life.

When it comes to cancer in Boxers, the first line of defense is selecting puppies from a trustworthy breeder and family lines with no history of the disease. Other preventative measures include spaying or neutering your Boxer to reduce the chances of mammary cancer and conducting regular checks for lumps when you groom your dog.

Cancer treatment depends on the type and severity of the condition. Whenever possible, tumors are surgically removed. Further therapy may include radiation treatments or chemotherapy. The chance of recovery is significantly better if you catch the cancer in its early stages.

Hip dysplasia

The larger, athletic frame of Boxers and years of specialized breeding leave them predisposed to developing hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia is a congenital condition that’s common in large and giant breeds, including Boxers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Great Danes.

As a slowly developing, degenerative disease, the symptoms of hip dysplasia usually manifest in middle-aged to senior Boxers.

When Boxers have hip dysplasia, they’re born with an anatomical deformity in the hip socket that allows for extra movement in the joint. Over time, the motion damages the cartilage and causes degenerative changes and arthritis.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Difficulty rising from a prone position
  • Sitting with a leg out to the side
  • Chronic pain

Without treatment, hip dysplasia will cause progressive degeneration and increasing pain. Your Boxer will lose mobility and have a reduced quality of life.

Prevention of hip dysplasia in Boxers starts with only buying your puppies from reputable breeders. Once you have your furbaby, feed him a nutritious diet and supplements that help to promote joint health.

In many cases, hip dysplasia can be managed medically with a combination of pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, joint supplements, weight management, restricted activity,  and joint fluid modifiers. Surgical correction may be needed to treat severe conditions.

Degenerative myelopathy

Similar to multiple sclerosis in humans, degenerative myelopathy is a neurological disease that commonly affects Boxers. It is genetically inherited.

Breeds commonly affected by degenerative myelopathy include Boxers, German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease, so it usually develops in middle-aged or senior Boxers.

When dogs develop degenerative myelopathy, the white matter breaks down in their spinal cord, leading to progressive hind leg weakness and, eventually, lameness. Without white matter, the Nerve fibers need the white matter to signal muscle contraction.

Signs of degenerative myelopathy include:

  • Stiffness getting up
  • Hind limb weakness
  • Dragging rear feet
  • Loss of balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Swaying gait
  • Crossing legs when walking

There is no treatment or cure for degenerative myelopathy. However, supportive care can help delay the progression of the symptoms.

The only way to prevent degenerative myelopathy is by choosing your Boxer from a family line with no history of the condition. 

Treatment of degenerative myelopathy in your Boxer may include:

  • Supplementation with the amino acid N-acetyl-cysteine and vitamins B, C, and E
  • Physical therapy – to maintain muscle mass
  • Supportive care, including hygiene and care of pressure wounds

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)

Over time, Boxers were bred to have a characteristic flat face that leaves them vulnerable to developing Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

Flat-faced breeds like Boxers, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs are predisposed to BOAS.

The anatomy associated with BOAS is present at birth, but signs of the condition usually become more pronounced in adulthood.

The flat-faced characteristic sets Boxers up for changes in the airway and throat that include a narrow windpipe, an elongated soft palate, and narrowed nostrils. These features make breathing more difficult. 

Signs of BOAS include:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Noisy breathing/snoring
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pale gums
  • Collapse

Boxers with BOAS who don’t receive the treatment can experience respiratory difficulty, worsening symptoms, and collapse.

Preventative measures for Boxers with BOAS include helping your furbaby maintain a healthy weight, keeping him inside when it’s hot and humid, and limiting your dog’s exercise/exertion.

Treatment options for BOAS include:

  • Surgically widening the nostrils.
  • Trimming the soft palate
  • Removing everted laryngeal saccules


Boxers commonly suffer from hypothyroidism, which is caused by an underactive thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism is common among medium and large-breed dogs like Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, and Doberman Pinschers.

Because hypothyroidism takes time to develop, the signs usually manifest in the adult years.

 Usually, in Boxers, the body attacks its thyroid gland, causing a reduced production of thyroid hormones. The hormones help regulate metabolism and growth, so their absence causes a variety of problems in the body. 

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Lethargy
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Weight gain
  • Vulnerability to skin and ear infections
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Mental dullness
  • Sudden changes in behavior

Without treatment, hypothyroidism can lead to weight gain and infections that affect other body systems. Over time, your Boxer’s quality of life and health will deteriorate.

Hypothyroidism in Boxers is probably genetically linked, so the best way to prevent the condition is by purchasing a puppy from a trustworthy breeder. 

Treatment for hypothyroidism in your Boxer includes hormone supplementation, weight management, and regular monitoring.


With their deep chest and large frame, Boxers are prone to bloat.

Bloat is common in larger dogs with deep, narrow chests, including Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, and Weimaraners.

In Boxers, the risk of bloat is most prevalent between about 3 and 7 years of age. 

When bloat occurs, gas fills the stomach, and it expands, causing the wall to stretch beyond normal. As the stomach expands and pressure builds, it can shut off blood to other organs and cause a life-threatening emergency. Sometimes, the stomach also rotates on its axis, causing a torsion.

Signs of bloat include:

  • Anxiety, pacing, acting uncomfortable
  • Panting or drooling
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Dry heaves/retching 
  • Distended abdomen
  • Praying/downward dog posture where the front end is lowered, and the hind end is elevated

Bloat is an emergency that requires immediate treatment. If you ignore the symptoms, your dog will likely go into shock and collapse. Death can occur in as little as a few hours.

Usually, bloat occurs when food or air overfills the stomach, but it also has genetic links. Preventative measures include:

  • Purchasing a puppy from a family line with no history of bloat
  • Feeding your Boxer 2-3 smaller meals rather than once a day
  • Avoid exercising your dog for about an hour after meals
  • Using a slow-feed bowl

Treatment for bloat varies depending on the severity of the condition. Simple bloat may be treated with supportive care, hospitalization, and leash-walking to encourage gas and food to move out of the stomach. Treatment for severe bloat or torsions can include:

  • Pain medications
  • Stomach decompression  
  • Supportive care, including IV fluids
  • Surgery 

Boxer Health issues across the lifecycle

Health issues in boxers can surface at any age, depending on the condition. Congenital heart defects often appear in puppies, while other conditions like hypothyroidism, degenerative myelopathy, and BOAS appear more often in adults. Other degenerative conditions surface in seniors.

Boxer Puppy Health Issues

Boxers that are born with heart defects like atrial septal defects and subaortic stenosis will usually show signs of disease as puppies. They may show illness around six months of age.

Occasionally, dogs may also show early signs of BOAS, but it usually develops in adults.

Adult Boxer Health Issues

Certain diseases that are common to Boxers usually manifest in the adult years. DCM takes time to develop, so the symptoms usually occur as adults. Many times, cancer also manifests when Boxers are middle-aged. 

Dogs with BOAS are more likely to develop symptoms in the adult years after their bodies reach maturity. Other conditions that affect adult Boxers include hypothyroidism and bloat.

Senior Boxer Health Issues

Degenerative conditions are most likely to surface in your Boxer when he reaches his senior years. Hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy usually occur when dogs are older.

Boxer Health Issues and Average Lifespan

As large-breed dogs, Boxers generally live 10-12 years. 

Certain health issues in Boxers can end their lives prematurely. If dogs have heart defects or suffer from DCM, the conditions will put a strain on the heart. Likewise, advanced stages of cancer may be terminal.

Other diseases like hypothyroidism and hip dysplasia may impact your dog’s quality of life.

Boxer Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Boxers can suffer from several potentially serious health issues, including cancers and heart diseases. They also share the tendency to develop hip dysplasia with other large-breed dogs. 

Because the most concerning health issues are genetically linked, you should work with reputable breeders. Avoid family lines that have a history of certain conditions.

Health Signs Boxer Parents Should Beware Of

Even when you practice the best preventative measures, your Boxer may develop certain health issues. It helps to know which signs to watch out for.

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Visible lumps on or under the skin
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty or reluctance when climbing stairs, getting in the car, or getting on furniture
  • Difficulty rising from a prone position
  • Hind limb weakness
  • Dragging rear feet
  • Loss of balance
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Gagging
  • Noisy breathing/snoring
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Weight gain
  • Vulnerability to skin and ear infections
  • Thin, brittle hair and bald patches
  • Anxiety, pacing, acting uncomfortable
  • Panting or drooling
  • Turning and looking at the abdomen
  • Dry heaves/retching 
  • Distended abdomen

Boxer Health Care Tips and Prevention

If you have a Boxer, there are several things you can do to help keep him healthy and happy. Below is a list of tips for health care and preventative measures.

  • Work with a reputable breeder who can tell you about the parents’ health histories. 
  • Schedule routine health checks, including vaccinations and health screenings
  • Keep your Boxer at a healthy weight. Males usually weigh 65-80 pounds, depending on their frame size. Females are generally 15 pounds lighter.
  • Feed your Boxer a nutritionally balanced diet.
  • Give your dog supplements to support the joints, like glucosamine and chondroitin.
  • Use an orthopedic bed to support your Boxer if he has hip dysplasia or other joint issues.
  • Groom your Boxer about once a week with a grooming mitt. Check and clean your furbaby’s ears at the same time.

The Final Woof

Boxers are fun-loving and loyal companions, but they can suffer from some serious health issues, including heart conditions, various cancers, hip dysplasia, and others. Your furbaby may not develop any problems, but it helps to be prepared.

Some of the health issues that Boxers develop are present from birth, while others develop over time. Consequently, your pup could show signs of an issue at any stage of life. Certain diseases may shorten your furbaby’s life. It helps to know which signs to watch for in your pooch. You can help maximize his life by practicing good health care and prevention.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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