5 Common Boxer Health Issues and What to Do About Them

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Graphic showing common health problems in Boxers over a boxers anatomy

Boxers are known as one of the most intimidating dog breeds, but every pet parent knows what softies they can be.

They are brave and confident but can also be friendly and cheerful.

Like many other dog breeds, boxers are susceptible to several health issues that you need to address early on to ensure they can enjoy their lives to the fullest.

Some common boxer health issues include congenital heart diseases, tumors, hip dysplasia, and degenerative myelopathy. While these conditions sound severe, early detection and proper management can help boxers live a normal, happy life.

I will discuss the various health issues to watch out for when raising a boxer, their symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Read on to learn more!

Congenital Heart Diseases

Many dog breeds are prone to congenital heart diseases (CHD) or heart defects resulting from developmental problems inside their mothers’ wombs.

Some of these conditions may be mild and could even go unnoticed throughout a dog’s life.

However, some conditions are so severe and life-threatening that pet parents may face difficult decisions about their dogs’ medical care.

Boxers are more susceptible to CHDs, requiring pet parents to have their boxer puppies examined early, especially if the parent dogs have a history of heart disease.

Some CHDs common among boxers include:

  • Atrial septal defect. This condition results from a developmental defect in the atrial septum, leaving an opening that allows blood movement between the two atrial chambers.
  • Subaortic stenosis. Boxers and other large dogs are more at risk of subaortic stenosis due to the narrow opening of the aortic valve. It can cause extra effort or pressure on the heart to pump blood harder because the blood from the left ventricle cannot enter the aorta smoothly.
  • Mitral dysplasia. Although more common in cats, mitral dysplasia is another widely observed CHD among boxers. Normally, the blood from the left ventricle should go to the aorta. Dogs with mitral dysplasia have a weakened mitral valve that allows blood to backflow to the left atrium from the left ventricle. 
dog heart

While some dogs have only one CHD condition, it is not rare for them to have a combination of two or more heart defects.


Various congenital heart diseases can have different symptoms.

However, they also share similar symptoms, as shown below:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Swelling in the abdomen (ascites).
  • Fluid retention in the skin.
  • Lethargy.
  • Heart murmurs.
  • Fainting.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Coughing (common in mitral dysplasia).

It can be challenging to distinguish a heart defect based on the abovementioned symptoms.

As discussed, many dogs with CHDs may have one or more conditions, and the symptoms may overlap.

Sadly, sudden death due to heart failure is relatively common among boxers with CHDs.

That’s why it helps to consult your vet as soon as you notice the symptoms above.

None of these symptoms are normal, and they should all be checked out by a licensed vet as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your veterinarian will initially conduct a physical examination to palpate for any swelling in the skin or the abdomen.


They will also listen to your dog’s breathing using a stethoscope to check for heart murmurs or fluid buildup in the lungs.

An x-ray may be recommended as a preliminary examination to check for fluid in the lungs or any abnormality in your dog’s heart size.

Many veterinarians may suspect your dog has heart disease based on the symptoms and the examination results.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram can further confirm which part/s of the dog’s heart has problems. 

Mild congenital heart diseases usually have a good prognosis and can be managed with medications, including:

  • Diuretics.
  • Beta-blockers.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Although surgery is an option, especially for subaortic stenosis, it is not recommended due to the risks and low success rate.

Some doctors will recommend health management strategies in addition to medications to alleviate pain and improve your boxer’s quality of life.

These strategies include:

  • Feeding your dog a low-salt diet.
  • Regulating exercises and activities.
  • Cutting back on treats.
  • Providing ramps or easy stairs for dogs to climb up the bed or the couch.
  • Regular checkups to monitor disease progression.

In addition to medications, you will need to monitor your dog’s weight and physical activities to ensure they don’t push themselves beyond their limits.

Consequently, it helps to encourage them to move but pushing them to overdo it can be counterproductive.

Consult your vet for the appropriate amount of exercise your dog can do. 



Boxers are among the dog breeds most prone to getting malignant tumors that can lead to cancer.

Below is a list of the most common types of cancer among boxers:

  • Lymphoma. Lymphocytes typically help in the immune responses of a healthy individual. However, some develop abnormally to become cancer cells and multiply uncontrollably. Since lymphocytes travel through a network of vessels to numerous organs in the body, lymphoma symptoms can occur anywhere.
  • Hemangiosarcoma. Malignant tumors in the blood vessels lead to a type of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. Since blood vessels are connected throughout the body, tumors and cancer cells can exist anywhere. The symptoms of this condition depend on the location of the tumors.
  • Brain Tumors. Boxers are also prone to brain tumors, which can be passed down genetically. The tumors typically manifest themselves in mature dogs over five years old. Although there aren’t enough research materials to prove the connection between boxers’ brachycephalic feature and their susceptibility to brain tumors, many breeders may believe such claims.


Since tumors associated with lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma can occur anywhere in the body due to the blood and lymph circulation, the symptoms can often help doctors locate which organs are mainly affected.

On the other hand, the symptoms of brain tumors also depend on which part of the brain is affected.

Below are the common and possible symptoms boxers exhibit when they have the following types of cancer:

Lymphoma Symptoms

  • Enlarged lymph nodes (commonly under the jaws or behind the legs).
  • Lethargy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Difficulty breathing.

Hemangiosarcoma Symptoms

  • Lumps in the skin (cutaneous hemangiosarcoma).
  • Pale gums, mouth, and eyes.
  • Weight loss.
  • Nosebleed.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Lethargy.

Brain Tumor Symptoms

  • Seizures.
  • Change in behavior.
  • Seeming lost or confused.
  • Sudden visual impairment.
  • Loss or increase of appetite.
  • Head tilting.
  • Swaying.
  • Loss of balance.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Suppose there are no conspicuous lumps or swelling.

In that case, veterinarians will often conduct a physical exam by auscultation to check for abnormalities in the dog’s breathing or palpation to look for lumps. 

The vet may then recommend extracting some samples through aspiration for biopsy to confirm the malignancy of the tumors.

Blood tests may also show discrepancies in the numbers of red and white blood cells.

Boxers with early-stage lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma respond well to the surgical removal of the tumors, followed by several chemotherapy sessions to prevent the spread of cancer cells. 

For brain tumors, an MRI or a CT scan can show the location and size of the tumor.

The same mode of surgical treatment is also available for boxers with brain tumors.

However, it is costly, and most pet parents tend to resort to chemotherapy and palliative care.

Always consult your veterinarian for the best course of action.

Hip Dysplasia


Canine hip dysplasia is a deformity in the hip’s ball and socket joint.

The condition can be hereditary, resulting in the hip and leg bones’ failure to develop normally.

Sometimes, it can worsen due to worn-out joints in adult dogs, especially in large breeds.

Regardless of the cause, hip dysplasia can range from mild to severe.

Boxers with mild cases don’t often show symptoms unless they over-exert themselves and the deformity in their hip joints becomes more apparent. 

On the other hand, dogs with severe cases typically exhibit symptoms several months after birth. 


  • Inability to stand on the hind legs.
  • Weakness or lack of balance in the hind legs.
  • Awkward gait.
  • Sensitivity or irritability when touched at the lower back.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Canine hip dysplasia can be diagnosed through radiographic imaging (x-ray) to see the extent of the deformity. 

Mild cases and age-related hip dysplasia are typically managed through the following: 

  • Physical therapy.
  • Moderate exercise.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Weight management.

On the other hand, severe cases of hip dysplasia may require pain management medication or total hip replacement (THR) surgery.

Although it can be a costly option, the results are usually positive. 

However, pet parents need to regulate their boxers’ activities to reduce the strain on the prosthetic hip and leg bones.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Boxers are also susceptible to degenerative myelopathy. Although there is no known cause, some dogs succumb to this progressive condition.

The disease’s mechanism involves the spinal cord’s degeneration, resulting in eventual paralysis.


Adult boxers with degenerative myelopathy typically exhibit symptoms when they are over five years old or much later.

The symptoms include:

  • Arthritis or joint pain.
  • Weakness in the hind legs.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Upturned hind paws.

Diagnosis and Treatment


The condition’s symptoms in the early stage resemble other bone problems, such as hip dysplasia or spinal injuries.

Radiographic imaging results can help rule out bone injuries.

Still, a DNA test to confirm the mutation in the SOD-1 genes can confirm the likelihood of the condition.

Degenerative myelopathy progresses slowly but irreversibly. There is no cure for the condition, and management involves dealing with pain or discomfort.

Weight management can also help to reduce the strain on the affected dog’s legs.

Once the symptoms start showing, the prognosis isn’t very good.

The debilitating effect of the condition will become even more apparent, and affected dogs gradually lose motor functions in skeletal and smooth muscles. 

Degenerative myelopathy is fatal approximately 12 months after the onset of the symptoms.

Your vet can guide you with the proper management strategies to make your puppy feel less discomfort and more love.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Due to their distinctive facial structure with short muzzles similar to pugs and bulldogs, boxers are also susceptible to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

The condition can vary in severity and may affect a boxer’s normal and daily activities, such as breathing, sleeping, and playing.

The condition occurs due to the deformity of one or more structures in the upper respiratory tract, such as the palate, the nostrils, and the trachea.


Boxers with severe BOAS symptoms may struggle a lot during hot weather.

Since dogs can’t regulate their body temperatures like humans, pet parents need to pay extra attention to their boxers in the summer.

Dogs sweat through their paws. They also pant with their tongues out when it’s too hot or when they’re too tired.

Dogs with BOAS tend to feel this discomfort twice as much, making it necessary to limit their activities during hot weather.


  • Snoring.
  • Snorting while playing or doing nothing.
  • Shortness of breath after mild physical activity.
  • Low endurance during playtime.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As soon as your vet hears your dog’s labored breathing and snoring even while at rest, it will be easy to suspect your pet has BOAS.

The vet may also physically examine the nostril size during breathing.

Another way to check the source of the obstruction is by measuring the length of the palate.

However, it will be challenging to do so when the boxer is awake. As such, your vet may put your dog under anesthesia.

Other confirmatory tests include radiographic imaging of the head and thorax to see the main points of airway obstruction.

Treatment typically involves surgical opening or enlargement of the strictures to facilitate smoother airflow.

Dogs with long palates need to have their palates shortened through surgery.

Your vet will identify the source of the obstruction and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Post-treatment management is necessary to ensure your dogs recover well.

Final Thoughts

Boxers are prone to several health issues, many of which manifest when they are over five years old.

As a pet parent, it helps to manage your dog at an early age to reduce the impact of possible health issues in the future.



  • USA Boxer Association: Health Issues in Boxers
  • National Library of Medicine: Congenital Heart Diseases in the Boxer Dog: A Retrospective Study of 105 Cases (1998 – 2005)
  • LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital: Atrial Septal Defect
  • Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Aortic/Subaortic Stenosis
  • VCA Animal Hospitals: Mitral Valve Disease in Dogs
  • Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine: Canine Lymphomas
  • Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center: Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs
  • VCA Animal Hospitals: Brain Tumors in Dogs
  • Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center: FAQ: Dog Hip Replacement
  • VCA Animal Hospitals: Hip Dysplasia in Dogs
  • National Library of Medicine: Degenerative Myelopathy in Two Boxer Dogs
  • VCA Animal Hospitals: Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
  • The Kennel Club: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome
  • American Kennel Club: Do Dogs Sweat?

Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

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