Itchy skin is a common complaint in Boxers, as it is in other breeds, but the cause is often overlooked and the dog unnecessarily medicated.
When a Boxer constantly scratches, it is usually a reflection of a highly processed diet, kibble being the chief culprit.
Other sources of itching in Boxers include the ingestion or absorption of chemicals in:
- Flea/tick treatments, both topical and systemic
- Tap water
- Household cleaners and fragranced products like scented plugins and room deodorizers
All these chemicals contribute to a build-up of toxins in the body which, if it can’t be cleared, eventually manifests as itchiness and a slew of other symptoms.
Essentially, the itch arises as a result of the body’s efforts to expel excess toxins via the skin, which irritates the dermal tissues.
I am not a vet. This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to view my full disclaimer here.
Causes Of Itchy Skin In Boxers
Itchy skin is often misdiagnosed as “allergies”.
From a holistic standpoint, itchiness is less a true allergic reaction and more a normal response to toxic accumulation, more akin to poisoning.
See also: Help! My Boxer Has Allergies
In an optimally healthy dog in a natural setting, day-to-day toxic exposures are low level and easily dealt with by the primary organs of elimination (the kidneys and bowels) and excreted as pee and poop.
The average modern pet dog, however, is constantly bombarded by toxins which amass via a stacking effect.
When the body becomes overburdened, it enlists its largest organ, the skin, as a kind of pressure-release valve.
It uses the pores and the hair follicles to push wastes out to the surface, in an effort to preserve a pristine internal environment and prevent the development of disease.
On the skin, these substances, which are usually acidic, cause irritation.
This irritation is what prompts your dog to lick and scratch, in an attempt to find relief.
In addition to itchy skin, other signs of toxic accumulation in Boxers include:
- Hives, or skin bumps and rash
- Red eyes or eye discharge
- Ear gunk, itchy ears or ear “infection”-type symptoms
- “Fritos feet” or paw gnawing and licking
- “Boxer acne” and itching, sometimes to the point of drawing blood
- Anal gland impaction, producing scooting
- Tear stains
Toxins can also irritate tissues as they exit the body via the gut and bladder, creating symptoms such as:
- Diarrhea and digestive upset
- Mucus in the poop
- UTI-like symptoms including frequent urination and blood in urine
Chronically itchy skin develops when a Boxer’s body is so relentlessly exposed to toxins that it never has the chance to clear the backlog.
As a consequence, the skin, and the body more widely, is kept in a constant state of irritation.
Sometimes the body opts to form cysts — on the paws and elsewhere — to hive off toxins until such time as they can be resorbed and excreted via the normal means or expunged by draining to the surface.
These cysts will clear on their own, as seen in this example, providing toxic inputs are removed.
How Do I Get My Boxer To Stop Itching? Follow These 7 Steps
Fixing itchy skin is a matter of identifying and removing the cause, which is invariably exposure to a variety of hidden toxins in daily life.
The main offender is usually highly processed dog food like kibble.
To cure your Boxer of itchiness follow these 7 steps:
1. Feed A Fresh, Natural, Raw Diet
It’s critical that your Boxer’s diet not only be raw, but properly prepared.
A major mistake made by almost all raw feeders (as well as kibble feeders) is to include far too much fat in the diet.
Fat overconsumption is a common cause of itchiness, because the excess fat creates excess waste.
In addition, adipose (fat) tissue is where the body stores toxins.
Toxic residues contained in the fat of livestock like cattle and chooks are passed up the food chain to your dog.
As a result, fat overconsumption exposes your Boxer not only to more fat but to more toxins.
This phenomenon is one good reason to feed organic meats where affordable, as organically raised livestock have ingested fewer chemicals in the form of wormers, hormones and antibiotics.
Trimming fat also mitigates exposure to toxins and is an essential part of proper raw feeding.
As well as itchiness, other classic signs of fat overconsumption include:
Almost every kibble on the market, including those advertised as “low fat”, will contain more fat than is healthy for your Boxer.
It is not profitable for dog food makers to remove fat, so they just mix it in.
To make matters worse, the products of human agriculture are deliberately fattened for slaughter.
Cattle and chooks are obese compared to the rabbits, deer and other lean game meats that dogs evolved eating and are adapted to thrive upon.
There is no biological precedent for a dog to consume so much fat.
Excess fat consumption is received by the canine body similarly to toxins: it provides no benefit while creating wastes that must be filtered and excreted if they are to avoid causing harm.
Note that deceptive labelling practices mean dog food companies describe fat content as percent fat by weight, which produces a much lower number than when fat content is properly expressed as fat content by calorie.
Here is more information on the fat content in commercial dog food.
2. Fast Your Boxer
Fasting is the most powerful way known to accelerate the liver’s detoxification pathways, supporting the body to clear long-stored toxins.
Dogs in the wild naturally fast as part of their eating habits.
Daily feeding is a human invention that works against the health of our dogs by denying them the regular cleansing effect of fasting.
You can provide your dog with a more natural, health-promoting eating pattern by incorporating regular fast days.
Just make sure fresh, pure water is always available.
3. Avoid Tap Water
The Environmental Protection Authority regulates more than 90 contaminants in tap water including:
- Pesticide residues
- Industrial run-off
- Disinfectants added as part of the water treatment process
Many of these contaminants are known to be carcinogenic and otherwise disease-producing.
Daily consumption of minute quantities might seem insignificant, but adds up over a lifetime, particularly when combined with other toxic exposures.
Tap water undermines your Boxer’s health and should be avoided.
4. Eliminate Chemical Inputs Like Dewormers And Flea/Tick Treatments
Most pet dogs are automatically dewormed regardless of whether they even have intestinal parasites.
Wormers are internal pesticides that only kill what is there.
So, if your dog doesn’t actually have worms, a monthly dewormer amounts to a repeated, needless toxic exposure: all risk to your dog with zero benefit.
As owners we can spare our dogs this toxic exposure by:
- Understanding how the different parasites are contracted
- Evaluating each individual Boxer’s exposure to these risks based on lifestyle and location
- Doing a fecal test to detect intestinal parasites before dosing with dewormer chemicals
The best way to protect your Boxer from all kinds of parasites is to feed a fresh, natural canine diet that promotes optimal health.
Fleas and ticks rarely require anything beyond a bath and don’t usually bother raw-fed dogs.
If you ever need to treat fleas and ticks, be sure to use safe, non toxic alternatives.
5. Avoid Drugs
Every drug that goes into your Boxer’s body comes with its own toxic load, which can inadvertently contribute to the problem for which it was originally prescribed.
While medication may mask symptoms, it typically does nothing to address the underlying cause of the issue, which has not been identified or understood before reaching for a quick fix.
Antibiotics and other routinely dispensed drugs like prednisone have serious “side effects” that do a lot of damage, including to the gut.
Here is what prednisone did to an 18-month-old Boxer.
Think very carefully and explore all possible alternatives before deciding to medicate your Boxer as you can count on there being unintended consequences.
6. Minimize Exposure To Household Chemicals
A multitude of common household and personal care products expose our Boxers to a steady stream of chemicals in the home.
Avoid or minimize your use of products such as:
- Chemical cleaners
- Room deodorizers
- Scented plugins
- Fabric sprays
- Fragranced candles
- Hair spray
Anything with a scent means your dog is breathing in chemicals, which in almost every case will be of synthetic origin.
7. Don’t Overvaccinate Your Boxer
It’s been known for decades that a single, well-timed vaccine in puppyhood confers protection that lasts for many years, if not a lifetime.
Yearly “boosters” expose your dog to repeat doses of “adjuvants” and other toxic ingredients in vaccines, which have been linked to the development of various autoimmune disorders including immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) and a syndrome called vaccinosis.
Rather than automatically revaccinating your Boxer, why not do a simple blood test called a titer which will show whether the previous vaccine is still in effect?
How Not To Treat Itchy Skin In Boxers
Toxic accumulation is the first principle to grasp when dealing with skin itchiness and other symptoms commonly misunderstood as “allergies”.
A healthy dog may cope with one or two low-level exposures, but eventually you will reach “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”.
This is when toxicity erupts as symptoms, but it is usually the cumulative effect of multiple toxic exposures over time, not just the final toxin that tipped the body over the edge.
Owners will often say they changed nothing before an outbreak of hives, for instance, wondering what can have suddenly caused a problem.
It’s the constant drip-drip of the toxins day after day that has finally reached the point where the body must take action.
The second important principle is that symptoms can be productive i.e. part of the healing process.
Itching, for instance, is both a symptom of toxicity and its cure i.e. by pushing out toxins, the body is fixing its own problem.
As long as further toxic inputs have been removed, the itchiness will subside once the body has finished clearing the toxins, or reduced them to a level at which the primary eliminative organs can cope.
While unpleasant, itching doesn’t require medication.
In fact, medicating for itchiness might suppress the symptom temporarily, but does nothing to address the underlying cause (toxicity) and in fact compounds the problem by introducing yet more toxins.
Which is to say nothing of the risk of side effects from the drug.
The popular allergy drug Apoquel, for instance, is known to increase the risk of tumors.
Benadryl is also not as safe as owners tend to assume, as detailed in this Dogs Naturally article.
Supplements are not necessary in order to resolve itchy skin.
Various oils like fish oil or coconut oil are often suggested in response to skin issues, but add to the overall fat content of the diet.
A properly fed raw diet will contain more than enough fatty acids in whole food form, which are much more readily utilized by the body than the isolated chemistry supplied by supplements.
Micromanaging a dog’s nutrition is not necessary when you have the fundamentals right.
It can be tempting to bathe your Boxer more often in order to soothe itchy skin.
However, overwashing can cause itching by stripping oils from the skin and coat, predisposing it to tiny cracks or microfissures.
Four times a year is plenty often enough to wash your Boxer.
In between times, rinse with pure water if you need to remove mud or other dirt.
As with parasite control, the fastest route to a sweet-smelling Boxer is a fresh, natural canine diet.
Allergy Testing In Boxers
Allergy testing is a lucrative industry but leads owners up the garden path.
All too often a saliva or hair test will come back claiming the dog is allergic to every commonly available animal protein, grass, dust and just about everything else.
Most owners find when those same proteins are fed as part of a proper raw diet, they cause no issue and when a raw-fed dog encounters previously problematic environmental “allergens”, there is zero problem.
Elimination Diets For Boxers
Food allergies are a diagnosis du jour but true food allergies are rare in dogs.
As mentioned above, it is often the way a food is being fed that is the problem, not the food itself.
Cooked food is 100 per cent biologically inappropriate for dogs.
Similarly, dogs in wild settings never combine plants and meat — both have a place in the canine diet, but will never be eaten together in nature.
Fruit is a legitimate secondary food for dogs, but is consumed only when prey is unavailable i.e. not mixed in with animal protein.
The one exception to this is the incidental consumption of semi-digested plant material in the stomach contents of herbivorous prey.
When Itchiness Is A Good Sign
While you would never wish itchiness on your dog, it can be a good sign when it occurs as part of a detox process.
This is typically the case when itchiness arises after recently:
- Discontinuing a course of drugs
- Improving the diet, say from kibble to raw
In this instance, the itchiness is likely to be a passing phase, a kind of “healing crisis” that must be moved through in order to arrive at the better health that is on the other side.
The improved internal conditions have allowed the body the chance to “clean house”, mobilizing stored toxins in order to finally expel them.
This influx of toxins into circulation temporarily overwhelms the body, creating the same effect as the ingestion of toxins and producing itchiness and possibly other symptoms.
It’s important to make the distinction between these kinds of symptoms that present as part of detox and require no intervention, just endurance …as opposed symptoms that occur as a result of new toxic inputs.
Detox symptoms, in a sense, are to be celebrated whereas symptoms that occur in the context of ongoing toxicity will progress into disease and signal the need to correct the diet and other aspects of care to avert that trajectory.
Note that during detox, symptoms often appear to get worse before they get better.
Stick with it!
Many Boxers, regrettably, end up medicated for itchiness when all that’s required is optimization of the diet and care to reduce and remove as many toxic inputs as possible.
While the typical veterinary response to itchy skin is a diagnosis of “allergies”, what’s going on is better understood as a kind of poisoning or toxic overload.
Fasting is highly effective in supporting the liver’s own detoxification pathways, accelerating the clearing of toxins.
This process may produce a temporary uptick in symptoms, after which they will resolve on their own.
Depending on your Boxer’s age and the duration of previous misfeeding and extent of toxic accumulation, detox may be more or less severe and can come in waves.
Ride it out and you will find your Boxer’s itchiness will be cured, for good.
Ogden, Donald, DVM, Natural Care of Pets, 1959
Pitcairn, Richard, DVM, PhD, Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Random House, 2017
Morgan, Judy, DVM, From Needles To Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing, Archway Publishing, 2014