Joint Problems In Boxers: Causes, Care And How To Prevent

Joint problems are painful and debilitating conditions that can rob a Boxer of his joie de vivre and, ultimately, his mobility.

Hip dysplasia and other joint issues can affect Boxers as a result of an interplay of factors encompassing genetics, nutrition, neutering and exercise.

How a Boxer is managed during puppyhood, when bones and their supporting structures are growing and developing, is critical in determining his outlook for joint health, lifelong.

Many owners are unaware that too much exercise and neutering/spaying before the age of two will increase a Boxer’s likelihood of developing joint disorders ranging from CCL tears to arthritis.

Treatment options are limited to supportive care and pain management, so preventing joint damage is paramount.

I am not a vet. This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes. I encourage readers to view my full disclaimer here.

Do Boxers Have Problems With Their Hips?

Joint problems Boxers can tend to suffer include:

  • Hip/elbow dysplasia
  • Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears
  • Patellar (Knee cap) luxation
  • Spinal spondylosis (condition characterized by bony spurs on the vertebrae)
  • Osteoarthritis (Inflammation of joints)
  • Knuckling or bowleggedness in Boxer puppies

NOTE Rear end weakness is often the first sign of degenerative myelopathy, which is not a joint disease but a neurological condition that causes progressive paralysis.

What Is Hip Dysplasia In Boxers?

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is the most commonly inherited orthopedic disease in dogs.

It’s both developmental and degenerative, in the sense that it arises during a puppy’s growth phase and gets steadily worse with age.

Essentially hip dysplasia refers to abnormal formation of the hip, such that the “ball” of the thigh bone or femur doesn’t fit neatly into the “socket” of the pelvis.

As a result, the two bones separate, creating a loose or lax joint.

As well as the structural defect in the joint itself, hip dysplasia typically involves weak supporting structures around the joint, including:

  • Muscles
  • Ligaments
  • Connective tissue

Consequently, the joint chafes and grinds instead of gliding smoothly.

Compounding the problem, the body sometimes tries to stabilize the joint by laying down hard, bony material, which only exacerbates things.

Over time, the unnatural patterns of wear and tear on the joint result in degenerative joint disease (DJD), a painful condition that limits a Boxer’s mobility.

Given the hip is the largest joint in the body, bearing the most weight, the impact on a dog’s life is massive.

Symptoms Of Joint Pain In Boxer Dogs

Sore joints are not only painful but can be debilitating.

Boxers will typically hide discomfort, making it difficult to tell if your dog is suffering from joint pain.

Telltale signs of hip dysplasia and other joint problems include:

  • Stiffness
  • Unwillingness to exercise
  • Reduced activity and mobility (Staying in bed more)
  • Altered gait or posture
  • Slowness or difficulty getting up after lying down
  • Irritability

Causes Of Joint Problems In Boxer Dogs

Joint problems have a variety of causes in Boxers, some of them unexpected, including:

  • Misfeeding, especially during the growth phase up until two years old
  • Trauma/damage caused by overexercising a young Boxer
  • Neutering/spaying before two years of age
  • Obesity in adult Boxers
  • Genetics — joint problems like hip dysplasia are partially inherited

Misfeeding

There are several ways to misfeed a Boxer puppy, all of which will impact joint health.

Common feeding errors include:

  • Feeding a minerally-imbalanced diet, especially one too high in calcium or where the calcium-phosphorus ratio is out of whack. It’s common for breeders to send new owners home with calcium powder for supplementing their pup’s diet — a big mistake. Puppies can’t regulate their absorption of calcium from the digestive tract, so as much as you feed will be absorbed and assimilated into developing bone. Too much calcium can disturb natural bone formation and result in lesions in bones and joints. Note: “large breed” dog food attempts to avoid this problem by containing less calcium and fewer calories, but it still has all the other drawbacks of kibble and other highly processed dog food
  • Overfeeding puppies — either by feeding too much, too often or by feeding a food that contains excessive calories, usually too much fat (virtually every commercially-manufactured dog food) or too carbohydrate-heavy (most kibbles). Overfeeding triggers overly rapid growth with the risk of developmental disorders including knuckling and other more intractable orthopedic problems including hip dysplasia. A 1997 study of Labradors found dogs “free fed” were an average of 22 pounds heavier and had much higher rates of hip dysplasia than littermates fed the same type of food but in controlled portions that amounted to 25 per cent less

Overexercise

As a slow maturing breed, Boxers are not finished growing and developing until around two years of age.

Which means their still forming bones and joints are vulnerable to damage for a lot longer than many owners realize.

Mistakes often made when exercising young Boxers include:

  • Beginning long walks before the age of two
  • Jogging or running with your Boxer before two years old
  • Exercising on concrete or other hard surfaces
  • Jumping too high in the air, especially before age two

Neutering/Spaying

Neutering or spaying a Boxer before the age of two denies the body the benefit of the sex hormones, which play a role in moderating growth and development.

When the ovaries are removed by spaying, or the testes by neutering, a Boxer’s body experiences a unnaturally long growth phase.

This prolonged growth results in distorted anatomical proportions that, in turn, put unusual stresses and strains on the joints.

Neutering/spaying is associated with an inflated risk of hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, CCL tears, spinal spondylosis and arthritis.. as well as many non joint-related health problems.

It’s important for owners to be properly informed about the effects of neutering/spaying on a Boxer’s body.

Obesity

Being too heavy increases the risk of many health problems including joint problems like cruciate ligament rupture.

Genetics

The standard health testing for Boxers includes x-rays to detect hip and elbow dysplasia.

Careful selection of Boxers for inclusion in breeding programs can go some way towards reducing the incidence of joint problems in future generations.

Treatment For Hip Dysplasia In Boxers

There is no medical or surgical cure for hip dysplasia.

As a result, treatment is limited to doing all you can to keep your Boxer comfortable and active.

How To Prevent Or Minimize Joint Problems In Boxer Dogs

The causes of joint problems hint at what you can do to avoid them arising in your Boxer.

You can:

  • Get your Boxer puppy from a reputable breeder that conducts proper health testing including x-rays of hips and elbows before dogs are included in breeding programs
  • Feed your Boxer a fresh, natural raw meaty bone-based canine diet, prepared at home from whole cuts — raw meaty bones are the perfect food for dogs, according to pioneering raw feeding vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, who says they contain calcium and phosphorus in perfect balance. By feeding whole foods that a dog is evolutionarily designed to consume (bones, meat and offal) you avoid the need to tinker, guess or micromanage nutrients as nature has it covered.
  • Keep your Boxer, including your Boxer puppy, lean — in his book Give Your Dog a Bone, Dr Billinghurst recounts how it’s always best to “slightly hold back” a pup’s growth rather than overcharge it. Again, this is how it happens in nature, where there is frequently scarcity of resources and seldom any sustained excess
  • Avoid taking your Boxer puppy on long walks (with their repetitive, jarring action) or jogging with your Boxer until he’s fully developed. Never have your Boxer do high, acrobatic leaps in the air — throwing the ball in such a way that your Boxer jumps long and low to the ground will protect his joints from excessive impact
  • Exercise your Boxer on soft, natural surfaces with give in them like earth and grass — don’t run him on hard concrete (Murder on the joints!)
  • Keep your Boxer sexually intact — at least until two years of age so that the hormones produced by the ovaries or testes can have their normal effect on your puppy’s growth and development
  • Provide your Boxer with a quality dog bed that offers proper orthopedic support

And something that’s easy to overlook in connection with joint and skeletal health:

  • Keep your Boxer’s nails properly maintained — Your Boxer’s nails shouldn’t touch the ground when he stands or click when he walks. Overgrown nails hurt, create abnormal posture and interfere with the gait, creating unnatural stresses on joints

How To Care For A Boxer With Hip Dysplasia Or Other Joint Problems

Caring for a Boxer with joint problems involves attention to:

  • Diet — a fresh, natural raw diet that includes fasting supports health, right-weight and is anti-inflammatory
  • Pain management
  • Exercise — gentle but regular
  • Mobility aides — slings, strollers, possibly grip stickers for paws
  • Adaptation of the home environment — ramps, floor mats for grip

While it may be tempting to raise bowls for a Boxer with sore joints, elevated eating platforms are not recommended because they create an unnatural eating posture that has been associated with an increased risk of deadly bloat in deep-chested breeds.

What Can I Give My Boxer For Joint Pain?

Many owners find CBD oil is an effective, and gentler, option than pharmaceutical pain killers.

Supplementation is best achieved via the diet, as outlined below.

Best Supplements For Joint Support in Boxers

The best supplements for Boxer dogs are whole foods.

Fish and other seafood including green lipped mussels and kelp can be good for Boxers with arthritis.

Fresh, raw eggs, as long as you scrape out and feed the shell membranes, contain:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin sulfate, and
  • Hyaluronic acid

..synthetic versions of which are sold as supplements for the relief of joint and soft tissue pain.

Similarly, apples (with the skin on) are a rich source of quercetin, a plant compound known as “Nature’s Benadryl”.

Quercetin is bottled and sold as a supplement because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

When you provide these nutrients in food, rather than as isolated chemistry created in a laboratory, they are complexed with other nutrients and presented to the body in a natural form.

Conclusion

Sore joints can make a Boxer’s life miserable.

It’s easy for well meaning owners to unwittingly damage their Boxer puppies’ joints by feeding processed food, supplementing calcium, neutering early and overdoing the exercise.

Thankfully, with awareness and a little care, your Boxer can be bouncing long into his golden years.

References

Antech Imaging Services, Introduction to Canine Hip Dysplasia, PennHIP, Retrieved from website September 2021

Becker, Karen, 3 Ways to Help Save Your Dog From Painful Hip Problems, Mercola Healthy Pets, 2010

Billinghurst, Ian, DVM, Give Your Dog a Bone, Warragul Press, 1993

Hedhammar, A, Canine hip dysplasia as influenced by genetic and environmental factors, EJCAP, 2007

Leighton, E A, Genetics of canine hip dysplasia, Journal of American Veterinary Association, 1997