When a Boxer suddenly stops eating, or gradually loses appetite, owners are understandably concerned.
While a Boxer not eating can occasionally indicate a major problem like a blockage or poisoning, in the absence of other signs of illness, it’s not usually cause for alarm.
A refusal to eat, however, is a very good reason to evaluate what you are feeding your Boxer and to fix any shortcomings: inappropriate diet is often why a Boxer goes off her food.
If you’re already feeding a proper diet based around raw meaty bones, you needn’t do anything at all — if your Boxer is feeling a little off, fasting is actually the quickest way to heal.
The worst thing you can do is force-feed or coax a self-fasting Boxer to eat when she’d really rather not.
I am not a vet. This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to view my full disclaimer here.
Reasons A Boxer Dog Might Stop Eating
There are a range of reasons your Boxer might stop eating for a while, some of them deadly serious and others nothing to worry about.
Causes of appetite loss in Boxers include:
- Gastrointestinal foreign body (Obstruction)
- Poisoning or consumption of toxins
- Natural Instinct (Fasting)
- Temporary minor stomach disturbance, perhaps from a “dietary indiscretion”
- Stress, grief or upset routine
- Dynamics between dogs in the household
- Inappropriate food being fed
- Contaminated batch of food
- Drug side effects
- Reaction to a supplement
- Transition to a new food
- Serious underlying disease
Let’s examine each of these situations.
Consider the possibility of a blockage if your Boxer is not eating and also shows other signs of illness such as:
- Nausea (Drooling is a sign)
- Abdominal tenderness (When you gently palpate the belly)
- Changes to bowel habits i.e. not pooping or seeming constipated
- Lethargy / low energy levels
- Not drinking water
- Showing signs of pain (Panting, restlessness, not wanting to be touched, even snappiness)
- Not acting herself
The chances of an obstruction (or something else serious and urgent) being the cause of inappetance go up if:
- There is blood in the vomit or diarrhea
- Your dog is making unproductive attempts to throw up or poop
- Your dog is distressed or in acute pain
- You know your Boxer ate something inappropriate or got into the trash, or you don’t know for sure but your dog had the opportunity to eat something she shouldn’t e.g. in someone else’s care or off leash at the dog park etc.
- Your dog gets very sick, very fast
- Your dog has abdominal tenderness or won’t be touched (She may growl or snap if you try.)
- Your dog is pacing or restless
- Your dog is extremely lethargic
- Your dog is foaming at the mouth
Objects that vets commonly have to surgically remove from dog’s GI tracts in order to save their lives include:
- Corn cobs
- Cooked bones (Raw bones are fine)
- Tennis balls
- Tampons or other blood-soaked sanitary items
- Absorbent pads from the bottom of supermarket meat trays
- Pig’s ear
- Sticks, stones or other non-food items or inappropriate chews
Dogs are sometimes able to pass these things on their own, but they present a very high risk and surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the obstruction.
Such operations don’t always have a positive outcome so it’s imperative to:
- Use secure, self-closing trash cans
- Keep doors closed to rooms containing hazardous materials within reach of your Boxer e.g. garages, bathrooms, laundries, kids rooms with items strew around floor
- Supervise your dog around family mealtimes etc
- Train your dog not to counter surf
Likely sources of poisoning for pet Boxers include:
- Lawncare chemicals
- Household sprays etc
- Toxic houseplants
- Rats or mice that have themselves been poisoned
- Toxic ingredients in human food e.g. chocolate or the sweetener xylitol in chewing gum
- Grapes have also been associated with cases of toxicosis
Though it’s unclear how grapes cause death and severe illness for some dogs and not others, it’s safest to avoid them.
- Room deodorizers
- Fragranced candles
- Burning incense
- Scented plugins
- Fabric sprays
- Hair spray
…all of which are made from chemicals that are aerosolized and inhaled by your Boxer.
Natural Instinct (Fasting)
Periods of fasting are a natural part of how dogs eat in the wild.
Eating every day is a human invention, completely unnatural for dogs.
The canine digestive system functions best on periods of total emptiness.
This is in line with how wolves and dogs in natural settings eat, according to cycles of scarcity and abundance.
Wild dogs eat more like once every three days to a week, feasting when prey is available and then fasting in between times.
The average dog can go for many days and weeks on her bodily reserves.
Not only is this not a problem, there is an increasing body of scientific evidence that fasting confers many health benefits to just about every species on earth, such as:
- Slowing ageing
- Accelerating detoxification pathways in the liver
- Stimulating repair and regeneration at a cellular level
Many dog owners routinely feed their dogs once every several days and see them maintain weight beautifully and brim with health.
Integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker, pioneering raw feeding vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, author of Natural Care Of Pets, Dr Donald Ogden and experienced homeopathic vet Dr Richard Pitcairn are among the vets well versed in the use of fasting to both prevent and heal disease in dogs.
A self-fasting Boxer may simply not be hungry.
It can be that straightforward.
Unfortunately the average pet Boxer is overfed and overweight, either as a result of being given too much food or through fat overconsumption, symptoms of which include itching, scooting, paw gnawing, gas and diarrhea.
Overeating is among the many reasons not to “free feed” your Boxer by leaving food out all the time.
Temporary Minor Stomach Disturbance
From time to time a Boxer may eat something she shouldn’t.
As long as whatever she’s eaten is not poisonous or in large quantities, your dog’s body will usually be able to sort it out with a short fast.
Keep a close eye for the development of more serious symptoms but give her some time and a little rest, making sure fresh, pure water is always available.
Stress, Grief, Upset Routine
Boxers can be sensitive souls.
It is not unusual for a Boxer to lose her appetite if she’s feeling emotionally or mentally discombobulated.
This may be the situation if your Boxer’s inappetance coincides with:
- Owner going away
- Family moving house
- Rehoming of the dog herself
- Travelling with your dog
- Addition of new puppy or baby to the household
- Housemate dog passing away etc
A Boxer may stop eating on account of something going on, beneath your awareness, in a multidog household such as:
- Tension between dogs
- Dominance struggles
- Female in heat
Heat cycles affect not just the female Boxer but can have a dramatic effect on unneutered male dogs in her orbit, with some males refusing to eat as they focus singlemindedly on the reproductive opportunity at hand.
If you suspect some pack dynamics could be at play, feed your Boxer away from the other dogs so she can relax while eating.
If your Boxer is kibble-fed and refusing to eat, there is no mystery.
Her instincts are spot on.
Instead, offer a fresh, natural biologically-appropriate canine diet and watch her appetite return with gusto.
If your Boxer is a “picky eater“, chances are she’s simply trying to tell you you’re offering the wrong kind of food.
Contaminated Batch Of Food
All too frequently, commercially manufactured dog food is recalled due to contamination by bacteria like salmonella or mold spores.
When it grows in opened bags of kibble, mold makes mycotoxins including the Aspergillus flavus mold, which produces Aflatoxin B1, the most potent naturally occurring carcinogenic substance known.
These molds are invisible and dogs are not usually able to taste or smell the mycotoxins but their noses are incredibly more powerful than ours: if your dog is turning her nose up at something, pay attention.
Don’t make her eat it and throw out the rest of the suspect bag.
Drug Side Effects
Drugs and other pills commonly given to dogs can cause stomach upset as part of their side effects.
Your Boxer may be feeling off if she’s received:
- Chemical dewormers
- Flea/tick treatments (These products can cause very serious consequences up to and including seizures and death. Here is how to protect your Boxer from fleas safely.)
- Vaccines (Can cause immediate, temporary loss of appetite as well as much more serious side effects and autoimmune disorders longer term.)
- Veterinary medication (e.g. While steroids like prednisone typically induce a ravenous appetite and overeating, this drug also frequently causes severe stomach upset including bloody diarrhea, and can leave a dog with serious digestive problems like acid reflux long term.)
Reaction To A Supplement
Supplements are usually synthetic chemicals made in a lab, but not regulated in the way drugs are.
If your Boxer is receiving any kind of supplement, evaluate it as a possible cause of any stomach upset.
Transition To New Food
While most dogs leap at the chance to eat fresh, real food, your Boxer may experience a period of adjustment when you switch from kibble to a raw diet.
It’s not dissimilar to the reaction of a child used to eating junk food, who’s then offered an apple instead.
Persist and you will see your Boxer’s taste buds reset.
A short fast can be helpful.
This and other normal hiccups during transition to raw feeding are explained in our 7 Day FREE eCourse: How To Raw Feed A Boxer Dog (The Right Way)
Serious Underlying Disease
Such a large range of illnesses have loss of appetite as one of their symptoms it’s almost of no help to list them.
They run the gamut from cancer and autoimmune disorders to liver disease, metabolic disorders and endocrine problems — not to mention psychological disturbances including depression and anxiety or fear.
Some of the serious conditions with loss of appetite among their symptoms include:
- Dental disease or a cracked tooth etc — Have a look inside your dog’s mouth for anything obvious
- Gingival hyperplasia (growths on the gums) can make it difficult to eat
- Digestive disorders like acid reflux (GERD) can make your dog feel nauseous
- Steroid Responsive Meningitis Arteritis (SRMA) — this serious autoimmune condition which disproportionately affects Boxers, usually under 2 years of age, may involve apparent loss of appetite but what’s really going on is your Boxer’s neck is too painful for her to bend down to her food bowl. (A C-Reactive Protein, or CRP, blood test will detect the systemic inflammation present in this condition.)
Not eating is a very common and non specific symptom that on its own tells you very little.
In almost every case, if your Boxer is in the grip of a serious disease process, loss of appetite will be just one of the abnormalities you notice.
It will be the whole constellation of symptoms that will give you a better clue as to what might be ailing your dog.
Although it is not generally associated with loss of appetite, bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus is such a life-threatening eating-related condition that it bears mentioning.
Bloat occurs with increased frequency in deep-chested breeds like Boxers and is a true veterinary emergency that won’t resolve on its own and requires urgent intervention to avoid death.
What To Do When A Boxer Dog Won’t Eat
If your Boxer is not eating:
- Don’t panic — Remember fasting is natural for dogs and unless your dog is skin and bone, she has plenty of reserves to tide her over
- Respect her choice — Never try to persuade a self-fasting dog to eat. Let her fast for at least 24 hours and longer if she chooses
- Trust her instincts — Consider the rejected food suspect and get rid of it
- Look for any other signs of illness to rule out emergency situations like an obstruction or poisoning which would require urgent veterinary treatment. If either of these is a possibility, contact your vet immediately. Do your best to ascertain exactly what your dog has consumed, how much and how long ago, as this may inform treatment
- Let her rest — After ruling out the need for immediate veterinary attention, give your Boxer some time. If she’s feeling mildly unwell, fasting and sleep is a great first resort and the quickest way to recover. (Never feed a dog with diarrhea, vomiting or any kind of stomach upset as you are working against the body’s efforts to empty the gut if you just fill it with more food. Digestive rest is healing.)
- Always make sure water is freely available
- Monitor your dog for any deterioration
- Correct the diet and when your dog feels like eating again, start on the new species-appropriate raw food (Here is a beginner’s guide to raw feeding a Boxer.)
What Not To Do If A Boxer Dog Refuses Food
Common but misguided responses to a Boxer refusing to eat include:
- Hand feeding or otherwise coaxing the dog to eat
- Switching from dry to canned food or changing brands of kibble
- Leaving the food down for extended periods
- Adding water or toppers or warming it an effort to make it more appetizing
These responses all miss the mark.
While diet is the right place to look when a Boxer is anything less than enthusiastic about food, replacing one highly processed option with another that’s equally as processed is not the answer.
Nor is it ever a good idea to try to cajole a self-fasting dog to eat or to disguise or “dress up” something your dog’s instincts are telling her to avoid.
How Long Can A Boxer Dog Go Without Food?
A long time.
Days, weeks and longer as explained in the fasting discussion above.
Dogs will eat when they are hungry.
Boxer Puppy Not Eating
It’s more of a concern if a Boxer puppy stops eating than if the same occurs in an adult.
Hydration is key.
If it comes down to it, you can syringe water into your pup’s mouth to keep her hydrated.
Feeding water-rich fruits like watermelon is a fast way to hydrate a dog while providing a lighter meal than meat.
If your growing Boxer puppy is eating but just no longer showing interest in three meals a day, it may simply be an indication it’s time to reduce to twice daily feeding.
When A Senior Boxer Dog Stops Eating
Dogs at the end of their lives commonly stop eating as they prepare to pass.
If your senior Boxer’s appetite has simply lessened, this is normal and usually in line with lower activity levels.
Be careful not to overfeed a senior Boxer as excess weight stresses joints and contributes to disease.
If your Boxer temporarily stops eating, it’s not necessarily a sign of a major problem.
Be aware that not eating, when it occurs in combination with other symptoms, can indicate a blockage or poisoning, and these should be considered if it’s possible your dog swallowed something dangerous.
Usually though, it’s a minor stomach upset that will self correct in a day or so.
Never feed a self-fasting dog.
Trust her instincts and know that the average dog has enough reserves to go for long periods without food.
Not only is fasting not bad for your Boxer, it is incredibly health promoting.
Becker, Karen, DVM, A Way of Life for Wild Canines, This Could be a Godsend for your Dog, Mercola Healthy Pets, 2018
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