Should Boxers Eat Large Breed Dog Food?

It is sometimes suggested by vets and well-intentioned owners that Boxers should eat kibble “specially formulated” for large breeds.

Large breed dog food — like puppy formulas, senior diets and food deemed specifically tailored to Boxers — is a marketing gimmick cooked up by the dog food industry to sell a product.

There is sound logic behind the idea of controlling a Boxer’s nutrition to prevent overly rapid growth, which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders like knuckling.

However, feeding whole foods is the way to achieve normal growth rates and support healthy development.

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How Is Large Breed Dog Food Different?

Large breed dog food is formulated to contain less:

  • Fat
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin D

The idea is to restrict nutrients in order to slow the development of large breed puppies, preventing a range of bone and joint problems that can result from too-rapid growth.

Why Is It Important For A Boxer Puppy To Grow Slowly?

Boxers are usually classed as medium-sized dogs, though some consider them large.

However, it is still best for them to grow as slowly as possible.

Growth that’s too fast introduces the risk of developmental problems, particularly a group of disorders loosely referred to as developmental orthopedic disease (DOD).

Developmental orthopedic disease can include:

  • Hip dysplasia (Deformity resulting in a loose joint followed by degenerative joint disease)
  • Elbow dysplasia (Same, affecting the elbow)
  • Osteochondrosis (Condition where rapidly growing cartilage outstrips its own blood supply, causing lameness, pain and secondary osteoarthritis)
  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (Inadequate blood flow interrupts bone formation, resulting in weak, soft bones)
  • Retained ulnar cartilage core (Failure of cartilage to be replaced by bone during development)
  • Panosteitis (Painful inflammation of outer surface of leg bones, “growing pains”)
  • Arthritis (Joint swelling and soreness that usually worsens with age)

Note that joint problems are also associated with neutering or spaying, along with many other health conditions that are less common or non-existent in intact dogs.

The hormones produced by the sex organs have a protective effect on whole body health.

Growth that’s too fast, as well as too much time on hard and slippery floors, is also associated with the developmental disorder known as knuckling, where a pup’s legs bow or bend.

Is Large Breed Dog Food Necessary For Boxers?

Compared to ordinary kibble, large breed kibble may be preferable. H

The oversupply of nutrients and excess fat typically found in processed dog food like kibble can not only cause obesity in adult dogs, but it can prompt Boxer puppies to shoot up unnaturally fast.

This doesn’t mean, however, that large breed dog food is your best choice of what to feed your Boxer puppy.

Highly processed diets like kibble, though normalized in the United States, bear little resemblance to a natural canine diet which consists of lean muscle meat, a little offal and lots of raw meaty bones.

What To Feed Your Boxer Instead Of Large Breed Kibble

Feed whole foods and you avoid the need to guess and micro-manage nutrients.

Raw meaty bones, as the basis of the canine diet for a million years of evolution, contain calcium and phosphorus in perfect balance for a dog’s requirements.

And because the nutrients are consumed in whole food form, the body is able to take what it needs and excrete the rest without any risk of creating excesses, as can happen with synthetic fortification and supplementation of artificial foods.

Vet and occasional Rottweiler and Great Dane breeder Dr Ian Billinghurst, in his book Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Long Healthy Life, describes how he weans puppies straight onto raw whole foods… just as in the wild, puppies eat the same food as the rest of the pack.

At first, Dr Billinghurst minces bones in a meat grinder to mimic the regurgitated stomach contents that dogs are weaned onto naturally.

After about 10 days, puppies are devouring chicken necks and wings whole, without any further need for grinding.

Note Dr Billinghurst routinely underfeeds puppies slightly, to put a brake on growth and protect their development.

Looking for more?

What If Your Vet Recommended Large Breed Food For Your Boxer?

When assessing advice your vet gives you about what to feed your Boxer, keep in mind the limits of his/her education.

Vets are expert in diagnosing disease and treating symptoms with medication or surgical intervention.

When it comes to canine nutrition, the average veterinarian has little, if any, specialized knowledge.

Students of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, for example, can graduate without ever taking a single subject on canine nutrition.

The respected, four-year course offers a single subject covering “basic nutritional concepts in dogs, cats and horses”.

It is non compulsory.

If your vet is inexperienced with raw feeding, you may like to refer him/her to the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society which has evidence-based resources for vets, vet techs and vet nurses keen to expand their knowledge.

How Much To Feed A Boxer Puppy?

Overfeeding of the right food, and fat overconsumption, can have the same effect as feeding kibble, since all result in excessive caloric intake.

Signs of fat overconsumption or overfeeding in Boxers include:

  • Scooting the butt along the ground (often mistaken for worms or anal gland issues)
  • Itchiness
  • “Boxer acne”
  • Gas
  • Discomfort or restlessness after eating, although this can also be a sign of deadly bloat (More below) or other digestive disorders like acid reflux — but acid reflux is usually accompanied by a distinctive range of other symptoms that will allow you to recognize it

It’s important that a Boxer maintain a healthy, lean weight.

Obesity is associated with a range of diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • High blood pressure

Carrying too much weight also exerts unnecessary wear and tear and strain on joints, muscles and bones.

Over time this takes a toll.

The end result is often permanent damage and restricted mobility in later life.

Free Feeding Boxers

Free feeding is always a bad idea.

Dogs are not grazing animals and their digestive systems have evolved to function best with periods of total emptiness.

Fasting is an in-built part of how dogs eat in the wild, as part of a feast and famine cycle that’s in tune with natural cycles of abundance and scarcity.

A growing body of scientific evidence is catching up to what Nature has always known: that fasting is powerfully health-promoting, stimulating the liver’s detoxification pathways and triggering repair and regeneration at a cellular level.

In every organism on earth, fasting prevents disease and helps counteract the effects of ageing.

Pet dogs denied the chance to fast and kept in a constant state of digestion miss out on these benefits.

Bloat, “Sensitive Stomachs” And “Picky Eaters”

Bloat is another consideration when feeding a Boxer.

As a deep-chested breed, Boxers are at an increased risk of suffering from this emergency condition.

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) or gastric torsion is when the stomach fills with air and twists, cutting off blood supply to vital organs.

GDV can be fatal within the space of a few hours without veterinary intervention, so prevention is key.

Kibble (all kibble) is associated with an elevated risk of bloat.

Aside from feeding fresh, real food, there are plenty of steps owners can take to protect against bloat in Boxer dogs.

Always feed your Boxer from a ground-level bowl and never used raised bowls, which create unnatural eating postures.

A slow feeder like the Outward Hound Fun Feeder is also a good idea for a Boxer.

Other common myths about Boxers and food include:

  • Boxers have “sensitive stomachs”
  • Boxers often get diarrhea on and off, for life
  • Boxers are “picky eaters”
  • Boxers are naturally “gassy”
  • Chicken causes “allergies” in many Boxers

All five of these issues typically indicate a biologically-inappropriate diet is being fed, i.e. kibble.

Owners find symptoms resolve with the provision of a fresh, natural, raw diet.

Here are three more myths about feeding Boxers:

  • Boxers should or should not eat grain-free kibble
  • Boxers do best if you cook for them

Conclusion

Large breed food is no more necessary for your Boxer than “Boxer specific” kibble or “pupply formula”.

While the underlying logic has merit, proper nutrition is best achieved by the feeding of fresh, raw meaty bone-based diets.

The beauty of raw, whole foods is that no tinkering is required to lower one nutrient or add another because it’s been destroyed by the cooking process.

When fed its natural, species-appropriate diet, a dog’s body can readily access what it needs, excreting the rest, just as it’s done throughout evolution.

References

Billinghurst, Ian, Give Your Dog A Bone, 1993

Becker, Karen DVM, A Way of Life for Wild Canines, This Could Be a Godsend for Your Dog, Mercola Healthy Pets 2018

Burke, Anna, Best Large Breed Dog Food, American Kennel Club, 2020