At PetAssistant, we like to look at your dog's health holistically, and for Boxer Dogs, proper nutrition is vital. In Part One, we discussed all aspects of Boxer care, including common health problems you may face in your Boxer. This article focuses on the best food you can give your Boxer Dog for optimal health.
Boxers have specific genetics that predisposes them to medical issues such as hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and canine dilated cardiomyopathy. A proper diet can go a long way in preventing and managing these issues. So let's look a the specific nutritional needs of a Boxer Dog.
General Nutritional Needs For Boxer Dogs
Optimize your Boxer Dog's Diet for Joint Health
The first thing to note about a Boxer Dog is that they are a medium-to-large size breed prone to degenerative joint disorders. This means they often develop issues such as hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. Now, much of this genetics, however, diet is also fundamental in managing this problem.
Firstly, the most critical aspect to manage throughout your Boxer's life is their weight, particularly as puppies. A Boxer should always be lean. Excess weight, especially while they are growing, promotes wear and tear on their joints and leads to arthritic conditions as they age and a host of other severe health issues.
Secondly, it's important to manage your dog's daily food intake in addition to weight. So no free feeding. Why? Every properly formulated food has a specific portion of nutrients per unit of weight. So, if your dog eats more or a larger portion of food than they are supposed to, they are also getting more of certain minerals and vitamins than they are meant to.
If your Boxer is consuming too much calcium, copper, or phosphorus, this will affect their long-term health.
This brings us to the final point. The amount of calcium and phosphorus and the ratio in the food is critical to your Boxer puppy's proper bone development. Growing puppies with less than 0.6% and more than 1.5% calcium in their diet have far more bone abnormalities.
Likewise, since phosphorus binds with calcium, there should always be slightly more calcium in the diet than phosphorus. So if there is 0.9% phosphorus in the food, then the calcium should be roughly 1.1% or 1.2%. If the food does not specify calcium and phosphorus amounts or ratios on the label, don't feed it to your Boxer.
Optimize the Boxer Diet For Gut Health & Inflammation
Boxers are prone to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Gut health issues are connected to various other problems that are also common in Boxers, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.
Puppies and pregnant mothers fed a balanced, raw meat-based diet have been shown to suffer far less from IBD in later life. Raw food is also considerably less inflammatory. However, it is critical to get a raw food that is still nutritionally balanced for Boxers.
Food with a decent amount of soluble and insoluble fiber (4-7%) and prebiotics and probiotics may help your Boxer's gut health.
One also wants to look for high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA & DHA, in marine oils. There should be much higher levels of DHA when your Boxer is a puppy and when they become seniors. Ideally, there should be an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of about 5:1. If you have a Boxer with chronic inflammation, you want to raise the amount of omega-3s in the diet to about 1:1.
Antioxidants in the diet are also critical. This can include a variety of ingredients, such as rosemary extract, but your crucial antioxidant is vitamin E. Most dog foods are far too low in vitamin E, and you may want to look for foods that contain between 300 IU/kg and 500 IU/kg.
Optimize your Boxer Dog's Diet for Heart Health.
About a third of all Boxer dogs will develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Specifically, Boxers tend to have a problem with L-carnitine deficiencies that lead to DCM. While most breeds prone to non-congenital DCM develop it because of low taurine levels, it is L-carnitine that seems to be the issue for Boxer Dogs.
To this end, there needs to be a strong emphasis on heart health for your Boxer. This means limited sodium diets if they do have a heart problem. It also means that it's good to supplement your Boxer's diet with MCT oil (not coconut oil), as it can help provide fuel to the heart muscle.
To read more about the benefits of MCT oil for dogs and how to add it to your dog's diet, you can see this article.
But this also has other implications for the Boxer diet. Typically, we want to see high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA, in their diet. We also want to see plenty of L-carnitine, taurine, L-methionine, and cysteine. About 50 mg to 100 mg per day of L-carnitine is best for Boxer dogs. Keep in mind that many dog foods with L-carnitine on the label don't specify the amount and usually have too little to help your Boxer.
Ideally, most Boxers should get about 25 – 30% crude protein in their diet, and the majority of that should come from quality animal protein. There is also no reason to avoid quality grains such as oatmeal in the diet, so don’t be duped by grain-free foods.
If you would like to read more about grain-free diets for dogs, see our article here.
This also has implications for your protein sources when feeding your Boxer. While we typically want to stick with lean white meat such as fish and poultry for dogs, a Boxer will benefit from beef in their diet, as it is the strongest source of L-carnitine. This does not extend to pork, which is bad for dogs for many reasons, or lamb, as lamb is very low in taurine.
Ingredients to avoid for Boxer Dogs
There are several ingredients worth avoiding when it comes to feeding your Boxer. But first, another note on feeding beef-based food. The L-carnitine in beef is good for Boxers, but dogs who eat red meat-based diets have a higher incidence of cancer. This means beef should not be your Boxer's staple daily protein source.
Naturally, it is also good to avoid artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors. This is especially true of ingredients such as polysorbate 80 or CMC.
Certain ingredients are also connected to taurine deficiencies and DMC. Although this does not make them bad for your Boxer, the key is that they should not be fed as a large portion of your dog's diet: These include:
- Lamb or lamb meal
- Rice bran
- Legumes and pulses (peas, beans, lentils, etc.)
Again, processing may play a role in diet-related DCM as the heat could lower the amount of taurine and carnitine in the food. One point to note is that much of the carnitine escapes into the water when meat is boiled. So when meat is boiled in the rendering process for commercial dog foods, it is likely losing a significant amount of the carnitine that your Boxer needs.
Mineral excesses and Boxer Dogs
As noted above, too much of certain nutrients are just as dangerous for your Boxer as a deficiency. Deficiencies are relatively rare in most dog food brands due to the number of supplements added to meet the AAFCO standards for "complete and balanced" dog food.
A less talked about problem is that many dog foods may be supplying too much of certain nutrients. For instance, dog foods that contain bone meal or meat by-product meals and calcium supplements can supply far too much calcium. This causes bone development issues in your puppy and renal problems in your adult dog. Too much phosphorus and inorganic phosphates in dog food are also incredibly damaging.
Another rising issue is too much copper in dog food, leading to copper storage disease. It is worth noting that many premium dog food brands incorporate chelated minerals that are more bioavailable and better absorbed. However, AAFCO created its maximums and minimums based on non-chelated minerals. This means we don't know if these better absorbed chelated minerals are still within a healthy range.
So here we have summed up some of the key nutritional points that apply specifically to Boxer dogs. We look at the specific dietary considerations for common issues like heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and hip dysplasia.
But if all this information is making your head spin, you may just want to know what the best food is to feed your Boxer Dog. So in Part 3 of this series, we will review some of the best options for your Boxer and weigh the pros and cons of each.