The appeal of the German Shepherd can’t be underestimated, these awesome canines have won their way into the hearts of millions of people across the globe. It’s easy to see why, their superior strength and intellect combine to make them both some of the best pets around and some of the most famous working dogs on the planet.
If you’re raising one, however, then you’ll want to make sure that you invest in a high-quality food to ensure that they grow up healthy and invest in the right supplements in order to ensure that their health problems don’t come to the forefront.
Special Considerations When Feeding Your German Shepherd
German Shepherds, despite their working dog background, are generally considered to be dogs with a medium activity level. They’re not quite as hyper as something like a terrier or pitbull after all.
This works out pretty well, although working dogs will still require much higher protein and fats than you’ll be able to find in commercial dog foods.
For the average home-bound German Shepherd, it’s important to make sure that you have a moderate calorie load.
Like many larger breeds, German Shepherds are prone to bloat. This means you should keep them on a multiple times per day feeding schedule and you may also want to invest in a slow feeder. The cause of bloat isn’t precisely known, but the condition can turn fatal in a hurry.
When your dog is eating the following symptoms are things you should keep an eye out for:
Attempts to vomit
If this occurs, it’s imperative that you get your vet to the nearest ER. They’re not quite as prone as pitbulls or other large headed breed, but it’s a good thing to be aware of.
Do German Shepherds Have Special Nutritional Requirements?
German Shepherds live in a wide variety of conditions with different activity levels. It’s important to make sure that you match the nutrients with your dog’s activity level in order to make sure that they don’t get too thin or become obese.
For the most part, protein content which is higher than 20% is ideal. You may want to go as high as 30% for working dogs and puppies, however.
Fats should be kept relatively low, from 8-15% being ideal. Again, working dogs can go a bit higher but you may not want to go much higher or you’ll risk your dog becoming overweight.
As with most dogs, the carbohydrate content of less than 30% is a good idea, but too low and your shepherd won’t be able to get their teeth clean eating their kibble.
For the most part, with a Shepherd, your primary concern is going to be the quality of ingredients rather than nutrient distribution.
Grain-free is always a good thing as well, ensuring that there’s less filler in the food and more quality nutrients for the dog in question.
German Shepherds will usually do fine on about 30 calories per kilogram of body weight. Those dogs which are working may require up to twice that, and puppies will also do better to be put on a higher calorie diet while senior German Shepherds may require 30% lower or so.
There is one important thing to note about feeding German Shepherd puppies: juvenile shepherds should only be kept on puppy food for the first six months of their life, afterward switch to an adult kibble.
When larger dogs grow too quickly it can cause a loss of bone density and increase the risk of serious joint issues as they get older so be sure to switch at that age for the best results.
For the most part, a German Shepherd should feel muscular and you should be able to feel their ribs under the muscle. If they’re very thin then you’ll want to increase their caloric intake and if you can’t feel the ribs it may be time to dial back the amount of food you’re giving them a bit.
German Shepherds don’t have any specialized requirements here, other than the fact that you want to ensure that calcium is under 1.5% until they’ve reached their full size.
The usual 4% fiber is ideal, with a range of up to 6% being fine for adult dogs and a bit higher being desirable for dogs who are getting on in age.
Top Dog Foods for German Shepherds
We’ve found the best foods around when it comes time to make sure your Shepherd has a high-quality meal. From the time they’re weaned until their later golden years, whether they’re a house pet or a working dog with a rigorous routine you’ll be able to make sure they’ve got the nutrients they need.
There’s nothing quite like a good venison based dog food to keep your German Shepherd healthy. It’s grain free and provides a protein source which very few dogs find themselves allergic to, making it an excellent first stop.
There’s also a wild boar based version available, just in case. It comes in at 28% protein and 15% fat, while maintaining fairly moderate calories overall which makes it perfect for a household German Shepherd.
The micronutrient profile and addition of Omega fatty acids is quite nice as well, it has an optimal ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 acids which is perfect for joint and heart health over a long period of time.
It also has a wide range of fruits to provide antioxidants which are vital for health as a dog ages.
If you’re looking for a high-quality dog food with a rare source of protein, then Taste of the Wild has you covered. There’s nothing quite like it in the dog food realm, and the wide range of proteins make it an excellent brand to stick with.
While it’s not without issues, Diamond Naturals has released this awesome puppy food. It’s made with lamb, which is a rarer cause of issues than beef in German Shepherds, and comes in at 27% protein and 15% fat to provide the calories your dog needs to grow up big and strong.
It also comes with balanced Omega acids and a ton of probiotics to keep their guts flowing well as they get older. The addition of intestinal flora is precisely why we like this one so much for puppies, maintenance of GI tract bacteria can be hard to achieve with many commercial foods.
The kibble itself is just the right size for a large breed pup, a bit smaller than the kibble you’d see for a medium-sized dog, and most puppies will take to it readily.
The main problem is the lamb since German Shepherds are prone to red meat allergies due to some quirk of genetics, but it’s an uncommon enough allergy we still feel it should be a front-line food for puppies of the breed.
It’s expensive, but Diamond Naturals’ large breed puppy food is pretty much perfect when it comes to nutrients and high-quality, natural ingredients which will help your dog grow strong in their first six months of life.
As your dog approaches their twilight years, usually over seven years old or so for larger breeds, their nutritional needs will change. Purina Pro has you covered with this excellent, poultry-based food. It’s available in both turkey and chicken variations depending on whether or not your aging canine is allergic to one or the other.
It comes in at 29% protein and 14% fat, which is a bit high in calories but just means you’ll want to reduce the amount of food a little bit. In addition to that, it contains supporting nutrients like Omega acids, glucosamine, and EPA to help combat any skeletal issues which have occurred over the years.
The micronutrients maintain an ideal balance as well, putting this food a step above most of the senior foods on the market. It’s expensive, which isn’t something you’d normally associate with Purina, but it’s primarily due to the increased quality of the ingredients.
For your aging Shepherd, it’s hard to find a food which works better than this option from Purina Pro. Try it out and you might just see the pep in their step come back so you two can enjoy your time together more.
When it comes down to it, it’s hard to ignore the advantages offered to working dogs by something like CRAVE. The salmon and ocean fish variation is even better than most since it’s extremely unlikely to trigger any allergies in your dog.
It comes in with 34% protein, which makes it exactly what a working dog needs to get their day going. Keep in mind that it’s too high in fat and calories for your average pet at home, however, it’s pretty much a one-way ticket to obesity for a dog who only gets a walk once a day.
The micronutrient balance is great, if not optimal, but it’s the protein source and high calories that we’re looking at when it comes to a dog with a job. You may want to snag a multivitamin and joint supplement as well to support their higher activity level.
It’s expensive, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also one of the best foods for working dogs around and it’ll keep your dog on the line with you through the whole day.
For working German Shepherds it’d be hard to find a more perfect food when it comes to calorie content and protein levels. Just keep in mind it’s a bit much for your average pet.
When it comes down to it, sometimes you need to save money on your dog food. We understand that not every owner is flush with cash, after all. That’s where Purina ONE SmartBlend comes in, this is the venison and turkey variation which is great for those who have a German Shepherd in their lives.
It’s unlikely to trigger food allergies and has an impressive nutrient profile at 30% protein and 10% fat. The main problem is that it’s not grain free, but if your dog can tolerate it then you have a respectable choice ahead of you.
Other than the grains, however, it’s made with excellent quality ingredients that are sure to stand the test of time.
While not ideal, this blend is quite cheap compared to many of the other high-quality dog foods on the market. Purina ONE has some great options out there for those with a tighter budget.
Simply can’t compare to our other picks in the long run
Common German Shepherd Health Issues and Diet
Depending on whether they’re the working variety or the show variety, German Shepherds are still prone to quite a few conditions which can heavily affect them over time.
The following pop up most commonly:
Other musculoskeletal disorders
Supplements can help with any kind of bone disease which might emerge, of course, as well as ensuring a proper phosphorus to calcium ratio of 1.2:1.
In the case of food allergies, the most common are to grains and soy, followed by different types of meat allergies. Most common among these, within German Shepherds, are allergies to lamb and beef, unlike many dogs which are primarily affected by poultry.
For this reason, we recommend eyeing your dog’s skin and coat carefully while they’re aging, if they’re itching constantly or their hair is beginning to thin before the onset of old age you may wish to switch to a different type of protein.
To avoid dealing with it altogether it’s good to note that very few dogs have allergies to fish, duck, or venison so most of the foods we’ve recommended for this fantastic working breed will avoid the usual sources of protein in favor of those which are least likely to interact with your dog’s immune system.
Best Supplements for German Shepherds
Due to their unique issues, it can be hard to maintain a German Shepherd’s health into old age. While they’re not as problem prone as some dogs up to one in five of these fine canines will end up suffering from hip dysplasia and other joint issues are common as well. Fortunately, with the right supplements, you can help reduce inflammation for your pet and possibly even prevent the condition altogether.
Possibly the best supplement for your pet on the market, Zesty Paws comes in the form of chewable vitamin gummies that will help keep your dog healthy over the long run.
In addition to the vitamins, it also contains glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which are an awesome idea to add to the diet of larger dogs since they can help with joint problems and even prevent them if you begin when your dog passes the puppy stage.
That’s not all that’s in this, however, it also contains probiotics, Omega fatty acids for the skin and coat, immune system support, and the necessary ingredients to keep your dog’s heart ticking. As a complete complex, it’s pretty doggone good.
In addition to making a huge impact on your pet’s overall health, we haven’t seen a dog yet that doesn’t love to scarf them down. Just be aware they’re a little bit expensive and each can of 90 treats is only going to last for a month with German Shepherds due to their size.
While we recommend it for joints, Zesty Paws Multivitamin for Dogs is a complete package deal and is simply one of the best overall supplements we’ve ever seen. Apart from the price, there are no real drawbacks here.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, an elderly dog will end up with joint issues. Whether it’s arthritis or one of the many joint issues which can affect larger dogs, you may want to look into a pain relief supplement.
NSAIDs are hard on the liver, which means that a natural approach is usually the best way. This supplement contains joint support nutrients as well as organic turmeric which is one of the best anti-inflammatory agents around.
If you want to make sure that your Shepherd is able to enjoy themselves well into old age, then you may want to pick this up as they approach their golden years. We recommend sticking with our favorite joint supplement before the age of seven or so, however.
Most dogs will readily accept these bacon-flavored treats as well, so you won’t have to try to trick them into taking their medicine.
If you’re looking for pain relief for an older dog with joint and bone issues, then look no further. These excellent chews work great, without the liver-damaging potential of NSAIDs.
German Shepherds were originally sheep herding dogs, but due to selective breeding over the years they’ve truly come to be in a class all their own. While there are a few non-recognized breeds which have descended from the line, such as King Shepherds, it really is hard to generalize them with other breeds of dogs.
They’ve come a long way from their origins, and are now the top breed for many types of work. Selectively bred for both strength and intelligence they find roles as service dogs quite often, as well as working in the field alongside both police officers and the military.
Widely considered to be among the most intelligent of dog breeds, German Shepherds also maintain quite a bit of muscle underneath their relatively long coats.
As a general rule, German Shepherds are considered to be intelligent, loyal, and having a protective temperament.
To this day they’re used in a wide variety of roles, but they’ve also become much more common as household pets over the last decade or two.
There has been some controversy over the differences between these canines when bred for shows and when bred for working purposes. Many of the former have lost the lateral topline which defines the working dog breed, allowing for a slope in the back which most people agree looks unnatural.
These dogs are even more prone to joint problems than the traditionally working dog breed so extra care must be taken if you have one from that line.
Whatever you might have to say about them, German Shepherds have been bred into something of a Renaissance dog, capable of fulfilling a wide variety of different roles.
German Shepherds are one of the most common breeds around in the US and these dogs have a long and well-won reputation. Ensuring that we keep them healthy is our duty as pet owners, and with the right food and supplements, many of the issues which affect the breed can be overcome.
Figure out which is the best for your dog’s needs and pick them up. There’s no reason that the two of you can’t enjoy a long and healthy time together and making sure that they get the right nutrients is one of the best ways to do it.
As a veterinarian practicing for 48 years, Dr. Cropper brings her priceless experience to all our readers. She is currently taking care of her two rescues, Ollie the Greyhound and Bryce the Pitbull mix, that is why she always sees things as a veterinarian and a pet owner simultaneously.
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