The German shepherd dog is a muscular working dog with a high energy level and a hearty appetite. To prevent obesity and to help avoid some hereditary health problems that occur in the breed, provide your dog plenty of exercise and feed them a high-quality diet. Look for ingredients that help to maintain a healthy coat and that are easy to digest. This will help to prevent gastrointestinal upset and ensure that your German shepherd dog properly metabolizes the vitamins and minerals in the food.
Daily Caloric Requirements
German shepherd dogs are large dogs, usually weighing between 60 and 90 pounds. The National Research Council of the National Academies says inactive or older dogs of this weight range require between 1,272 and 1,540 calories per day, while active dogs need between 1,740 and 2,100 calories per day. Feed your high-energy German shepherd dog according to the caloric requirements for an active dog. German shepherd dogs rendered less active by arthritis or hereditary conditions such as hip dysplasia will benefit from a reduced-calorie diet that holds the dog's weight down to avoid putting pressure on painful joints.
Protein and Growth
Commercial dog foods labeled as meeting Association of American Feed Control Officials standards will meet the basic nutritional requirements of your German shepherd dog. These foods contain at least 18 percent protein and 5 percent fat for adult dogs, or 22 percent protein and 8 percent fat for growing puppies or lactating mothers.
Unlike most other dog breeds, which are fed puppy-specific dog food until 1 year of age, German shepherds are often fed a puppy diet only for their first 6 months. The early switch to an adult diet is done in large dog breeds to prevent too-rapid growth, which can lead to bone and joint issues. However, puppy foods labeled specifically for large breeds are formulated to address these issues.
The primary ingredient in your dog's food should be a whole meat protein such as poultry, fish or beef. Ingredients in dog food are listed in decreasing order by weight, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The first listed ingredients should be sources of protein, followed by carbohydrates, grains, fats and vegetables. Barley, rice and rolled oats are easily digestible sources of grains and carbohydrates, while corn, wheat or soy are less easy to digest. Foods that contain vegetable and fish oils provide healthy fats and Omega-3 fatty acids to keep your German shepherd's coat shiny. Carbohydrates and fats provide the energy needed by this active breed.
Natural preservatives such as vitamin E or vitamin C may be preferable to synthetic food preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene and ethoxyquin. These synthetic preservatives are controversial and could cause health issues, according to the FDA.
Given the proper amount of exercise, your German shepherd should stay fit and trim. Dogs who are overfed, or who don't get the exercise they need, can become obese. If you can't feel your dog's ribs, the dog is overweight. Consult with your veterinarian about the best diet to control your dog's weight. German shepherd dogs are prone to conditions such as arthritis, elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia. These conditions can be worsened if the dog is allowed to become overweight. Excess weight puts pressure on a dog's joints, reducing mobility. To decrease your dog's caloric intake without making the dog feel hungry, add healthy vegetables, such as carrots, green beans or sweet potatoes, to a reduced portion of your dog's regular food. Vegetables have fewer calories than other foods, and they provide extra fiber to keep the dog feeling full.
German shepherd dogs are large, deep-chested dogs. They tend to be prone to a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus, commonly referred to as bloat. Bloat is a medical emergency that can quickly cause death if not treated by a veterinarian. The cause of bloat is unknown, but factors include the rapid ingestion of food and strenuous exercise within an hour of eating. When bloat occurs, the stomach fills with gas and expands like a balloon. The gas-filled stomach often rotates, cutting off circulation to the stomach and other vital organs in the body, as well as normal escape routes for the gas. Signs of bloat include unsuccessful attempts to vomit after eating, excessive salivation, an extended stomach, lethargy and collapse. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately if you see signs of this condition.
To help prevent bloat, divide your German shepherd dog’s daily ration into at least two meals per day. Don't feed the dog from elevated dishes. Restrict the amount of water your dog can drink immediately after eating, recommends the Michigan Veterinary Specialists. Special bowls with an elevated center, found in pet supply stores, may help to prevent your dog from gulping meals rapidly, and may reduce the risk of developing bloat. Avoid exercising your dog an hour before or after meals.
Some German shepherd dogs may be at risk of conditions that lead to the improper absorption of nutrients from their food. These conditions include exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and small-intestine disease, both of which can cause weight loss, even as your dog shows an increased appetite, according to The Merck Veterinary Manual. If you notice that your German shepherd has lost weight but appears to be eating normally, consult with your veterinarian to see if a health condition such as EPI, small-intestine disease, or some other health issue could be the cause.
Part of the treatment for these conditions is a diet that is low in fiber and fat, and that contains a high-quality, unusual protein such as venison or lamb as the primary ingredient. EPI or small-intestine disease diets also contain highly digestible carbohydrates, such as rice or potato. Such diets should be overseen by your veterinarian, who will monitor the results and determine whether they are effective for your German shepherd dog.