Healthy Eating for a German Shepherd

Healthy Eating for a German Shepherd

To avoid some hereditary health problems for German Shepherds, feed them a high-quality diet. Learn more here.

What do German Shepherds Eat?

German Shepherds eat a variety of foods, however due to their large size and working dog history, they require certain dietary standards. You should feed your German Shepherd a high-quality, protein-rich diet such as Instinct Duck Dog Food, Turducken Dog Food or Merrick Lil Plates Chicken and Sweet Potato that includes essential vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and fatty acids. The optimum amount of protein is 18%-22%, with total daily caloric levels ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 per day (depending on the dog’s activity levels, age, health, etc.). Learn more about specific dietary needs for German Shepherds in the sections below.

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 such as Purina Pro Plan Savor Lamb or Purina Beyond Simply 9 Ranch Raised Lamb, 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.

Weight Loss

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.

German Shepherd Information: Health

As its name implies, the German Shepherd originated in Germany, bred in the late 1800s to protect and manage sheep. The dog’s keen intelligence, curiosity, and willingness to please has made it popular in police and rescue work. Like many large dogs, the German Shepherd is prone to gastric bloating and twisting. The dog is also highly susceptible to hip and spinal problems. This active, loyal breed has a lifespan of approximately 10 to 12 years.

Primary Health Conditions of the German Shepherd

Many breeds of dogs may suffer from hip dysplasia, a sometimes painful abnormality that occurs in the joint between the hip and rear leg bones. However, the German Shepherd is especially susceptible to the condition. Dogs with the disease should be prevented from breeding to help eliminate the problem. Surgery can sometimes be used to treat dogs who suffer from the condition.

The German Shepherd can also experience gastric bloating and torsion, or the twisting of the stomach. This condition can come on quickly, and immediate attention from the veterinarian is required. Feeding high quality dog foods low in grain and higher in protein can help prevent torsion. Blood clotting problems, known as von Willebrand’s disease, are also fairly frequent in this breed. The condition is hereditary and untreatable, and may be prevented through careful breeding.

Secondary Health Conditions of the German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is particularly susceptible to a form of cancer of the spleen and heart called hemangiosarcoma. Signs of the disease are nosebleeds, increased respiratory rate, and abdominal swelling. Caught early, tumor extraction through surgery is possible, although the prognosis for the condition is not favorable. Degenerative myelopathy is also relatively frequent in the German Shepherd, which is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own nervous system. The condition is progressive and has no cure. The breed may also be prone to dermatitis, or irritation of the skin. Good diet and steroids are possible treatments.

German Shepherd Exercise and Walking Needs

This large, lively dog needs a good deal of daily exercise, including long walks and lively play. Such exercise, especially earlier in life, will help keep problems such as hip dysplasia at bay. Just as important for this highly intelligent dog, however, is mental stimulation and the opportunity to interact with its owner and its environment. For example, one can hide an item of the owner’s clothing in a park or large yard and encourage the Shepherd to find it.

German Shepherd Nutritional Needs

Like many large dogs, the German Shepherd is susceptible to bloat and gastric torsion. To help manage this problem, a food high in fiber is suggested. Also, because certain grains, including corn and soy, can exacerbate bloat, foods containing these ingredients should be avoided. Less expensive foods tend to use these grains as filler. Given the Shepherd’s propensity towards dermatitis, a food with good levels of vitamins A and E can be beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best food to feed a German Shepherd?

The best food to feed a German Shepherd is one that is rich in protein and fat content. Since German Shepherds are known for their high energy levels, they need to be fed food that can help them maintain their energy levels. German Shepherds should be fed chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, salmon, and rabbit. Diamond Naturals and Taste of the Wild are also popular dog foods that you can feed your German Shepherd.

What should a German Shepherd eat in a day?

A German Shepherd should be fed twice a day. They require around 2.5 to 3.5 cups of dry kibble each day. If your German Shepherd is active throughout the day, they must eat at least 3.5 cups of dry kibble. Inactive dogs can make do with 2.5 cups of dry kibble.

What is the best meat for German Shepherds?

The best meats for German Shepherds include chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, salmon, and rabbit. They need to eat at least twice a day. German Shepherds that are very active should eat more than those that are not.

What is the best food for a German Shepherd puppy?

The best food for a German Shepherd puppy includes food made by popular dog food brands, including Diamond Naturals, Blue Buffalo Wilderness, Royal Canin, and Purina. Many of these brands have dog foods that cater specifically to German Shepherds and their puppies.

What foods are German Shepherds allergic to?

Food allergies in German Shepherds can vary. They may be allergic to protein sources like chicken or beef. However, since most German Shepherds also enjoy such types of food, you will have to work it yourself whether or not your German Shepherd is allergic to them. They may also develop an intolerance to other types of food and show allergic reactions to them. Such types of foods include wheat, soy, milk, and eggs.

Can a German Shepherd drink milk?

Yes, a German Shepherd can drink milk. However, some German Shepherds are lactose intolerant. These dogs cannot drink milk.
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