German Shepherd Diet & Nutrition

Photograph courtesy of AKC

Feeding your new puppy
If you have purchased your German Shepherd puppy from a reputable breeder, your pup will have been weaned from the mother and has already experienced a first change of diet. Going home with you will be an exciting adventure and you do not want a tummy upset due to a combination of distress, travel, excitement and a change of diet. Always remember that this exciting day for you, is the day your pup is taken from everything they have known. You are taking them away from their mother and litter mates. Imagine how you would feel! How would your child feel?

Instructions on how to feed your German Shepherd Puppy
Your pup’s breeder should have given you instructions on how to look after your puppy for the first few weeks at home. If they don’t offer the information, ask them for a list as this information will ease the pup’s transition and give you a guide for the next few weeks to make the transition seamless. If you decide to feed a different diet then transition slowly so not to upset your puppies’ sensitive stomach. Use the breeder’s food for a week, then slowly take out about 10% and replace it with your own. Gradually increase the new food and decrease the original food over a period of up to six weeks.

How often should you feed your puppy?
Most puppies should be fed little and often as their tummies are still small. Your twelve-week-old puppy will probably be having four equal meals spread throughout the day. At this time, you can start to give the same amount of food but over three meals, and over the course of a month cut back to two meals a day. You will be feeding a food made specifically for puppies and as they get older you can transition to adult food. This will be at approximately nine months, but all dogs are different and like humans their individual needs will differ.

How much food should you give your German Shepherd Dog?
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule of how much to feed. You will have to watch your dog carefully and also feel under their thick coat to make sure they are well-covered but not obese which will cause health issues. Start by reading the instructions and feed the recommended amount for your type and weight of dog. If they are not gaining weight add a little extra, if they start to look chubby, reduce the amount. If you are not sure that your dog is eating properly, ask the advice of your vet.

German Shepherds can have sensitive stomachs
Our favorite breed has a reputation for being prone to having sensitive stomachs, therefore choosing a diet that will encourage a healthy gut and great health is vital. The market is saturated with brands of dog food, all touting that theirs is the best. Even foods recommended by veterinarians should also be checked carefully as they are selling to the public for profit and may not read labels to ensure they are offering the best food for your dog.

Having stated that a German Shepherd can have a sensitive stomach, it should also be pointed out that they are gluttons and will eat just about anything! One German Shepherd’s owner was preparing steak for guests and had to leave the kitchen. Knowing the dog’s reputation for thievery, the steak was placed on top of the wall cabinet for safety. Of course, because we know our breed is smart, the steak was soon gone. The dog had jumped up onto the kitchen counter and reached up to take down the plate from the wall cabinet. Who knows what the guests ate that night, it wasn’t steak!

German Shepherds have been known to eat anything. They should be kept in a fenced-in yard with no access to garden equipment, weed-killers or any other potentially harmful objects. A German Shepherd who lived on a farm started to lose weight even though she was being well fed, and was taken to the veterinarian who did studies on her stomach. When the tests came back, the stomach contents were found to hold plastic, rope and even parts of a tin can. You can never be too careful.

Learn about Bloat – it can kill your German Shepherd!
You may never have heard that German Shepherds are particularly at risk for Bloat or Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) which is a serious condition that can kill your dog in hours. Bloat is prevalent in all large dog breeds but especially in those that have a large, deep chest cavity. Learning how to prevent Bloat is important in the care of your precious pet.

Bloat can be caused by:

  • Eating or drinking too fast
  • Eating or drinking too soon before or after exercise
  • Eating from a raised bowl
  • Eating one large meal a day
  • Stress – this could be from being in kennels, or the addition of a new baby or a puppy.

According to the German Shepherd Rescue of New England, if your dog gets Bloat, these symptoms could occur:

  • Anxious and restless
  • Unsuccessful attempts to vomit
  • Hunched up appearance
  • Tight stomach – like a drum
  • Salivating or drooling
  • For all the symptoms read here.

Bloat not only causes your dogs stomach to expand and harden, but the stomach may also twist, which is even more dangerous as it will cause internal damage to organs and lead to death.

When Bloat occurs, you will have very little time to get help, so keep the phone and address of your closest Emergency Vet close by – program it into your mobile phone.

Wolves and Wild Dogs
Before we make any recommendations for your German Shepherd’s diet and nutrition, let us first look at how wild animals, similar to the domesticated dog, get their nutrition. Both Wolves and African Wild Dogs hunt for food in packs and run their prey to exhaustion often feeding before their prey is dead. They attack the soft stomach first, ridding it of the grassy intestines, then eat the meat and bones. This is the antithesis of how our domesticated dogs are expected to survive. According to Shawn Messonnier, DVM, published in the American Kennel Club (AKC) website, “In the wild, dogs prefer animal-based protein. I think it’s important that they eat the diet most closely resembling what they would eat if hunting on their own.”

Modern Canine Diet
The market for dog food in America offers the opposite of a wild diet with the majority of popular dry foods (kibble) based on a mixture of meat, grains, vegetables with the addition of fillers, synthetic vitamins and preservatives. As human food has become processed for ease of use, so has dog food. There are hundreds of dried dog food brands, the ingredients (whatever the mix) are ground down, reformed into pellets then baked. Some dogs eat this type of food all their lives and thrive but many suffer from skin conditions, tooth decay and general bad health. Tinned dog food has the same effect, causing dental issues, sometimes before the dog is three. And what will happen next? You’ll take your dog to the vet and spend fortunes to cure disease that could have been avoided from the beginning. The question then is what should you be feeding your German Shepherd for optimal diet and nutrition?

Some interesting statistics:

  • In 2006, the National Research Council confirmed that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates.
  • In 2010, the Association of American Feed Control Officials concluded that carbohydrates are not essential to a healthy canine diet.

The American Kennel Club state on their website that “as carnivores, they (dogs) have no need for fruits and vegetables as part of their diet, but an occasional fruit or veggie as a treat is OK.” Some fruits and vegetables are totally unsuitable so find out more here.

Dog Trainer Kelly Whitescarver
Kelly is a dog breeder, dog rescuer, and trainer of Belgian Malinois (similar in stature and temperament to a German Shepherd) and spoke to us about what she feeds her dogs. “I feed a high quality, dry food from family manufacturer Fromm. The Beef Frittata Veg does not contain grain, and has a protein level of 30%.” This particular food contains a mix of vegetables and fruits, including cranberries and blueberries that wolves have been known to snack on in the wild. Kelly feeds her dogs twice a day and says “if I had fewer dogs to feed, I would only feed raw meat as I am a firm believer in a carnivorous diet. When I have fewer dogs, I feed raw and add in sardines and sweet potato for extra protein.”

Find the Right Store
Even before purchasing your German Shepherd puppy, learn where you can shop locally for the best food. This is probably not going to be a big-box store but rather a smaller specialized store that can answer your many questions.

Dry Foods of Choice
Dry foods are easy to store and when choosing a brand look for the highest protein content. Read the labels – every brand has a website and discloses the content of their foods. Some are better than others. Brands that have a better reputation for using high-quality ingredients are:

  • Fromm Family Foods – there are a large selection to choose for all stages of life. Most are grain free and some have brown rice which can be helpful with dogs that have sensitive stomachs.

  • Blue Buffalo – another family concern that sell foods for all life stages. Free from grains and additives with a broad range of proteins.

  • The Honest Kitchen – another family owned company who say “A vast majority of pet food makers use stuff we never use from places we don’t trust.”

Each of these brands have many tempting flavors and protein types. Don’t think that because you like a varied diet, that you should feed your dog in the same way. A regular diet of the same food with maybe a few leftovers from the table will keep your dog’s stomach stable. Too much variety will cause an upset stomach which is why if you are changing foods it should be done gradually as discussed earlier.

If your German Shepherd has sensitivities to any foods, they could be corn or gluten intolerant. Information about gluten intolerance is easy to find but many people are ignorant about corn allergies. It is not widely known that most added vitamins are corn-derived and that most ingredients that include cellulose or anything ending in -ulose are also from corn. Corn is the hidden ingredient in many of our own and our pet’s foods.

Fresh and Freeze-Dried Dog Foods
The owners of For Footed Friends, a natural pet food store in Florida, agree that many pet nutritionists and veterinarians believe natural foods are better for your pet than highly processed ones, and that common ailments can be alleviated by providing a nutritionally sound diet for your dog.

A brand sold in the store is Primal, from a pet food company founded by Matt Koss in 2000 who had a dog that was displaying early signs of renal failure. Eventually turning to a holistic veterinarian, it was recommended that his dog be fed a diet of bones and raw food which mimics how your dog would eat in the wild. After a short time, his dog rebounded and he decided to bring this food combination to the market with Primal Pet Food. Every ingredient for Primal is on the website, foods are either organic, farm raised and humanely sourced. Primal comes as raw/frozen ingredients or freeze-dried, and are available all over the U.S. The website has a helpful calculator and a search box for where to purchase.

A huge benefit to our dogs is that with many popular grain-filled brands our dogs tend to expel (poop) huge amounts of the food but with good quality food the ingredients are used within the body and they expel less!

How do you know the right mixture of food?
The chart below is helpful if you want to know the best mix of protein to vegetables for your German Shepherd:

In addition, you can give your dog a full spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals. A holistic product range is made by Only Natural Pet’s who have daily multi-vitamins that are available as tablets, powder to mix in with food, and chews which could be used as a bedtime treat.

There are hundreds of dog foods and finding the right one for your German Shepherd is important for health and longevity. Take time to do your own research, talk to your breeder, discuss it with your veterinarian and find a pet food shop that is in sympathy with your dog’s needs. You want your German Shepherd to live a long, healthy life and good food is a key ingredient.