German Shepherd Food and Nutrition

Today, consumers have an unlimited number of choices when it comes to German shepherd food and nutrition. The days of feeding puppies a generic puppy food and adult dogs a basic, one-flavor-satisfies-all dog food are nightmares of the past. Grocery aisles, pet supply stores, and internet retailers all promote their own special brands. When a shepherd thrives on a well balanced nutritional German shepherd food, his skin is soft and supple, his coat is thick and full, his ribs are covered, and his energy is boundless.

Commercial Foods

Research by commercial pet food producers has led to increased general public knowledge about canine nutritional needs and how to help a dog thrive rather than just survive. As you might suspect; unfortunately, not all commercial dog foods are a quality product.

At the high end of the spectrum are foods made with highly nutritional, human-grade ingredients that are specialized to meet a dog's particular needs. At the low end are those foods that are made with poor sources of protein, lots of filler, and nearly indigestible minerals and vitamins.

German shepherd food labels can be difficult to decipher, but there are several key points to look for when trying to make sense of what is in a bag, package, or can. Read the ingredients list and recognize key words that indicate the quality and quantity of the ingredients. You should also recognize the specific life stage and type of dog for which the food was developed and understand how foods are tested and trialed to meet nutrient profiles.

Human-grade chicken, beef, lamb, and other meats are lower in steroids than meats approved for livestock or pet consumption. For example, chickens intended for human consumption must be fed an alternative to feed a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks before slaughter to ensure that growth hormones and steroids are at acceptable levels in the meat.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an association of state and federal feed officials that serves to assist in promoting standard feed regulations throughout the United States with recommended nutritional minimums for dog foods. The organization also develops methods by which food companies can test their products to prove they have met the AAFC0's nutritional profiles.

Discerning Quality

There is definitely a difference between in a dog food label that reads: “chicken”, “chicken bi-product”, and “human-grade chicken.” Human-grade chicken is the best and includes meat from the chicken breasts, thighs, organs, or other parts of the chicken that are suitable for human consumption. In addition, human-grade chicken must meet the standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for feeding, raising, and slaughtering chickens.

Foods containing chicken bi-products may include both digestible and indigestible parts of the chicken to include anything from breast meat and organs, to chicken bones, claws, feet, and other items best not mentioned. The amount of indigestible chicken used in the dog food does not have to be identified, which means it is impossible for the consumer to know.

If the ingredients label contains the word "chicken" this indicates that chicken meat is used as a primary protein source for the food. Meat does not have to be human-grade, but it must be meat from the animal source specified. Lesser grades of meat will contain some organ meats, such as livers and gizzards, whereas premium grades of meat will contain only meat.

Some pet food manufacturers may change the ingredients and the ratio of these ingredients, depending on what is available and the market prices for various ingredients. A manufacturer may vary its pet food ingredients from batch to batch. These foods are said to be a "variable formula diet".

When a food varies from batch to batch, its quality also varies, and this can affect the health of the dog. Fixed formula diets provide constant quality but can be quite a bit more expensive than the variable formula diet. Unfortunately, the only way for the consumer to determine if a particular food is a variable or fixed formula product is to check the ingredients label on several bags of the food over a period of several months to determine if any changes are being made.

Life Stages

The AAFCO recognizes only three life stages, two of which are lumped together. The first is for puppies and pregnant or nursing females. The second is for adult dogs. While reading the packaging of a dog food, you will find wording such as "complete and balanced nutrition based on AAFCO guidelines for growth and reproduction" or "complete and balanced nutrition based on AAFCO guidelines for adult maintenance."

But what about foods that claim to be developed for dogs in other specific life stages, such as the senior dog, the active adult dog, or the less-active mature dog? Are foods developed for large-breed puppies and dogs significantly different than most of those designed for adult maintenance?

In general, senior foods are more digestible and richer in nutrients to compensate for the senior's dogs decreased abilities to absorb and metabolize foods. Large-breed puppy food tends to be less rich than regular puppy food, to prevent large breeds from growing too quickly and stressing their joints. Large-breed adult dog food usually contains joint supplements to stave off arthritis and may come in larger chunks so it is not accidentally inhaled. Weight-loss foods provide good nutrition with more fill so a dog can eat the same quantity of food, meet all nutritional needs, and lose weight.

Reputable, quality manufacturers of premium dog foods spend a lot of money into researching the specific nutritional needs of certain subsections of the canine world. The ingredients and supplements involved in manufacturer’s designer formulations are provider proprietary secrets and are not disclosed to the consumer or other manufacturers; however, they are based on available research as well as the manufacturers own research and feeding trials.

Feeding Trials

Manufacturers can prove that their foods have met the AAFCO's recommended guidelines in one of two ways. The first is to provide a laboratory analysis of the food, showing that it contains the correct amounts of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If a food has met the AAFCO's requirements in this way, the packaging will include wording like "this food meets all of the AAFCO's nutritional profiles."

If a food is identified in this way, it has not undergone feeding trials. What this means to you and your German shepherd is that the food may have the necessary nutrients; however, they may not be in a highly digestible form and/or the food may not be palatable.

What you would like to see on the packaging is a reference to the food being complete and balanced and having undergone animal feeding trials using AAFCO procedures. This shows that the dogs in the trial were able to metabolize the nutrients in the food and that the dogs thrived on the food.

Wet, Semi moist, or Dry

In addition to finding a food with quality ingredients and high digestibility, you will also need to choose between wet, semi moist, and dry dog foods.

Canned dog foods are very tasty, are easy to store, and they contain very few, if any, preservatives. As a result, these foods cannot be left out in a bowl for more than 30 minutes without the risk of turning rancid. They are the most expensive commercial food and because the food is soft it does not help to keep a dog's teeth clean.

Semi moist foods are chewier than dry dog food, are stored in bags, have a shorter shelf life than dry foods, and contain more sugar to keep the morsels soft. These foods often contain food coloring to make them look more like human foods. Some dogs have difficulty metabolizing these foods and produce soft stools or more stools as a result.

Dry commercial foods promote healthy teeth and gums, do not spoil easily, and are the least expensive of the food types. A past complaint about dry foods was that dogs did not find them very tasty unless they had been fed dry food as a puppy. But due to stiff competition among pet food manufacturers today, palatability seems to be a problem of the past.

Natural and Homemade

As pet owners have demanded higher-grade ingredients for their dogs, manufacturers have responded with complete lines of natural pet foods. Additionally, some pet owners feed their dogs homemade foods that may consist of all raw ingredients or a combination of raw and cooked ingredients.

For a dog food to be labeled natural, the AAFCO guidelines require all ingredients and components of ingredients in the food to be naturally and not specifically made. If any of the vitamins or minerals is chemically synthesized, the label must state that the food is natural with added vitamins and minerals.

Homemade prepared diets are often recommended by holistic veterinarians and include raw or cooked meats, raw vegetables, whole grains, and nutritional supplements. If prepared according to a recipe from a veterinarian with expertise in nutrition, a homemade prepared diet can be an extremely healthy alternative for your shepherd.

The drawbacks to a homemade diet; however, are numerous. Personally preparing your dog's diet takes time and planning, which many dog owners can not manage. The ingredients required are expensive and must be purchased fresh. Perhaps most importantly, homemade prepared diet must be made with no substitutions, no variances in quantity, and extreme care in measuring and weighing the ingredients.

If you are considering a prepared homemade diet for your shepherd, you must consult your veterinarian. She will be able to provide you with a recipe along with help in finding sources of the vitamins and minerals that need to go into the mix. But whatever you do, follow this recipe to the letter; otherwise, you will be doing your shepherd for more harm than good.

Nutritional Supplementation

If a food is labeled complete and balanced, there is theoretically no need to add supplements to your dog's diet unless they are prescribed by your veterinarian. If you are feeding a homemade prepared diet, you will be adding numerous supplements to your German shepherd's daily diet in precise measurements.

One argument for giving a dog nutritional supplements is that the nutritional guidelines listed by the AAFCO are only the minimum amounts and that few studies have been performed to determine optimum levels of nutrients. Supplementation, therefore, is thought to be necessary to give a dog more appropriate levels. Some also argue that certain supplements serve as nutraceuticals - that is, nutrients that are prescribed at certain higher levels to treat or prevent disease. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, might be given to boost a dog's immune system, reduce inflammation from arthritis, and/or prevent disease. Joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are frequently given to halt or perhaps even reverse some of the damage from such joint diseases as arthritis and hip dysplasia.

Whether your German shepherd needs nutritional supplements is a determination that should be made with the help of your veterinarian. Never attempt to supplement your German shepherd's diet without considering all the good and bad effects of a particular supplement.

Feeding Puppies and Adolescents

The German Shepherd is considered a large breed and has been plagued with abnormalities. Many breeders are quite particular as to how they feed their puppies and young dogs, being careful not to instill obesity, which would put excess strain on the dogs joints. Breeders of a large breed dogs are also concerned about foods that are so rich in nutrients that they promote dangerously quick growth. German shepherds that grow too quickly can suffer from an assortment of bone and joint problems.

What is the correct way to feed your puppy or adolescent shepherd? Some breeders recommend feeding a premium puppy food until the dog reaches the age of six months, at which time they suggest switching to a premium quality active adult dog food. This allows the puppy to receive a nutrient-rich food in its early stages of development and a leaner food later to prevent overgrowth.

Another method of feeding a puppy is to use premium large-breed puppy formula up to one year of age and then switch over to a premium large-breed adult formula.

How do you figure out how much to feed your German shepherd puppy? The 30-minute method is easy to do and very popular. Measure out 3 cups of dry dog food and place this in a puppies bowl. Allow your puppy to eat as much as he wants in a 30 minute period. Pick up the bowl after the 30-minute time has elapsed and measure how much food remains. Subtract this from the original 3 cups and you should end up with the appropriate amount. Do this for an additional two days to get an accurate reading.

It is equally critical that you feed your shepherd enough food. One of the leading causes of aggression in puppies is hunger. It is not uncommon for new puppy owners to call the veterinarian to report a behavior problem that really is a result of inappropriate feeding (too much or too little).

With today's increasing awareness and concern about canine obesity, veterinarians are finding that puppy owners sometimes overfeed their pups. Again, the proper amount to feed can be determined through the 30-minute method.

The Importance of Water

Water is necessary to flush the toxins out of your German shepherd's system, to aid in digestion, and to help maintain a constant body temperature. Puppies and dogs can lose a substantial amount of water through panting, exercise, and a rise in the outside temperature. If a dog becomes more than 12% dehydrated she will die!

If your German shepherd has access to clean, cool fresh water at all times, she will be able to maintain her appropriate water balance on her own by drinking when she needs to. If you withhold water from your shepherd, she can quickly become dehydrated. She might also get into the habit of gorging on water if she's been without it, drinking vast quantities of water at one time because she preceives it to be a limited source. Provide fresh water at all times, even in the winter when you might get tricked into thinking your shepherd does not need as much water. Winter homes are dryer, which increases your shepherd's water rquirement. Wash the water bowl frequently.

If you provide your shepherd with a constant supply of fresh water and she suddenly begins drinking all the time or not at all, consult your veterinarian immediately. There are several conditions that can cause a drastic change in a dog’s voluntary water intake, and none of them are diseases that you want to ignore.

Controlling Obesity

The most common health threat for dogs is obesity. In fact, as many as 25% of all dogs seen by veterinarians are overweight!

Obesity is associated with numerous health risks, including musculoskeletal problems, diabetes, and respiratory distress. Keeping your dog at the proper weight will enhance his life, improve his coat, boost his health, make him a happier animal, and increase his potential lifespan! It is much easier to keep your German shepherd from becoming obese than it is putting him on a diet to reduce excess weight.

Commercial foods taste great, so the mature dog will be more than happy to eat everything offered to him in his bowl. Some owners take this as a sign that the dog needs more food and will increase the portion. Don’t be tempted to do this! Owners also enjoy being able to feed their dogs human food. This usually takes the form of table scraps, which are usually the fatty parts of meats rather than leftover healthier vegetables. In addition to feeding calorie-laden foods as snacks, few owners take into consideration that these calories are being added to the dog’s regular intake.

Life-cycle changes can also effect a dogs metabolism rate. As a high-energy puppy matures, and becomes less active, his caloric needs will also drop. Spading or neutering will also lessen the caloric intake of a dog. Other causes contributing to obesity are sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, constant access to food, and competitive eating in multiple dog households.

Keep an eye on your shepherd as he ages and check that the fat coverage over his rib cage frequently. You should be able to find each rib underneath the coat by pressing lightly with your fingers. If you have to exert more pressure to find the ribs, your dog is overweight.

Before you begin a health and fitness program for your overweight shepherd, consult your veterinarian. She will give you exercise and feeding guidelines so that your shepherd does not lose too much weight too quickly.


When it comes to feeding my German Shepherds, I feed all natural products and stay away from the commercial dog foods available. The best dog food that you can feed your German shepherd is one which you make yourself. There is no question that your dog should be fed food that is made from ingredients which are held to a higher standard than the industry has provided for the past several decades.

I truely believe that most commercial dog foods are unhealthy for your dog. These brands are commonly sold in any pet store or are often advertised on television such as Diamond, Eukanuba, Iams, Science Diet, Purina, etc.

If you have to feed a commercial dog food or your dog is unable to tolerate raw meat then I would recommend only commercial dog foods that use human grade ingrediants. "Sampson", my recent German shepherd, was allergic to most grains (corn, flour, wheat) beets, and chicken, so I opted to switch to a lamb or venison and rice dry kibble for his meals.

If you love your German shepherd then you should feed him the best quality food possible. It is probably the most important health decision you will ever make in the life of your dog.

The list below contains commercial dog foods that only use human-grade ingredients. They may cost more than Diamond or Purina but they are far healthier for your dog. I personally like Wellness for my puppies and Canidae for my adult dogs.

• Back to Basics

• Blue Buffalo

• California Natural

• Canidae

• Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul

• Eagle Holistic Select

• Go Natural

• Honest Kitchen

• Innova

• Karma

• Newman's Own Organics

• Pinnacle

• Prairie

• Solid Gold

• Wellness

Depending on where you live, you may have access to a good groomer, breeder, veterinarian, or pet store that offers the above high quality dog foods, but if you do not or you are looking for access to a number of quality dog foods, pet vitamins, or other pet snacks or nutrients then I recommend you visit and see if they can meet your needs.

You will be amazed at the difference a quality food will make in the life of your pet. Their coats will be plush, they will have fewer allergies, less medical problems and they will have a much healthier personality.

No matter what you feed your dog you should ALWAYS include 100 units of vitamin E and a fish oil pill for every 20 pounds of body weight.

Dogs with allergy issues should not get any grains in their diet and they should get a fish oil pill for every 10 pounds of body weight.

Older German shepherds should get a large tablespoon of Grand Flex (a 99% glucosamine product) or liquid Syn-Flex.

Foods to Avoid

Grapes and Raisins

Reports have implicated large amounts of grapes and raisins in acute kidney failure in dogs. The kidney shutdown is so dramatic that aggressive treatment may be necessary to save your dog’s life.


Chocolate, especially baker’s chocolate, can cause a range of problems, including cardiovascular difficulties and even seizures.


A quarter cup of onions can induce hemolytic anemia, a severe but usually temporary condition. Serious cases can even require a blood transfusion.


Some people think it is interesting to watch their dogs deal with corncobs but they can mortally impact the intestines.

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