Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Many owners will not give much thought to what kind of food they feed their German Shepherds. The truth is that this breed needs to eat a lot of food.
These dogs, which can weigh as much as a hundred pounds, can and will eat more than a bag of food every week if their owner is not paying attention. It is very important to watch what your dog eats and how much he eats, as this breed is prone to gastrointestinal distress, especially due to overeating.
These large, intelligent, active dogs need a highly nutritious, filling food that sustains their activity and their brains. Unfortunately, the cheapest foods on the market are not going to provide the kinds of nutrition that is going to support a shepherd's health and wellness. Here are some tips to make sure you find the right kind of food for your adult German Shepherd dog and to make sure he is fed properly.
What Food Does Your Dog Need?
Finding the best dog food for a German Shepherd can be difficult. There are many conflicting signals about what they eat, what foods are best, what kind of allergies they face, and whether or not a raw food diet will benefit your dog.
Finding the right dog food to keep up with their eating habits doesn’t have to be impossible, however. Follow these tips to make sure that your dog gets the right nutrition for his breed and for his stage of life.
- Consider your shepherd’s nutritional needs
- Make note of your dog's activity level
- Ingredients to look for
- Know the dog food brands
- Dry dog food or wet dog food
- Compare prices
- Food allergies
- Raw dog food or cooked
Consider Your Shepherd’s Nutritional Needs
Because these dogs are large and strong—nearly 80% of a German Shepherd’s weight is comprised just of muscle and bone—their primary nutritional need will be protein and fat. Your dog’s specific needs may be different. If he needs to lose weight or put it on, he might need a dog food formulated to help dogs lose weight or put it on.
High-quality dog foods will be at least 18% protein and 5% fat. Puppy formulations will have a higher protein and fat content, but most dogs only need to be on puppy food until they are six months old.
Make Note of Your Dog's Activity Level
Dogs who live an active lifestyle will need more than 1700 and less than 2200 calories every day. Most German Shepherds are naturally active, but they will become less active as they age. Additionally, your dog might just not be as active as others, just as some humans are naturally less active.
These dogs will need a lower caloric intake. In between 1700 and 2200 is a good place to start, and then calories can be upped or reduced if you notice the dog is too skinny or gaining too much weight.
Ingredients to Look For
The number one ingredient to look for is a healthy source of protein. The very first ingredient on the bag should be a source of protein—and one that your dog is not going to be allergic to.
Chicken, beef, and fish are all great choices for dog food, but there are dogs in the German Shepherd breed that are allergic to one of these three sources of protein, so always make sure to read the bag.
Additionally, there should be a healthy source of fat. Fish is another good option, but vegetable oils are primarily used as a healthy fat for dogs. In order to keep his energy up, you will want to look for carbohydrates like barley and rice. In short, you want the dog food to be dominated by real food with names that you know and recognize. Anything that contains “by-products” should go back on the shelf.
Know the Dog Food Brands
Not every brand is going to produce dog food for German Shepherds specifically. In fact, most brands don’t. However, both Royal Canin and Eukanuba produce high-quality dog foods that are formulated specifically for the breed.
Many "natural" brands like Blue Buffalo or Blue Wilderness will have a formulation that is good for large breeds. These will usually have a good ratio of carbs to fat to the protein that will keep a shepherd strong and healthy, even if the formula isn’t just for German Shepherds.
It all depends on the country where you live. In my country, there is no Blue Buffalo, Blue Wilderness, etc. I've mostly used Royal Canin and Eukanuba.
Dry Dog Food or Wet Dog Food
Dry food or wet food? Because there are many great dry foods and wet food options for German Shepherd owners, many have difficulty picking between these two types of food or knowing whether they can be mixed. While wet food might seem like the best option, especially because it sometimes contains raw pieces of meat or other nutritional draws.
Dry food is usually a decent option, unless you have an elderly shepherd who has lost teeth, has bladder or kidney issues or is having trouble chewing crunchy bits of food. Dry food has some dental health benefits, is overall more convenient, as well as being nutritionally stable for German Shepherds. The texture can help to remove and prevent plaque from forming on teeth, and especially in early life, chewing dry food can help to build strong jaw bones and muscles.
We combine dry and wet food at times. Especially with our last dog who was a fairly difficult eater. Wet food and raw food make him happy. If you buy a decent brand you’ll also get all the nutritional value you need. It’s also more easy to digest. Just make sure it doesn’t expire or becomes bad in the bowl during the summer.
The truth is that high-quality German Shepherd dog food is going to be more expensive than low-quality food. It can be tempting to buy and feed a dog lower quality food simply because this breed needs to eat so much food throughout the day and because keeping up with that demand while buying the higher quality food can put a dent in your bank account.
However, those lower-quality foods rarely have the right nutritional content in order to keep large, active dogs healthy. Just like with humans, if all you feed your dog is junk food, they will be tired, more likely to develop serious diseases, and will have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight, no matter how much exercise they do.
On the other hand, there are fairly inexpensive quality foods you can buy, especially if you compare prices before purchasing. Many people in the world don't even earn more than a couple of hundred dollars a month, it's unrealistic to expect them to buy raw food or the food we would prefer.
The most common German Shepherd food allergies include corn and wheat. It’s usually best to avoid dog foods that have high corn and wheat contents. Food colorings, preservatives, and other chemicals that a dog would never have encountered if they lived in the wild, often cause allergies. Many German Shepherds are allergic to dairy, while eggs, soy, and even beef and chicken can be allergies.
Most of the time, if a dog is experiencing food allergies, especially those related to the kind of protein in the food, should be switched to food that uses lamb as its protein and rice as its carbohydrate. If you notice that your dog is having bowel issues or is itching constantly, try switching the current brand for a brand that uses totally different protein, fat, and carb sources.
Raw Dog Food or Cooked?
Raw or cooked? Many owners will give their dogs a raw food diet, claiming that raw meat and vegetables are what a dog would be eating if they lived in the wild. However, dogs that live in the wild rarely live to be older than four or five years and domesticated dogs are different enough from wolves and wild dogs that feeding them the exact same diet does not always make sense.
In some instances, a German Shepherd raw food diet is a great choice, but do not immediately assume that it is the only choice for your dog. As long as the food is properly cooked, dry food and even homemade dog food can be great for your dog. I mix it up, sometimes raw food, sometimes cooked, but often just dry food.
If you end up giving your dog only dry food make sure they drink enough and provide some kind of running water bowl or system. Be careful they don't develop bladder stones or kidney stones. Some brands like Royal Canin also have special food for dogs with urinary problems.
Breed Feeding Guidelines
How do you know if your dog is getting enough to eat? How do you know if he is getting too much? How do you know if he is getting the right kind of food? Paying attention to your dog’s eating habits, setting up a feeding schedule that he can learn to rely on, and following these tips can make it much easier to feed your dog.
How Much Should a German Shepherd Eat?
The average shepherd should eat in between three and five cups of dog food every day. If you are not sure how much he needs to eat, refer to the dog food bag’s caloric content. You need to feed your dog enough food to make sure he gets at least daily 1700 calories. Most adult dogs require more calories than 1700 calories.
In general, the best and only way to know if your dog is getting enough to eat is to feel his sides. You should be able to feel his ribs a little, but not see them. If you can both feel and see them, he needs more food. If they can be neither seen nor felt, he needs less food.
What Can I Do to Avoid “Bloat?”
As is common in large dogs, German Shepherds can come down with a condition called gastric dilation-volvulus or bloat. This happens when a dog eats too quickly, gulping in the food instead of actually chewing it and taking his time. This is a serious condition that can cause shock and can even stop his heart. Finding a way to slow down his eating is the best way to avoid this issue.
Putting a tennis ball in his food bowl is a good way to slow him down, as is finding a food bowl that is more of a ring than actually a bowl. His caloric intake should be split into at least two meals a day and don’t walk him or run him for more than an hour before and an hour after a meal.
German Shepherd Weight Gain
Why is letting my German Shepherd gain weight a bad thing? Letting a German Shepherd gain weight can be a very bad thing, largely because of how large these dogs are and how prone they are to arthritis and conditions like elbow and hip dysplasia, even without excess weight. Keeping him trim and active will help to prolong his healthy life and prevent these conditions from developing, or at the very least, keep from exacerbating them.
Where to Buy?
Where to find food? One of the most difficult parts of feeding your German Shepherd good food is actually finding that good food. Unless you live in an area where there are natural pet food stores, your local grocery store might not carry the kind of dog food that you want to feed your shepherd. This means putting a little extra time and effort into the food finding process.
It is easier than ever to find and buy high-quality dog food online and have it delivered right to your door. Additionally, if you talk to the proprietor of your local pet store, they might be willing to order the right brand for you.
Example Large Dog Food Brands
- Orijen Grain-Free Dry Dog Food – Orijen is a popular kibble brand that is made in the United States. There are lots of brands that take special care to make sure they only use the very best ingredients for their dog food, but there are only a few that really seem to put the time and attention into their formulations that Orijen does. This brand has a few different varieties, but one of the best for German Shepherds is their high-protein, grain-free variety. This will ensure that your dog does not develop grain allergies (or that if he already has a grain allergy, that a reaction will not be triggered by his diet). The only drawback of this brand is that it is one of the more expensive brands on this list.
- Test of the Wild Dry Dog Food – This brand has almost a cult following among dog owners. Less expensive than Orijen, with many of the same ingredients, it is a good balance between quality and price. It is also made in the US and is completely free of grain, unlike most bargain brands that pad out their calorie count with wheat or, even worse, corn. It is about half of the price of Orijen, and this brand makes the same commitment to quality, so you know that you are getting a high-protein, high-quality brand that your German Shepherd is sure to enjoy.
- EVO Dry Dog Food – EVO is a smaller brand, but like the others on this list, they make great, grain-free dog food, that is perfect for an active dog. They put a special emphasis on the inclusion of red meat in their dog food. You already know that your dog loves red meat. This brand especially has been attracting the attention of farmers, who raise working dogs. It has a higher protein content than many other brands, even other premium brands. If you are trying to encourage your German shepherd to put on muscle, this could be the ideal brand for you to try.
- Natural Balance Diet Dry Dog Food – You might, at some point, especially as your German shepherd starts to age and slow down, notice that he has put on a little more weight than what he was carrying before. If this is the case, you might want to take a look at Natural Balance Diet. Natural Balance the brand has a wide variety of natural foods, all made without grain and other common German Shepherd allergens. It is especially recommended for dogs that have special dietary needs (like trying to lose weight), or those that have sensitive stomachs, as many German shepherds do. You can usually find this brand online if your local store does not carry it
- Eukanuba Breed Specific – If you are looking for a brand that makes food for your specific breed, Eukanuba is a great place to start. You probably already know that large dogs have different dietary requirements than small dogs. While a German shepherd could probably eat the same food as a Rottweiler without experiencing any negative side effects, you probably do not want to feed them the same food you would feed a Chihuahua. The breed needs more protein and more calories than a small dog, and that is exactly what this kind of food provides to your dog.
- Blue Buffalo – Blue Buffalo has only recently become popular among dog owners, but it has some of the best ingredients on the market, and this brand strives to keep their prices as low as possible, in order to ensure that every owner can provide their dog with high-quality food. This brand is usually easy to find in your local store, especially if you live near a pet store, but it can also be ordered online if you cannot find it in your area. This brand, like all the others on this list, is grain and corn-free and relies on real meat for its protein content.
I have fed most of my dogs Royal Canine and will do a write up of that brand soon. There are also a lot of smaller brands with extraordinary claims and often a cult following. What food you find will also depend on where you live and what you can afford.
Finding the best dog food for German Shepherds, or more precisely the right food for yours isn’t always easy. The right choice and following the right feeding schedule can keep your dog healthy and happy from birth into old age. We hope we’ve helped a little on your search for the best dog food for your shepherd. The question is more about personal preference, time and budget when you keep in mind basic nutritional tips (quality), allergies and age.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on December 25, 2019:
With kibble it's important to hydrate enough to prevent urinary problems. Things that can help is running waterbowl if you think your dog doesn't drink enough. Mixing in wet food can help, but this can also result in your dog never wanting to just have kibble anymore. I don't have a problem mixing raw food or mixing things up, but a lot of people don't find the time.
Look at what works for you and your dog and if you worry or see things that you don't like, you should get a second opinion from a vet. The internet is general advice and not targetted at you and your dog in particular, always keep that in mind.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on December 25, 2019:
I've mostly fed my dogs Royal Canine and one of them got Eukanuba dog food for some time. I had good experiences with those two brands. The other brand information mostly comes from Americans I know who have German Shepherds etc. I don't know 'CORE', you could compare ingredients and formulas. Things to look at is large breeds, active breeds, protein vs sugar/carbs etc. Grain "free" is not an absolute marker for good food, but should a least be low on carbs. Especially if you have a couch potato dog which I won't advise anyway. I activily trained with my dogs for decades. Never too fat, regular exercise, active. It's the same as with people, I can eat nearly anything, although I don't and am active, if I would be a couch potato things would escalate healthwise. I don't eat breakfast though and rarely any cerials or sweet snacks,... But if you train for a marathon you could eat 2 extra plates of spaghetti a day without issue,...
Keep in mind his weight or do the feel thing, you should be able to feel his ribcage/ribs, but not see them through the coat. Play and walking is important, although leave enough time between eating and play/sports.
Kathie on December 24, 2019:
Good article! I just rescued a shepherd and am feeding him CORE gain free puppy kibbles. Is Royal Canine or Eukanuba even better?
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 01, 2019:
The information in your article is interesting. I've never owned a German Shepherd, but I've considered some of the things that you've mentioned with respect to my dogs. Thank you for sharing the advice.