Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
How to Care for Your Aging German Shepherd
While your German Shepherd might be getting older, this doesn’t mean that they cannot still live a full and happy life. Like humans, when dogs age they begin to develop health problems that could affect their quality of life.
In the picture below, you can see one of our old shepherds with a younger shepherd. I would argue that the adult shepherd got to live to age 14 because he was always healthy—but also because his young companion kept him active.
Just as with humans, the right care can help to prolong a dog's life and make them healthier and happier, even in the later years. Here’s what you need to know about caring for older German Shepherds.
Choose a Diet That's Suited to an Older Dog
Most people focus on buying special food for their puppies that provide the nutrition they need to spur healthy development. What you might not realize, however, is that your dog also needs special food when they grow older.
Not only are older dogs more prone to weight gain, which means they need a low-calorie alternative, they should also be given food that is packed with the nutrients that help keep an older body limber and active.
Look for food that promises to help with joint issues—this is especially important for German Shepherds, who often have joint issues, even before they become senior dogs. Also, look for brands that use only natural ingredients, as older dogs will become more sensitive to “junk” food. Opt for a diet that features:
- Less fat and protein
- Additional vitamins and/or fish oil (omega-3)
- Fewer carbs
- Lower caloric intake overall
Make Sure Your German Shepherd Still Gets Exercise
You can tell that your dog is starting to age when they start to slow down. Not all German Shepherds will naturally slow down as they get to their elder years (we had one that was still zipping around the backyard and going on runs when she was thirteen years old), but most will.
If they are starting to spend more time sleeping and less time on the move, this doesn’t mean that you should just let them sleep on their dog beds all day and night. A dog in motion tends to stay in motion, so if you are diligent about putting the leash on your older German Shepherd and taking him for a walk, he is more likely to stay active and, therefore, healthier into his older years. Even if you have to dial back the intensity or amount of that exercise, he should still get some.
- Walking is a great way to stay active.
- Swimming is great for joints and creating muscle without heavy impact on the joints.
- Try to avoid jumping.
Exercise Options for Senior German Shepherds
They are large dogs, and arthritis and other joint problems are very common, which might make it more and more difficult to get your dog up and out.
- Walks: What should you do with your aging German Shepherd? Even if your GSD is no longer interested in running and jumping like he used to be, going on long walks can still be great for your dog. Taking your dog out on smooth terrain that will not agitate his elbows or knees will ensure that he gets the exercise he needs, without putting strain on his joints.
- Swimming: Another great way to exercise your older German shepherd is by taking him somewhere where he can swim. Just like swimming is recommended for aging humans who need a low impact activity to keep them active, swimming can help your dog stretch his legs, without putting unnecessary strain on parts of his body that might already be suffering.
Light Movement Is Key
Whatever you do, do not assume that he wants to lay around the house just because his joints might be bothering him. If all he does is lay down all day, this could actually be much worse for his joints than if you actually got him on his leash and took him out for a walk. Remember that animals in motion tend to stay in motion. If you want to prevent serious joint issues from occurring, keep your German Shepherd moving.
Conquering the Fear of Swimming
Watch Your Dog's Weight
One of the reasons that smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs is because they weigh less than larger dogs. If your German Shepherd starts to gain extra weight as they age, it could only speed up the aging process and create more serious problems for that dog in their later years.
Fat on a dog can create serious problems for their joints and organs. While they are probably going to gain a little bit, simply because they have slowed down as they age, you do not want to see your dog gaining a lot of weight. This is very bad and should be carefully monitored.
If you start to see that your dog is gaining some weight, you should dial back the treats and pick up a lower calorie food. One formulated specifically for older dogs is always a good option. You should also be able to find a food that is formulated specifically for older German Shepherds which will help you address any weight gain and any joint issues.
Take Your Dog to the Vet Regularly
Like humans who need to visit the doctor more often as they grow older, your aging German Shepherd will likely need to see the vet more often than when they were younger.
Your vet will be able to help you identify issues that might only be starting to develop, like joint issues, or help you manage more serious issues like kidney and liver issues that many German Shepherds encounter as they age. This is also a good way to make sure that you are feeding your dog the right food and that they are getting enough exercise (and the right kind of exercise).
A vet will be able to help you be on the lookout for warning signs of more serious diseases, so you can stop them in their tracks or lessen their impact.
Take Care of Your Dog's Teeth
As your dog ages, his teeth will become more and more vulnerable to decay and damage. If you neglect your dog’s teeth, you might start to see even more serious issues cropping up, including heart and digestive problems.
Your dog needs his teeth in order to properly chew his food and unhealthy teeth can also be a magnet and a breeding ground for bacteria that could eventually start to affect the rest of your dog’s organs. While your dog might be resistant to teeth brushing, this is even more important when he is aging than when he was a puppy.
One of the ways that you can keep his teeth clean is by continuing to feed him hard food, which helps to scrape tartar from the teeth; also, give him chew toys that are specifically designed to clean his teeth. These will prevent any serious issues from arising with your dog’s teeth in his later years.
German Shepherds Age
Compared to many other large breeds, German Shepherds actually live fairly long and happy lives, especially if they are kept active and regular visit the vet. While you may not want to think about your beloved pet entering his senior years, it is helpful to know exactly what you can expect from your dog’s life expectancy and when you should start treating your GSD like the senior that he is.
Average Age for German Shepherds
Most German Shepherds live between 11 and 13 years. Owners of small breeds of dogs might see their animals live up to 17 or 20, but larger dogs put more strain on their bodies and simply do not live as long, no matter how well they are taken care of. A dog that is neglected or does not get proper exercise will actually die much earlier than age eleven.
While some German Shepherds do live far beyond age 13, this is fairly uncommon and impossible to predict, especially if you do not know the lineage of your dog and what health problems they might encounter as they pass into old age.
When you next take your German Shepherd to the vet, it would be worth your time to ask about your dog’s life expectancy, even if they are still fairly young. Your vet will be able to look at your dog’s current health and what issues they might have had in the past or that might be developing and in their early stages, and tell you how long they expect your dog to live. Your vet should also be able to tell you exactly what you should be doing in order to help your dog live as long as possible.
What Can I Do to Preserve My Dog's Health?
An older dog might seem content to just lay around the house, but especially if your dog is just middle-aged and not actually old, it is very important to keep that dog moving. If they are allowed to just hang around the house, they’ll probably age faster and definitely will not be as happy or as healthy as they continue to advance in life. Here’s what you can do to make sure that your older German Shepherd stays as healthy as possible in his golden years:
Keep Going on Walks
While your older dog might not be up for the ten miles runs you used to take every single morning, they still want to get out of the house. Just like you, spending too much time cooped up in the house is going to drive your German shepherd crazy. So, leash them up and take them out on walks. Pay special attention to how they are walking and any signs that they might be experiencing pain or are getting overtired so you can turn back before an enjoyable outing just becomes a painful one for your pooch.
Teach Them Something New
It’s not true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This might actually be the perfect time to teach them some new tricks. It will help keep their brain engaged, something we all need as we progress into our elder years. Whether you just want to teach your German shepherd to shake or you are going to refresh some of the tricks that he knew as a younger dog, spend some time each day teaching your dog and rewarding him for his progress and effort.
Meet New Friends
While it’s important not to put your dog in with a dozen younger dogs who are going to hurt him with their enthusiasm, your dog still wants to make new friends and still wants to hang out with other dogs. Avoid putting your dog in with brand new puppies, however, who might be a little aggressive in their play, so much so that they could actually hurt your dog. Hanging around some dogs that are the same age or are at least more mature than those early, energetic days of puppyhood is a good way to keep his mind stimulated.
Acceptance, Respect, and Love
At some point, you will simply have to accept that your dog is growing older and will eventually pass away. Many owners will have gotten their German Shepherds as brand new puppies and will have cared for them their entire lives.
It can be as tragic as watching a human friend or family member grow old and pass away, especially because you have dedicated a lot of time to caring for this animal and you have forged a strong bond.
It is important not to neglect your older dog, simply because they start to seem more and more content just to lay on their dog bed and sleep. Especially if you have other dogs that seem like they need more attention and have more energy, you might start to neglect your older German Shepherds. Do not do this!
Even if your friend is over 10 years old, they still need and want your attention and approval. Make sure they are given just as much love and respect when they are growing older and coming to the end of their life as they did when they were brand new puppies, full of energy.
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.