Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Humans have known for quite some time that raw food (non-processed) can be among the healthiest that we can eat. In some circumstances (namely when the food is high-quality and abundant), the same can go for dogs. Keep in mind that a German Shepherd has different dietary needs than a human.
To be clear, 5-6 days a week our dogs mostly get kibble. When we add non-processed food, it's mostly self-cooked meat and not necessarily raw.
Raw food additions to the menu are rather small and parasite-safe. Decent kibble allows you to balance the nutritional intake more easily, so if you don't have the time to research and experiment safely, just go with time-tested formulas. If you want to try raw dog food for your German Shepherd, talk to your vet first. Don't risk your dog's health by recklessly trying something new because it sounds healthy.
In this article, we’re going to outline the how’s and why's of feeding a German Shepherd a raw food diet. After reading this article you’ll be able to make a well-informed decision about whether or not you’re going to take your Shepherd onto a raw food diet. Keep in mind that we'll focus more on the raw food positives.
Remember, doing your own research is important but seeking the assistance of a veterinarian or a dog breeder can be immensely useful as well. If you are unsure of anything, don’t hesitate to seek out the assistance of a breeder.
Why Raw Dog Food?
By and large, the main reason that you would want to feed your dog a raw food diet is the same reason that you would want to eat raw food yourself: It is less processed. Processing food can affect its nutritional makeup in ways that are undesirable, resulting in food that is less healthy for you and your pup.
This is obviously more apparent in pre-packaged, highly processed foods—like dog food. While dog food may have the nutrients and ingredients listed, have no doubt in your mind that your dog would do much better off, and receive a higher nutritional count, if they were getting these foods raw (or at least cooked and processed at home).
In more modern terms, the thought behind a raw food diet is that by mimicking the diet that dogs ate in the wild, we can help them become more healthy. When dogs became domesticated, they also began to share some of the same food as humans. This led to the eventual marketing of mass-produced dog food.
The main reason that commercially processed dog food is so popular is not because it’s great for them. Sure, they’ll eat it, but the real reason most people buy it is because it’s convenient. Buying pre-made food takes the thought and effort out of having to develop a diet plan yourself.
The catch-22 is that you may not be providing your dog with as much nutrition and health as you could be. For example, corn is used as a common source of protein in dog food because it’s widely available and can eliminate the dog’s protein requirement. However, there are plenty of other sources of protein that are much higher in quality than corn.
Furthermore, some leading veterinarians have observed that commercially made dog food can contribute to the development of doggy diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and arthritis. No fun!
Benefits of Raw Dog Food for German Shepherds
The benefits of a raw dog food diet are similar to those that you would expect to see in humans. These include:
German Shepherds that are given a raw dog food diet are more likely to live longer, healthier lives than their counterparts who are eating commercial food. Raw food diets simply provide a more wholesome source of nutrients than processed food and allow your dog to absorb the nutrients more effectively.
Unless you're feeding your dog wet food, a raw dog food diet will probably be better able to keep them hydrated. Dry kibble is notorious for being very dehydrating, so feeding them wet or raw food will help to keep them hydrated.
There are a number of benefits that your dog might experience from eating a raw food diet. One of the reasons for this is because raw food diet tends to provide more fat and protein than your dog will get from eating commercial food. Furthermore, these fats and proteins will be of higher quality.
Remember, the guidelines laid out for canine nutrients only specify the minimum amount that the dog requires to avoid significant disease risk. Consuming a healthier diet will only further reduce the risk of disease. Here is an example of the differences between the average raw dog food diet and the nutritional averages that you will meet if you are feeding your dog commercial food. These guidelines are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
- Protein: AAFCO recommends 18-32%; raw diet could provide more than 50%
- Fat: AAFCO recommends 8-22%; raw diet could provide 25-30%
- Carbs: AAFCO recommends 46-74%; raw diet would provide 14%
One of the most important things to recognize about this is that the raw diet could provide your dog with significantly less refined carbohydrates than they would eat on an average commercial food diet. Modern research has discovered that refined carbohydrates are terrible for the body and for the digestive tract and can accelerate the development of various diseases. However, to be fair, some brands significantly reduced carbohydrates in their kibble.
If you feed your German Shepherd a raw food diet, it will become more aesthetically pleasing.
- Its coat will become shinier.
- It will have sparkling eyes and healthy teeth.
- Its skin will be well-nourished, stronger, and healthier.
- It will smell better and not need to be bathed as often.
- Its breath will smell better, as well.
What to Include in a Canine Raw Food Diet
In the wild, dogs are primarily carnivorous animals. Most of the vegetables that they would consume would be from the stomachs of herbivores that they eat.
Dogs and wolves (which are basically wild dogs) are known to eat the skin, organs, and even the bones of animals that they catch in the wild. These provide a significant source of important nutrients, such as fat and protein, as well as calcium.
One thing to point out is that dogs are not evolutionarily designed to digest raw vegetables. This is why they prefer to only eat pre-digested vegetables that are already sitting in the stomach of animals that they have caught themselves. If you try to include too many raw vegetables in your dog’s meals, they may simply turn them down.
In addition to feeding them animals that they could catch in the wild, such as cows, it’s a good idea to include other sources of nutrition.
- Other forms of protein, such as fish, can help to complement other animal proteins.
- Even though your dog might not enjoy eating raw vegetables, you can certainly process and puree some veggies for your dog to encourage them to eat them. Fruits and veggies provide necessary sustenance.
- Avoid onions, grapes, apple seeds, and any form of chocolate or caffeine. (No, your dog is not a vegetarian!)
The goal here is to provide a variety for your dog. It’s generally a good idea to provide them with about 75% animal products and 25% fruits and vegetables.
Preparing a Raw Food Dog Meal
One of the best ways to feed your German Shepherd dog a raw food diet is to prepare the food yourself. The best way to do this is through the whole carcass model. If you are squeamish were uncomfortable touching or cutting up meat, you may want to avoid this.
The whole carcass model includes all the different types of meat that your dog would be able to source from an animal that they caught in the wild: muscle meat, organs, and meaty bones. The bones provide extra sustenance as well as great chew toys for your pup.
Frequency and Quantity
Generally, you don’t need as much food when you’re feeding your dog a raw food diet. You should feed them about 2.5-3% of their body weight in food, so an 80-pound dog would need about two pounds of food.
Some say that you only need to feed your dog once a day when you’re giving them raw food. This allows time for the raw meat and bones to be properly absorbed and assimilated and discourages digestive issues. If your dog is obviously hungry, though, don’t hesitate to feed them snacks.
Precautions for a Raw Food Diet
There are a number of things to keep in mind before feeding your dog a raw food diet. While this is generally the healthier approach to feeding your dog, there are some dangers listed arise if you are not careful.
It's vitally important that you know where you get your meat from. In the wild, dogs would be catching wild, grass-fed animals. You will want to make sure that you can provide them with the same sort of sustenance.
You are probably already aware that factory-farmed meat is filled with hormones, and that unethical practices can taint the flavour of the meat. The dangers of this are well understood for humans, but your dog is even more sensitive. Make sure to get free-range, organically-fed meats for your dog only.
Even though raw food diets can provide a fantastic amount of nutrition for your dog, it can be useful to supplement their diet. One of the best supplements for dogs is omega-3 fatty acids supplements. These will help to keep their skin and hair in good quality and prevent the decline of their cognitive health.
Digestive enzymes are also important to supplement with. These will help your dog get accustomed to their new diet.
Bacteria and Parasites
Avoid feeding intestines and stomach to your dog. These are where parasites besides, and this could allow these parasites to take up residence in your dog.
Dogs are naturally equipped with bacterial fighting capabilities, however, it's still important to try to avoid buying grocery store meat and feeding this to your dog - Unless it is certified organic and grass-fed. There are commercial raw pet food producers who follow rigorous standards to provide bacteria-free meat for your dogs. When in doubt cook the meat and talk to your vet about how to avoid parasites.
Feeding your German Shepherd raw food or pure cooked meat can benefit your dog a lot. We give our dogs Royal Canin kibble most days, but a couple of days a week they also get some raw food and cooked meat.
Hopefully this article has helped you better understand how you can begin to feed your dog raw food. When in doubt talk to your vet before starting a different diet and don't be afraid to ask for help when you notice problems or weird changes in your dog. Don't let the health of your German Shepherd be dependent on luck.
- Stogdale L., One veterinarian’s experience with owners who are feeding raw meat to their pets, The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 2019.
- PedMD, Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and Risks, https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/raw-dog-food-dietary-concerns-benefits-and-risks
- Whitwam L., The German Shepherd Handbook: The Essential Guide For New and Prospective German Shepherd Owners 4th edition, 2020, 234p.
- Kearl M., Cooking For Your Dog: Do’s and Don’ts of Homemade Dog Food, akc, 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/cooking-for-your-dog-dos-and-donts/
- Janssens GPJ, Verlinden A., Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2006;46(3):259-73.
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.
© 2021 Sam Shepards