Being the responsible owner of a German Shepherd comes down to a lot more than just giving your dog enough love and exercise. A proper diet is essential to a GSD’s health, and it is up to you to ensure that your dog is getting the food that it needs.
The best way to ensure that your German Shepherd grows up to be a healthy and vibrant dog is to make sure that you begin feeding it properly when it is a puppy.
It’s essential to make sure that your puppy’s food is well-balanced with the appropriate mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Here we will take a look at some GSD feeding and nutrition essentials, as well as some of the drawbacks of neglecting to feed your GSD a proper diet.
Feeding your GSD puppy for optimum health and nutrition not only requires feeding on the correct schedule, but just like with humans, their food must contain a few essential macronutrients.
Also similar to humans, proteins fuel the building of essential muscles while carbohydrates provide the energy to put those muscles to good use for your puppy. And fats provide flavor, energy, and they promote the absorption of minerals in your puppy.
- Protein: Look for puppy food that has a dry matter protein content of at least 31%. All top-quality brands will reach this standard, and anything less will be insufficient for your growing puppy.
- Fat: A lean diet is important for German Shepherd puppies. Fat levels in your puppy’s food should never be higher than 15%.
- Carbohydrates: Your GSD puppy’s food should be comprised of between 40% and 50% carbohydrates. Your puppy has a lot of energy, and a high level of carbs is necessary to keep it as active as it needs to be.
- Fat-To-Protein Ratio: The right balance is essential for your puppy’s optimal development. Look for a food that contains a fat-to-protein ratio of approximately 47% – approximate because to give or take a few percent on either side of this is perfectly acceptable and healthy for your puppy.
As your puppy is growing it will need a lot of protein in its diet. While puppies do need more protein than an adult dog, too much protein can be a bad thing. It can result in calcium and phosphorus imbalances which can then lead to adverse joint and bone development.
The most common proteins in puppy food are:
- Fish meal
- Plant-based proteins
- Corn Gluten
As previously mentioned, carbohydrates provide much-needed energy for your puppy. It converts carbohydrates to sugar which is then used to fuels your puppy’s daily escapades. They mostly come from cereal grains which are cooked just to the point that your puppy can easily absorb them.
The most common carbohydrates in puppy food are:
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat
- Whole corn
Contrary to popular belief, just as with humans, fat is not always an unhealthy thing. In fact, your puppy requires a certain amount of fat to aid in the absorption of vitamins and also to maintain a healthy coat.
The most common fats in puppy food are:
- Pork fat
- Chicken fat
- Cottonseed oil
- Vegetable oil
- Soybean oil
- Fish oil
- Safflower oil
Vitamins and minerals
Not to be overlooked, essential vitamins and minerals are an important part of a growing puppy’s diet. For example, vitamin A helps to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, while vitamin E helps to support your puppy’s immune system.
Minerals serve as a complement to vitamins and help to ensure healthy general function of your puppy’s overall physiology.
Essential vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-12
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Essential minerals include:
Green foods and fruit
It’s important to also be aware that just because a food may be healthy for you, it does not mean that it is good for your GSD’s health. So keep in mind that “table scraps” covers a lot more than just a chunk of meat – it also includes certain fruits and vegetables.
For more detailed information about what not to feed your GSD, take a look at this post.
Remember that German Shepherds are first and foremost carnivores. Their digestive systems are not adequately equipped to handle the consumption and processing of leaves and bulbs, whether cooked or not. However, there are some fruits and green vegetables that are actually good for your GSD in small quantities.
Here are some fruits and vegetables which are safe for your GSD to consume:
- brussels sprouts
- green beans
- Apples are a source of vitamins A and C.
- Bananas are high in useful potassium for your dog.
- Blueberries will go a long way toward preventing cell damage.
- Brocolli is low in fat and high in fiber.
- Brussel sprouts are low in fat and contain vitamins A, C, B1 and B6.
- Cantaloupe is high in fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6, niacin, and folate
- Carrots are high in fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and they’re also great for teething puppies and dental health in general. Try them frozen.
- Celery is high in fiber and especially good if your dog is overweight.
- Cranberries are safe to give to your dog, but whether or not your dog can stand the tartness is another story.
- Cucumbers are low in sodium and fat, and dogs seem to love the juicy crunch they get from eating them.
- Green beans contain vitamins B6, A, C, and K, as well as protein, iron, and calcium. One of the healthier snacks of the bunch.
- Mangos are fine as long as you keep the seed away from your dog. No need to peel the skin either, as it’s perfectly edible for your dog.
- Oranges are a sweet and safe treat. Just be aware of their high sugar content.
- Peaches are another sweet treat, just make sure to stay away from canned peaches – and never give your dog the pit, as it can choke on it.
- Pears have lots of fiber and vitamins A and C.
- Peas like green beans are among the healthiest snacks for your dog – lots of vitamins and also zinc, potassium, iron, and magnesium.
- Pineapples are full of vitamins and minerals and are great to freeze and feed to your dog as a reward on a hot summer day. One of the healthiest fruits you can give to your dog.
- Raspberries have vitamin B, copper, folic acid, magnesium and are also great for dogs in need of losing weight.
- Strawberries have lots of fiber and vitamin C, and are also great for your dog’s immune system.
- Watermelons are low calorie and great for hydrating your dog – but make sure that you remove the seeds and discard the rind. Seeds are a choking hazard and the rinds can cause an upset stomach.
How often should you feed a German Shepherd puppy?
8-10 Weeks: A German Shepherd puppy at this age should be fed approximately 4 times per day. 3 times worked best with one of my dogs, but 4 is the number that has most often worked best.
The 3 times per day feeding was because my dog was a bit smaller than average – but for a large GSD, 4 times per day is more appropriate. My puppies’ feeding schedules were usually:
- 7 am
- 12 pm
- 4 pm
- 7 pm
These times do not have to be exact but are intended as a general guideline that will work for most GSDs.
12-13 Weeks: When a German Shepherd reaches the age of about 12 or 13 weeks old, it’s time to curb their feeding schedule to 3 times per day. The reason being that their metabolism is changing, and a 4 time per day feeding schedule may result in the puppy gaining unnecessary weight.
4 Months and Beyond: Subsequent to that – when the German Shepherd puppy is about four months old – it will then serve you well to cut feeding of your dog back to about 2 meals a day.
Beware of feeding table scraps
Once you have established a pattern of feeding for your GSD, it’s very important that you stick with it. Avoid the temptation to hand out snacks to your dog, no matter how much they may try to convince you that they are starving and need more food.
Feeding your dog table scraps not only interrupts your dog’s eating schedule, they are also mostly unhealthy for your dog, and doing so can adversely affect your dog’s physical development.
And you also run the real risk of creating an expectation in your dog, which may lead to it becoming a picky eater. Anyone who has ever owned a dog that is a picky eater can attest that it’s not a circumstance that you want to occur if you can avoid it.
If you have established an eating pattern for your dog and it is still really begging you for more food then it’s time to consult with your veterinarian, as there may be some underlying health issue causing the dog’s excess hunger.
Know when you are feeding your German Shepherd puppy too much
While not every puppy owner is overly keen to do it, you can tell a lot just by examining your puppy’s stool.
Doing so can give you a more clear handle on how often you should be feeding your German Shepherd puppy and how much it should be consuming during the course of the day. If a GSD puppy has too much food to process through its digestive system, it will begin to show in its stools.
Soft or wet stool is a good indication that there is too much food for the puppy to digest or process through the digestive system.
If your puppy’s stool is consistently solid and does not cause your puppy to overexert itself while going potty, this is a good indication that you are striking the proper balance in terms of how much food you are feeding your puppy.
Even if you feel that your puppy is too skinny, do not dramatically increase its food intake. Do so gradually, and keep an eye on the consistency of their stools to give you an idea of how much of their increased food intake is actually being retained.
You can give your dog a bone
Bones can be a great supplement to a GSD puppy’s diet. They are high in minerals and other nutrients that will help to satisfy your puppy’s appetite.
Chewing on a bone also helps to stimulate saliva enzymes and to prevent the buildup of plaque – which also helps to prevent gum disease. Also, bones, in essence, keep your dog constructively occupied.
It is, however, critical to make sure that you are giving your dog the right kind of bone to chew on, as the wrong kind of bone can pose a serious danger to its health.
I recommend always using raw meat bones for your dog. This is because cooked bones not only lack the nutrients of raw bones because they have mostly been cooked away, but they tend to splinter easily when chewed on and can easily stick into your dog’s mouth, throat, or even its intestines.
Make sure that when you give your dog a bone that the size of it is appropriate to the size of your dog. The bone should always be larger than the length of your dog’s mouth. This will prevent your dog from swallowing it – this happens more than you may think.
German Shepherds, poor diets and obesity
While the topic of obesity is ever-present in the lives of people, it is also an important consideration to take into account when it comes to your GSDs diet.
Obesity is defined by an excess in body fat for both humans and dogs. And the condition also poses similar health risks to both.
These risks are well documented in a number of studies conducted on the association between the life-span and body condition of dogs. That includes this study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine.
Risk of premature death
A key finding is that the risk of death increases in dogs that are overweight. The report states, in part:
instantaneous risk of death for dogs in overweight body condition was greater than those in normal body conditionJ Vet Intern Med. 2019 Jan-Feb; 33(1): 89–99.
In dogs, just as in people, arthritis causes instability in bones that causes improper movement. This then leads to cartilage rubbing away until it is completely gone. And the final result is bone rubbing against bone when cartilage is no longer present to serve its intended function.
This is an extremely painful experience for your dog. And the cause of it can often be traced to poor diet and insufficient exercise. So make sure that your dog is not only eating the appropriate amount of food, but that it is also getting the exercise needed to make efficient use of the caloric content of the food as well.
German Shepherds and food allergies
Dogs that develop food allergies are most often allergic to just one component in their diet, and that is most often proteins. Food allergies do not develop overnight, but instead, take time to show themselves through noticeable symptoms
The most common way to determine if your GSD is allergic to any food that it’s eating is if you notice out of season itching. This can be localized like on its ears or paws, but it can also present as a whole body itch for no apparent reason.
The only way to diagnose a food allergy is by introduction of a hypoallergenic dog food for a length of time, typically 8-10 weeks. Then if the symptoms disappear, the original suspect food is reintroduced to see if the allergy returns. If it does, then there will be a step by step process of adding proteins to the hypoallergenic food to see which exact protein is the cause of the allergy.
This is, just as it sounds, not the fastest or most simple undertaking. Therefore, if you do suspect that your dog has a food allergy, your veterinarian is the best person to lead you and your dog through this process.
Should a German Shepherd eat home-cooked meals?
The best meal any animals, or even humans, can consume is something that has been prepared at home. It is likely to be fresher than any canned or packaged stuff that you find in the store.
However, most dog owners are not adequately equipped or willing to deal with the complications that preparing home-cooked meals present. And because of the importance of your GSD getting all of the nutrients that it needs, this is not something that you should undertake unless you are adequately informed and fully prepared to do so.
It’s important that you weigh the pros and cons of producing home-cooked meals to your dog’s diet. That extends well beyond just diet, although that is naturally the most important consideration to make.
1. You need to know what you are doing.
Cooking a home-cooked meal for your dog isn’t about what you think is best. To prepare a meal that actually fits within your dog’s nutritional requirements is actually an exact science. Using your best judgment is not appropriate here.
If you do choose to make homecooked meals for your dog, it can be of great benefit to it. Just make sure that you consult with a dog nutritionist to guide you along the way and to provide you with exact recipes to feed to your dog.
Unless you are prepared to do this, or you have extensive knowledge of your dog’s nutritional requirements, it’s best for your dog that you stick with high-quality store-bought food.
2. Can you afford it?
Simply put, cooking a nutritionally complete diet for your dog at home is not cheap, and significantly more expensive than even the highest quality dog food. You can’t beat the low cost of mass production.
Ingredients like meat are not cheap and the serving requirements pound for pound are much higher than they are for a person. Also, home-cooked meals for your dog will require supplements in addition to basic store-bought ingredients, adding to the cost even more.
You can realistically look at this expense like feeding another person with expensive tastes. If you are financially prepared to do that, then perhaps home-cooked meals for your GSD are something that you may want to consider.
We love to watch and contribute to our dogs’ enjoyment in life, and providing your puppy with a complete and high-quality diet is essential for it to have a vibrant puppyhood and beyond.
You want your German Shepherd to live a long, healthy and happy life – and its diet contributes significantly to this outcome. Your dog brings you immeasurable happiness, and it’s up to you to return the favor to your dog’s well-being.
So take the time to be selective of the foods that you include in its diet and make informed choices. Your puppy will thank you.