German shepherds are fabulous dogs, but to give your dog the best quality of life, understanding him and his breed is the very first step. What should you know about GSDs, and particularly their nutritional needs? Let’s take a closer look.
A Little Bit about the Breed
German Shepherds are medium to large working dogs. They are on average between 55-60cm (22-24in) tall in the female and 60-65cm (24-26in) tall in the male. Their weight varies from 22 to 40 kg (50 to 85lbs).
They are energetic, active dogs with a high intelligence level and are generally easily trainable. German Shepherds have a two-layer coat. The top coat is dense and close, and the undercoat is reasonably thick.
When choosing the best dog food for German Shepherds, it is important to ensure that they get all the nutritional requirements for this breed.
What to Look For In The Best Dog Food For German Shepherds
- Above average (30-40%) protein content as they are active dogs.
- German Shepherds sometimes have sensitive stomachs so the best dog food for German Shepherds should be free of all grains such as wheat, soya, and corn. Sometimes they will even show allergies to chicken.
- Reasonably high carbohydrate content, again because they are active dogs. They need complex, slow burning carbohydrates found in fruit and vegetables.
- Pre and/or probiotics for the sensitive stomachs.
- The addition of chondroitin and glucosamine would be good. They assist in joint health.
- They have thick coats, so omega-3 and omega-6 are required for healthy skin and shiny coats.
- High-calorie content, as these are large energetic dogs that need between 1800 and 2200 calories per day.
- At least average fat content to use as an energy booster.
- Added vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Preferably, the minerals should be chelated. This means that the minerals have been chemically bonded with amino acids for easier absorbability.
The best dog food for German Shepherds should take cognisance of the following requirements.
As German Shepherds are very active dogs, they need a high-calorie intake per day to sustain their energy level. A German Shepherd puppy needs about twice as many calories daily as an adult dog. As the dog gets older and less active, you must adjust his calorie intake to avoid overfeeding and weight gain.
Protein requirements for an active dog should be about 30% to 40% of the dog food for German Shepherds by weight. This proportion supplies all the protein requirements for this active breed and promotes the growth of strong, lean muscle.
Fats provide energy and are essential for a healthy coat and skin. The fat content of your best dog food for German Shepherds should be between 12% and 18%. Fatty acids are also essential for your German Shepherd’s cognitive function.
Carbs and Carb Sources
Carbohydrates were unlikely to be a natural part of the dog’s diet as dogs are carnivorous. However, carbs are high in fiber, which is essential for healthy bowel movements. German Shepherds are not as prone to carb allergies as other dogs, although having said that, German Shepherds can develop them over time.
Care should, therefore, be taken to check the source of the carbs in his dog food for German Shepherds. Wheat, corn, and soya should be avoided as these ingredients can cause allergies in dogs. The carbs should rather come from healthy vegetables such as sweet potato, peas, and brown rice.
Other Supplemental Ingredients
German Shepherds require all of the normal vitamins and minerals for nutritional health. Of special concern is the inclusion of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are particularly good for joint and bone health. Since these are often a problem in larger dogs, and particularly this breed, look out for these ingredients.
There was a fair amount of inbreeding during the German Shepherds initial development as a breed. The breeders were trying to entrench certain characteristics that would be ideal for this working dog, but unfortunately, this initial inbreeding makes them prone to certain health issues.
The most common health issue found in German Shepherds is elbow and hip dysplasia, which can cause pain and arthritis as the dog ages, hence the importance of glucosamine and chondroitin, which promote joint flexibility.
Degenerative myelopathy, a neurological disorder, is also quite common in German Shepherds. Luckily there is now a simple DNA test that can be done to look for the gene responsible for this disorder. Many breeders suggest that you do this test before purchasing your next German Shepherd.
German Shepherds also have a higher than normal propensity for bleeding disorders, as well as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency which is a degenerative disease of the pancreas.
Best Dog Foods for German Shepherds
When considering the best dog food for German Shepherds, we have chosen five dog foods to review. This should give you a good starting point for your own search.
1. ZiwiPeak Air-Dried Dog Cuisine Lamb Flavour
Best Dog Food For German Shepherds (Editor’s Choice)
This is rather an unusual dog food because of the following reasons:
The main difference from most commercial dry dog foods for German Shepherds is the limited number of ingredients and the air dried technology used in the manufacture of this dog food.
This dog food for German Shepherds is 90% meat and organs, with no grain or vegetable fillers.
The air dry technique is similar to the manufacture of beef jerky, or in this case, lamb jerky. It is what is known as a raw ingredient diet based on the wild prey diet theory. Let me say this again. The food is not cooked, but air dried, making it rather unique amongst best dog food for German Shepherds products.
This technique ensures that the meat is free of pathogens. Although lamb tripe, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys doesn’t sound very appetizing, dogs love it. The heart is pure muscle and is also rich in complex B vitamins. The kidney, liver, and lung are low in fat (good for weight control) but rich in many essential minerals and vitamins. These ingredients are added in small amounts for optimal benefit.
All ingredients are from New Zealand, and the lamb and lamb organs used in this dog food for German Shepherds are sourced from free-range, grass-fed lambs. The lamb has no antibiotics or growth hormones.
This is an innovative and substantially different use of the organs of the lambs to provide extra protein and fat.
The chicory inulin has prebiotic properties which assist in the dog’s digestion.
Chondroitin and glucosamine are very beneficial for joint health. This is particularly important for German Shepherds who are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. The New Zealand green mussels included in this recipe are excellent sources of chondroitin and glucosamine.
The dehydrated food still has a fair amount of moisture. There is no need to re-hydrate.
The ground up bone is a very good source of calcium.
- Balanced for all breeds and stages
- Concentrated formula means smaller portions
- 90% protein
- Limited ingredients
- Grain free
- Unique manufacturing method preserves nutritional value for all ingredients
- Limited packaging options
2. Nulo Freestyle Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food For German Shepherds
Calorie and Energy Requirements
The principal energy and calorie enhancing ingredients in this recipe are lamb, lamb meal, turkey meal and salmon meal. Lamb is a high quality, named, single source protein that provides all the physical maintenance requirements for your active German Shepherd.
The turkey, lamb and salmon meal are known as meat concentrates and as such are a far more concentrated source of protein than the original source (up to 300% more).
Essential fatty acids are provided by chicken fat and salmon meal. Salmon meal is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and chicken fat (made by rendering the cast-off pieces of chicken left over from commercial operations) is high in linoleic acid which is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. These two ingredients are essential for a shiny coat and healthy skin, and also necessary for the dog’s cognitive functions.
Carbs are supplied by yellow peas, chickpeas, and sweet potato. Peas are an excellent source of carbohydrates, and sweet potato is a gluten-free, complex carbohydrate that provides high levels of dietary fiber. Peas have about 22% vegetable protein, so this might skew the overall protein content slightly.
Essential Vitamins and Minerals
Added vitamin and minerals supplements include vitamin A, B1 B6 and B12, C, D, and E, as well as zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, niacin, copper proteinate and choline chloride. This recipe is also rich in added fruits and vegetable including blueberries, apples, tomatoes, and carrots. These ingredients provide extra flavour and valuable anti-oxidants essential for the dog’s immune system.
This recipe also has probiotics in the form of dried Bacillus coagulans fermentation product. This ingredient promotes the growth of intestinal flora which is essential for the dog’s digestion.
The protein content of this formula is 31%, and the fat content is 17%, well within the range for this breed of dog.
- High protein content from named, single source
- Grain free
- Probiotics and anti-oxidants
- One of the more expensive dog foods for German Shepherds
3. Natural Ultramix Adult Dry Dog Food Chicken and Sweet Potato Flavour
The Most Important Ingredients
The most important ingredient in the best dog food for German Shepherds is the protein. What is it and where does it come from? Ideally, the chief source of protein should be a named, single source and not just “meat” which could be anything from roadkill to decomposed abattoir leftovers.
In this case, the protein is provided by chicken, chicken meal and turkey meal. Some experts consider chicken to be the second choice as a source of protein as some dogs are allergic to chicken and chicken by-products such as chicken meal. However, if your dog is not allergic, chicken can provide an excellent source of protein.
The chicken meal and turkey meal are concentrates and as such are much higher in protein than the raw product. The other disadvantage of chicken is its high moisture content (up to 80%) which disappears in the cooking process, altering the overall protein content. However, chicken is gentle on sensitive stomachs.
Fats and Carbs
The carbohydrates in this recipe are supplied by milo, oats, barley and brown rice. Milo is another name for sorghum. It is gluten-free and is considered to be a quality non-meat ingredient.
Barley and oats are considered good sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
Once brown rice is cooked it is more easily digestible and is a complex carbohydrate with adequate energy content and some fiber but of little nutritional value.
Fats are supplied by chicken fat (rendered from the leftovers of commercial chicken operations) and salmon meal. These two ingredients supply essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are essential for a shiny coat and healthy skin and for the dog’s cognitive functions. Salmon meal is also a meat concentrate.
Essential minerals and vitamins are adequately present in this formula and include vitamin A, B12, D and E, and zinc amino acid complex, zinc sulfate, iron amino acid complex, manganese amino acid complex, copper amino acid complex, potassium iodide, cobalt amino acid complex and sodium selenite.
Probiotics are supplied by dried Lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product amongst others. Probiotics help to maintain intestinal flora.
This formula contains brewer’s yeast which is somewhat of a controversial ingredient. It is considered by some to be an excellent source of minerals and other nutrients. Others, however, are concerned about the allergenic possibilities of yeast and the likelihood of promoting bloat, a serious condition in dogs.
Anti-oxidants, essential as an aid to the immune system, are present in the form of dried sweet potatoes, dried carrots, and dried bananas. These ingredients also serve as flavour enhancers.
- Named, single source protein
- Grain free
- Probiotics and anti-oxidants
- No artificial colours or flavours and no preservatives
- Chicken is a possible allergen
- Moderate protein content
4. Earthborn Holistic Great Plains Feast Grain-Free Dry Dog Food For German Shepherds
The Top Five Ingredients
Bison Meal: You might be tempted to think that bison meal is less valuable that the raw bison itself. However, raw bison contains a lot of moisture which is lost in the cooking process. The bison meal is a meat concentrate which has already been cooked and contains up to 300% more protein than the raw original source. As this is the first ingredient on the list it makes this formula rich in a named, single source protein.
Pea Protein: Once the starch content of peas have been removed, pea protein is what is left. The protein content of this ingredient is about 80%. It should be noted. However, that plant-based protein is not as easily digestible as meat based protein. Dog food manufacturers often use a plant based protein such as peas to boost the protein content without adding more meat. It is not harmful for your dog, just a cheaper alternative to meat based protein.
Tapioca: Tapioca is extracted from the root of the cassava plant and is gluten-free, non-GMO and non-toxic. Tapioca is high in starch and is more easily digestible than other alternatives such as wheat and corn. It does not have great nutritional value but does provide necessary calories for your active German Shepherd.
Dried Egg Product: This is a highly digestible nutritional ingredient in this product and boosts the protein content. The only worry about this ingredient is the source of the eggs. Manufacturers often use eggs that have failed to hatch from commercial hatcheries.
Canola Oil: Canola oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids but unfortunately not as easily digestible as an animal based source like fish oil. There is also a possibility that the oil came from genetically modified rapeseed, which is considered by some to not be absolutely kosher.
The Not so Notable Ingredients
Once you get down this low on the list of ingredients, the quantities can be quite negligible. No matter how negligible, these ingredients deserve a few comments.
Flaxseed: Flaxseed is one of the best sources of plant based omega-3 fatty acids, essential for a healthy skin and shiny coat. If the flaxseed has been ground into a meal, it is a valuable source of digestible fibre.
Lamb Meal: Lamb meal is also a meat concentrate and as noted earlier, is higher in protein than the original raw ingredient.
Pea Fibre: Pea fibre contains both soluble and non-soluble fibre and apart from the benefits of the fibre is of little nutritional value for your dog. Pea fibre is often used by manufacturers in grain free dog food as an alternative to other grain based fillers like wheat and corn, which have been known to cause allergies in dogs.
Dried Fermentation Products: Fermentation products such as dried enterococcus faecium fermentation product are sources of valuable enzymes that assist in your dog’s digestion.
Chelated Minerals: Chelated minerals are minerals that have been chemically bonded to amino acids. This makes the minerals more easily absorbable for your dog.
Vitamins: Valuable vitamins such as vitamin A, B12, C, D, and E have been added to the formula.
- Chicken, gluten, and grain free
- High named, single source protein content
- Contains anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids
- Crumbly kibble
5. Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch Grain-Free Dry Dog Food For German Shepherds
Unlike dog food for German Shepherds number 4 already reviewed above, this recipe from the same manufacturer uses fish as the main source of protein, instead of bison. The fish ingredients are presented as herring meal, salmon meal and whitefish meal.
Meal, whether made from fish or other animal sources of protein, is far more concentrated than the original ingredient and contains up to 300% more protein per weight. The meal has already been cooked before been added and therefore does not suffer from moisture loss like the original ingredient. This is particularly true of chicken which contains up to 80% moisture.
The protein content is 32% which is well within the range suggested for large active breeds like the German Shepherd.
The main sources of carbohydrates are potato and peas (ingredients 2 and 3). Both are excellent sources of calories with the added advantage of peas also been reasonably high in plant based protein (up to 28%). Although plant-based protein is not as easily digestible as animal based protein, it is definitely beneficial for your dog and will boost the protein content of this recipe.
Other carbohydrates present are sweet potato and tapioca.
Fats are supplied by canola oil and flaxseed. As mentioned earlier canola oil and flaxseed (plant based sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) are not as good a supplier of essential fatty acids as animal-based sources such as fish.
This recipe has the added benefit of fish as the principal source of protein and along with the protein, we also find excellent sources of fatty acids. Fat analysis is given as 18%, again within the range necessary for your German Shepherd.
This recipe is also rich in extra vegetables such as apples, blueberries, carrots, spinach, and cranberries. These are valuable sources of anti-oxidants and are regarded as adding extra flavour.
There are essential vitamin and mineral supplements providing all the required nutrients for your German Shepherd.
An interesting addition to this recipe is L-carnitine which assists in the conversion of body fat to lean muscle and energy, which is very good for your German Shepherd’s weight control.
- The main ingredient, fish, supplies both protein and essential fatty acids
- Grain free
- No preservatives
- Probiotics and anti-oxidants
- This dog food for German Shepherds received excellent customer reviews, with no negative comments
A Brief History of the Breed
German Shepherds are a relatively modern breed. In the middle to late 19th century, there were many different kinds of working dogs in Germany, specifically for herding sheep. There was a movement in Germany at that time to standardize the many different breeds.
One of the leading lights in this movement was Count Max von Stephanitz who was introduced to a dog called Hektor Linksrhein. This particular dog so fulfilled all of the requirements of the ideal sheep herding dog that the Count bought him immediately. This dog became the original German Shepherd Dog.
An interesting footnote: After World War 1 there was a so much anti-German sentiment in England and other Allied countries that the breed’s name was changed to Alsatian. Today, these two names are interchangeable.
Characteristics of the Breed
German Shepherds were originally bred as working dogs, principally as sheepherders. They are highly intelligent and are easily trainable. They are very loyal and get along well with families, especially children, becoming very protective once they have bonded with the family.
Many breeders have noted the necessity of socializing the German Shepherd to humans and other dogs, early in its life. Failure to do this might result in a dog that is possessive and aggressive. They have a keen sense of smell and can remain focused while working. They are very strong, athletic dogs that require a great deal of attention from their owners.
Because of these characteristics they make excellent guard and sniffer dogs and are often used as guide dogs for the blind. They are also used by police forces worldwide as attack and sniffer dogs. They can be trained to sniff for drugs, explosives, accelerants, and cadavers, amongst other things.
How Much Food Should You Feed Your German Shepherd
The amount of food that you feed your German Shepherd will depend entirely on the stage of development of the dog. It will also depend, to a large extent, on how active the dog is. You wouldn’t feed a puppy the same as an elderly dog. Let’s take a look at the different stages, and levels of activity.
Puppies need about twice as many calories per day per body mass as an adult dog. The average would be about 40 calories per pound per day. The average puppy is about 10lbs, hence 400 calories per day. Puppies are very active, and they are doing an enormous amount of growing in a short space of time. That is why they require so much per day.
The puppy should suckle for approximately 4-8 weeks. From 4 weeks to 6 months you should transition to wet dog food for German Shepherds or a mixture of wet and dry. After six months you can slowly work towards dry food for German Shepherds only.
The Adult Dog
As we have emphasised over and over, German Shepherds are active and intelligent dogs. They have to be exercised regularly and ideally stimulated mentally in some way. The average adult German Shepherd weights between 65 and 80 pounds and they need about 20 calories per pound (1400-1600 per day).
However, this will depend very much on what the dog does every day. A dog that lies in the sun all day will probably be happy with 20 calories per pound. An active working dog, such as police sniffer dog, or just a boisterous farm dog, will be far more active. It would need between 30 and 40 calories per pound.
The Old Dog
As your dog ages, he or she will become less and less active, and levels will slowly fall back to 20, or even below. German Shepherds are very good self-regulators, but you will still have to watch the intake carefully to avoid the dog getting overweight.
An elderly dog, they live on average 10 years, will be more prone to certain ailments. Trouble with the joints is very common amongst German Shepherds. Care should then be taken to ensure that the correct supplements are provided, in this case, chondroitin and glucosamine.
A diet that is high in protein and low in fat, with not too many carb fillers, is ideal for your German Shepherd.
German Shepherds are extremely loyal, protective and intelligent dogs. They are also very active and can sometimes have sensitive stomachs. Your choice of best dog food for German Shepherds should be based on the guidelines mentioned above.
Be aware of their high energy needs and keep them active and occupied and you will have a loyal friend. German Shepherds have rather specific needs, and you will surely be rewarded with a happy and contented dog once you’ve found the best dog food for your German Shepherd.