German Shepherds are excellent family dogs, but they’re also bred to have a job. Experienced handlers and breeders of this dog agree that while these dogs fit in well with families of all sizes, they don’t fully thrive unless they’re given a job to occupy their minds. They’re naturally athletic, powerful, and driven, and when their bodies are designed this way, German Shepherds are in need of a very high quality diet. Athletic breeds should be given a quality diet, but what components are the most important isn’t always common knowledge among the average dog owner.
The Building Blocks of Quality German Shepard Nutrition
There are a few different aspects of your German Shepherd’s health that their nutrition needs to adequately meet: size, energy, and joint health. What kind of nutrients does the breed need to meet all of these needs?
German Shepard Protein Requirements
Protein is the most necessary macronutrient in all dogs regardless of their breed, but it’s especially important in German Shepherds. There are a few things to consider in terms of protein however:
- What’s the correct ratio of protein?
- What kind of protein is best? Is there a “best” type?
In terms of feeding the right ratio, the amount varies depending on your dog’s age and activity level. More active dogs (i.e. younger dogs or working shepherds) need more protein than an older sedentary dog, so if you’re unsure what category your dog falls in, your vet is the best source of information.
The average adult German Shepherd without any health conditions, joint disorders, or a lazy lifestyle thrives on a food that has a protein content of 22 to 24 percent. Some dog foods go up to 31 percent protein, but these are typically expensive, hard to find, or a form of raw diet (more below). That much protein isn’t nutritionally necessary unless there are some extenuating circumstances, but you should run higher amounts by your veterinarian. Too much protein is bad for the kidneys and can create a host of serious health problems.
What’s the best kind of protein? The majority of commercial dog foods have foods that consist mostly of chicken or chicken byproduct. This isn’t necessarily a bad form of protein, but there are better choices, especially if your German Shepherd has a history of food sensitivities. Grains are high on the allergy list, but chicken is, too, so a lot of owners skip chicken altogether and go straight for other protein sources like fish. You can even get exotic and find brands that have ostrich, boar, or even kangaroo in their recipes!
German Shepard Carbohydrates Requirements
Carbohydrates are essential for energy. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates in dog foods are usually corn or soy. Food brands found in grocery stores use these as cheap fillers, and while they aren’t necessarily “bad” for your dog, they’re the equivalent of eating white bread instead of whole grains. Simple carbs are easy to metabolize and are a quick source of energy, but the energy is short-lived and followed by a crash.
Higher end foods use complex carbs to bulk their food’s nutrition. Corn or soy may be present, but they’re present in much smaller amounts than they are in lower quality foods. Instead, higher quality foods use things like sweet potatoes or brown rice as carbs. Complex carbs still provide the necessary energy for your dog, but they don’t have the crash after a short burst of energy.
German Shepard Fats Requirements
Fat is not a bad word in terms of canine nutrition, especially if your German Shepherd is very active. Fats play a few vital roles in body function. First, in order to have a healthy coat and skin, your dog needs essential fatty acids. Second, fat supports joint health. More commercial food blends are adding essential fatty acids to help support healthy joints. Finally, fatty acids are crucial for various organ functions, especially the brain. Ensuring your growing German Shepherd puppy is getting enough fat ensures healthy brain development.
Healthy fats come in a few forms. First, don’t think all fat is equal because it isn’t. There are plenty of foods that provide unhealthy fats, so don’t think this is permission to share your meat trimmings with your German Shepherd. Good fats come from things like fish, flax, and coconut oil. Always consult with your veterinarian before you supplement their diet to avoid causing digestive upset.
A Note About Feeding a Raw Diet to German Shepards
A lot of internet sources and breeders suggest a raw diet for breeds like German Shepherds. You can’t argue with the fact that wild dogs are healthy because they’re eating a diet that consists mostly of raw meat and organs, but this diet is very difficult and expensive to recreate in a domestic setting. Wild dogs like wolves eat a varied assortment of animals and organ meats, and this can only be recreated so much by humans.
As hard as many owners try, many dogs on a raw diet end up malnourished. Whether they aren’t getting enough organ meats, raw bones, or a balance of vitamins and minerals not found in the food they’re getting, this diet has the potential to be more unhealthy than a cheap, low-quality food.
If you’re set on providing a raw diet for your German Shepherd, be prepared to spend well over $500 a month to feed them properly. You will also need to invest a ton of time into it as well to ensure proper food preparation and safety. Always work closely with a veterinarian experienced in raw diets, and if you live near a university or specialty hospital with a nutritionist on staff, that’s all the better for your dog. Done well, a raw diet helps dogs thrive, but finding the balance of “healthy” and “substantial” is incredibly difficult for the layperson.
German Shepherds have very high energy requirements, and like any athlete, their diet is the biggest tool in helping fuel their bodies. Any nutrition questions should be directed to their veterinarian, especially if you’re putting your Shepherd to work or they’re getting ready to retire.