Few dog breeds are as versatile as the keenly intelligent German shepherd dog. No other breed can so seamlessly transition from loveable buddy to awe-inspiring protector.
No matter whether your German shepherd is a working dog or a beloved pet. This breed requires specific care and nutrition from their dog food for proper development and health. The breed is commonly plagued with hip and elbow dysplasia, spinal disorders, heart disease, and digestive issues. Making a high-quality, well-balanced diet is critical to their wellbeing.
To eliminate some of the guesswork, we have compiled this guide to the best dog food for German shepherds.
- 1 Our top pick for best adult dog food for German shepherd dogs:
- 2 Our second pick for best adult dog food for German shepherd dogs:
- 3 Our third pick for best dog food for German shepherds:
- 4 Our fourth pick for best dog food for German shepherds (for all life stages):
Our top pick for best adult dog food for German shepherd dogs:
Blue Buffalo outpaces the competition with an impressive amount of glucosamine and chondroitin in their large-breed dry dog food. Rivaled only by our second top pick, Royal Canin German Shepherd Adult. BB wins out from a purely economic standpoint because price matters when you are feeding a large-breed dog!
This adult dog food is a fantastic option for German shepherd dogs because the specific formulation addresses key breed issues:
- Muscle development and maintenance — Lamb is not only a healthy source of lean protein, but also easy on sensitive stomachs. Supplementary L-carnitine is an amino acid that improves energy metabolism and helps with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
- Maximum joint health — With 700 parts per million (ppm) glucosamine and 550 ppm chondroitin, as well as fish meal, fish oil, and flax seed for additional omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, this is an excellent food for skin and coat health.
- Proper digestion and absorption — Lamb, fish, whole grain brown rice, and oats are soothing, digestible ingredients in this dog food.
WHAT WE LIKE: This food is also available in chicken, whitefish, weight management, senior, and puppy formulas.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Owners complain that their dogs refuse to eat the small, dark pieces that contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals—resulting in potentially missed nutrition and wasted money.
Our second pick for best adult dog food for German shepherd dogs:
Royal Canin diets are backed by scientific research, not the latest fads. Although many consumers have become attached to grain-free and meat first as measurement standards for pet food, true nutritional efficacy is based on the ingredient’s performance inside the dog—not human perceptions.
This Royal Canin dry food is tailor-made for German shepherd dogs and provides for complete health—from the pH balance of German shepherds’ skin to their delicate, bloat-prone digestive system, this recipe includes plenty of EPA and DHA and an exclusive blend of skin and coat nutrients.
Royal Canin studies the entire dog, down to their chewing method, to design a precise kibble shape and ensure slower meal consumption—which may reduce the risk of bloat (i.e., gastric dilatation-volvulus).
WHAT WE LIKE: High levels of glucosamine and chondroitin lubricate your shepherd’s joints and spine, and reduce osteoarthritis.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The cost—but, if the food reduces veterinary fees, you may save money and heartache in the long run.
Our third pick for best dog food for German shepherds:
Another mobility-focused, research-driven adult dog food, this large-breed diet focuses on bone and joint health while staying gentle on the stomach. The moderate amount of protein and fat makes this diet ideal for senior German shepherds and those with average energy levels.
Cartilage health is important to protect dogs from, and support dogs with, hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as spinal disorders—the vertebral column needs to bend and flex to prevent injury. Hill’s packs this dry food with natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin, vitamins and minerals for bone health, and deboned chicken, brown rice, and chicken fat for healthy muscles and steady energy.
WHAT WE LIKE: Hill’s provides large-breed dogs with an economical mobility diet that means owners do not have to buy additional joint supplements.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: The chicken and corn in this diet may be reactive for German shepherds with skin sensitivities.
Our fourth pick for best dog food for German shepherds (for all life stages):
This premium dog food for all life stages is specifically for highly active and athletic dogs. The protein content is an impressive 30 percent, with 20 percent fat content for fast energy delivery to power your German shepherd’s muscles. At more than 400 calories per cup, this is a high octane dog food, and therefore not appropriate for an average dog.
The Hi-Pro Plus recipe contains USA-sourced chicken, beef, fish, and pork in a diet that, according to the company, is 88 percent animal protein. While Hi-Pro Plus is not grain-free, the brand is free of gluten grains, corn, wheat, and soy—the most common grain allergens.
Hi-Pro incorporates prebiotics and probiotics to improve digestion, but introduce this food to your German Shepherd dog gradually. Foods with a high protein concentration may be too rich for some dogs and lead to discomfort and diarrhea.
WHAT WE LIKE: The company is committed to using only USA-sourced ingredients.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: This food is great for keeping weight on active dogs, but portion control is necessary if your shepherd slows down.
Our best pick for best puppy food for German shepherds:
Growing up can be stressful, but with an easy-to-digest formula of high-quality salmon and gentle carbohydrates (i.e., rice, barley, and oatmeal), your puppy receives maximum nutrient absorption every time with this food.
This diet will support your puppy’s skin and coat health right from the start, and provide a dermatologic defense of oily salmon, fish oil, Vitamin A, and sunflower oil, that will help ensure a strong, shiny hair coat. The DHA-rich fish oil also ensures healthy brain and eye development.
WHAT WE LIKE: Pro Plan’s ratio of calcium and phosphorus supports an appropriate rate of growth for large-breed puppies.
WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: This food is labeled for puppies only up to 12 months old, and since German shepherds aren’t finished growing until much later, finding a second puppy food will be necessary.
Nutrition for German shepherd puppies
German shepherd puppies grow like weeds, and their nutrition must be carefully selected to ensure those long bones develop at the proper rate. Follow these recommendations:
- Always purchase puppy food labeled specifically for large-breed puppies. Regular puppy food contains an excessive amount of calcium, which can impact proper bone growth.
- Ensure that the label states “including large-breed puppies.” Stating only “all life stages” is not sufficient.
- Never supplement additional calcium to your growing puppy.
- Don’t jump to the latest trendy food, or a high protein, high fat diet, because a puppy’s developing digestive system needs gentle food. Maintain consistent nutrition with a well-balanced large-breed puppy food until your veterinarian recommends a switch.
- Maintain your German shepherd puppy on puppy food until their growth plates close, which may be as late as 12 to 18 months of age.
Nutrition for adult German shepherd dogs
Your adult German shepherd should be fed a well-balanced diet with a label stating the food meets or exceeds AAFCO nutrient profiles. Ideally, your shepherd’s food should be backed by research and manufacturer feeding trials. Whole food ingredients you can recognize are also an assurance of quality food.
Grain-free and exotic meat diets have surged in popularity, but are now under fire for contributing to dilated cardiomyopathy in a variety of breeds. Talk to your veterinarian before beginning a grain-free diet, to determine the risks versus benefits.
Food your German Shepherd should not eat
Learn to read labels, and avoid any product that contains the following ingredients:
- Artificial colors or flavors
- Artificial preservatives, which are often listed as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin
- Vague descriptions, such as “meat” meal
- Sugars or xylitol
- Foods with added hormones or antibiotics
- Ingredients sourced from China
Never feed your dog any of the following toxic foods:
- Macadamia nuts
- Large amounts of garlic
- Yeast dough
- Candy or gum including xylitol
Watching calories: How much to feed your German shepherd?
The amount of food you should feed your German shepherd is based on their daily calorie requirement. Calorie needs are calculated based on a multitude of factors, such as the dog’s age, reproductive status, health, activity level, size, body condition, and the caloric density of the diet, which should be listed on the bag or on the manufacturer’s website.
Knowing precisely how many calories your German shepherd requires—and that the amount may vary in growing dogs. Is critical to ensuring they receive the appropriate amount of nutrition without deficiency or excess. Speak to your veterinarian to determine the right daily calorie amount for your German shepherd.
Common health issues in German shepherd dogs
Unfortunately, being a popular dog breed always comes at a price. And for the German shepherd, unethical breeding through the years has led to a host of medical issues. Some of the top conditions to plague the beautiful German shepherd that may potentially be helped by nutrition include:
- Hip dysplasia — Poor structure of the hip socket leads to loose hips, as well as debilitating and painful arthritis.
- Elbow dysplasia — An elbow joint malformation creates friction and cartilage damage, making weight bearing painful, and causing progressive deterioration.
- Degenerative disc disease or lumbosacral disease — The shepherd’s iconic long back can be weak along the lumbar spine, making them prone to disc herniation and narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Bloat — Gastric dilatation or gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat, is an emergency, life-threatening situation that occurs when the stomach distends (i.e., dilation) and can potentially rotate (i.e., volvulus), cutting off blood flow and stomach contents from the small intestine. The cause is not fully known, but a preventive procedure (i.e., gastropexy) is available.
- Skin allergies—German shepherd dogs may suffer from environmental, food, or flea allergies that can impact the skin barrier integrity, and lead to discomfort and a poor hair coat.
German shepherds—heroes with hearts of gold
German shepherd dogs, who rose to fame with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and who are well-recognized and respected as search and rescue dogs, particularly the tireless search and rescue dogs of 9/11, are in a class of their own. The breed sustains a proud legacy of strength and intelligence, and a heart of gold. Help your German shepherd dog live up to its full potential by investing in premium nutrition offered by the best dog foods, and watch them thrive.