At Native Pet, we love a GSD. German shepherd dogs are the third most popular dog breed in America, and it's easy to see why. These pups are loyal, brave, and intelligent. They're gentle with children and discerning with strangers. And for their service and devotion, they deserve the best dog food and treats. But, what is the best food for German shepherd dogs?
While some dog food brands sell food designed specifically for German shepherds, the difference between those recipes and other high-quality dog foods mostly comes down to marketing. And, you may end up paying more just because the bag has a picture of your dog's breed on it. Skip the GSD-branded products and instead learn what German shepherds need from their food.
Here's how to identify the best formula based on your German shepherd's life stage, choose a high-quality food, and add supplements to address their unique needs.
The Best Food for German Shepherd Dogs at Each Life Stage
A high-quality dog food will help keep most dogs healthy, including German Shepherds. (We'll show you how to select a high-quality dog food below.) But, your German shepherd needs a little additional support from their diet at each life stage. Keep these things in mind when you choose food for German shepherd puppy, adult, or senior dog:
The Best Food for German Shepherd Puppies
The German shepherd is a large breed dog, and large breed dogs need to get off to a healthy start in order to protect their growing joints. If they get too much calcium when they are young, large breed dogs' bones can develop incorrectly, leading to permanent hip and joint issues.
Make sure to feed your German shepherd puppy a large breed puppy food to make sure they're getting the correct amount of calcium. Also look for a formula that contains DHA, a fatty acid that contributes to healthy brain development.
The Best Food for Adult German Shepherds
Adult German shepherds need an adult dog food or a food formulated for all life stages. You'll have a lot more choice when it comes to the nutritional profile in adult dog recipes.
Large breed puppies need food with a moderate amount of protein and a modest amount of fat. But some adults may benefit from higher protein content and fat content — it all depends on your dog's activity level. Active dogs and dogs with higher energy levels do well on higher protein diets because it helps them build muscles.
Senior dogs often do better on higher fiber foods. They may also benefit from low-calorie foods, or you can simply reduce the serving size on their standard dog food.
Bloat is a common health issue for German shepherds. You may help reduce their risk by feeding your dog wet food that doesn't contain animal fats, like chicken fat, in the first four ingredients.
The Best Supplements for German Shepherds
Image credit: Arya, Samwell & Michelle
One of the best ways to address your German shepherd's unique nutritional needs is to add all-natural, air-dried supplements to their diet. Supplements can fill in nutritional gaps and help support your GSD's overall health.
Here are some of the best supplements for German shepherds:
Hip dysplasia and joint pain are common health issues for German Shepherds. Adding a fish oil supplement can help you get more omega-3s into your dog's diet, which can help protect their joint health.
In a meta-analysis of studies on osteoarthritis in pets, omega-3s for dogs were found to have the highest amount of evidence to support their effectiveness. For the highest concentration of omega-3s, choose a fish oil supplement made from wild-caught pollock and salmon, like this Omega Oil.
Joint Relief Supplement
Inflammation can contribute to joint pain and deterioration. A Relief Supplement is made with natural anti-inflammatory ingredients, like turmeric, antioxidants, and green-lipped mussels (a natural source of glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3s). It can help keep your German shepherd feeling good into their golden years.
A probiotic supplement helps support German shepherds’ digestion, especially if they have sensitive stomachs. Probiotics can promote digestive health by adding beneficial bacteria to your dog's digestive system. In veterinary studies, probiotics showed promise for addressing a variety of doggy digestive issues.
The Ins and Outs of Dog Food
Regardless of the breed you’re buying for, finding the best dog food is personal. There's some science that can guide you, but there are also a lot of ongoing debates in the pet food industry — from which type of dog food is best to whether grain-free is better than whole-grain food. We'll give you the facts so you can find the right food for your German shepherd.
Types of Dog Food
When we talk about types of dog food, we're not talking Royal Canin vs. Blue Buffalo vs. Purina. The type of food is a broad category that refers to how different types of dog food are made. You can feed dry food, wet food, dehydrated food, raw food, or fresh food, and each type can have its advantages and disadvantages.
While there is a lot of debate over whether raw food is better than cooked dog food, there's not enough scientific research to provide a conclusive answer. One comparative study found that dogs fed raw diets and dogs fed commercial diets have different microbiomes, but they don't have any evidence to tell us whether one microbiome is better than the other.
Ultimately, the type of food you give to your German shepherd is a personal choice. We'll share the pros and cons of each type.
Dry Dog Food
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to feed
Cons: Highly processed food, wide variation in quality
Dry dog food or kibble is made using an extruding process that's similar to making cereal. Cereal is a high-carb food for a reason — you need carbohydrates to hold the food together. So, you won't find a low-carb kibble.
Dry dog food can also contain ash. It's a product of the extrusion process. Higher-quality dry dog food brands often tell you the amount of ash in the food. You can find this information on the label next to the food's nutrient profile.
Pros: Easy-to-feed, adds moisture to your dog's diet, available in low-carb recipes, highly palatable
Cons: More expensive, messy, wide variation in quality
Wet food is easy to pour out of a can and into your dog's bowl. It's also a good choice for picky eaters who tend to prefer wet food over dry, and it's ideal for senior dogs who are missing teeth or have trouble chewing. You'll need to read the ingredients carefully since wet food recipes can vary dramatically.
Air-Dried Dog Food
Pros: Easy to feed, less processed, high-quality food
Cons: More expensive
Air-dried food (and air-dried supplements) offers the convenience of dry dog food, but their manufacturing process is gentler on ingredients and preserves more nutrients. The process for making an air-dried food is similar to how jerky is made. Like jerky, air-dried food can be low-carb or carb-free.
Pros: Minimally processed, contains whole food ingredients
Cons: More expensive, messy, risk of bacterial contamination
Raw diets can include raw meat, organs, bones, and sometimes fruits and vegetables. They come in both frozen and freeze-dried formulas. Frozen will be the least processed option but will take up a lot of room in your freezer. (German shepherds are large breed dogs, and they can eat a lot of food.) Freeze dried food is shelf-stable, but it's extremely low in moisture, so you'll need to rehydrate it before feeding it to your dog.
Veterinarians warn that raw food comes with an increased risk of bacterial contamination from E. coli and salmonella. To reduce the risk, you should always feed raw diets in a stainless steel bowl and wash the bowl as soon as your dog finishes eating.
Pros: Minimally processed, whole food diet
Cons: Labor intensive, risk of nutrient deficiencies
Fresh food is cooked whole food made specifically for your dog. You can prepare it yourself by cooking fresh meat, rice, and vegetables, for example, or you can buy it pre-made in the fridge section of your pet store. Pre-made fresh food for dogs is similar to what you might make at home. It usually features an animal protein, a grain, and a variety of fruits and veggies. It will also have added vitamins and minerals to make sure your dog gets all the nutrients they need.
If you plan to make fresh meals for your German shepherd, speak to your vet first. Many well-intentioned dog owners accidentally introduce nutrient deficiencies into their dog's diet when they decide to cook the food themselves. A veterinary nutritionist will be able to help you create a balanced diet that meets your German shepherd's nutritional needs.
High-Quality Ingredients vs. Low-Quality Ingredients
Regardless of which type of dog food you choose, read the ingredient deck. A high-quality dog food will feature a recognizable animal protein source as the first ingredient. Look for high-quality protein like chicken meal, turkey meal, or lamb meal — avoid meat meal and meat by-product meal. Mystery meat is a sign of a low-quality food.
You should also look for natural ingredients that you would eat yourself. Dogs are omnivores, so they benefit from a diet that includes fruits and veggies like blueberries and spinach.
Other health-promoting ingredients could include Menhaden fish meal to promote joint health with omega-3 fatty acids, flax seed (these contain omega-6 fatty acids to support healthy skin), and vitamin E to supply antioxidants that support your German shepherd's immune system.
Make sure any commercial dog food you buy meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional requirements. And choose recipes that are free of by-products, additives, fillers, and artificial preservatives.
Grain-Free vs. Whole Grain Dog Food
The FDA is currently investigating a link between grain-free dog food and heart disease in dogs. Until the investigation is complete, we recommend avoiding grain-free recipes for dog food and dog food recipes that contain legumes like peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
These ingredients are currently the number one suspect in the FDA's investigation. Grain-free recipes made with potatoes and sweet potatoes, and no legumes, may be safe choices.
Whole-grain recipes featuring brown rice, barley, and oats are a nutritious choice, and still provide a gluten-free option for pet owners who prefer not to feed their dog wheat.
Give Your German Shepherd the Best
You don't need to buy food with a German shepherd on the label to give your best friend the best chance at a healthy life. Instead, follow a few simple rules to select a high-quality dog food:
- Choose a food that contains an animal protein source as the first ingredient.
- Check the label for additional whole food ingredients.
- Avoid recipes with by-products, additives, and fillers.