The Best German Shepherd Diet and Meal Plan for Every Age - Shepherd Sense (2023)

Table of Contents
Nutrition Basics Industry Minimums The Problem with Feeding Your German Shepherd the Industry Minimums German Shepherd Diet German Shepherd Diet Chart How much should a German Shepherd eat per day? Adult German Shepherd Calories Per Day How many cups of food does a German Shepherd need? Meal Plan and Feeding Guide (By Weight and Cups) Best Food to Feed a German Shepherd Iams Adult Large Breed Real Chicken High Protein Dry Dog Food Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food Dog Foods for German Shepherds with Sensitive Stomachs German Shepherd Diet Chart What type of food should I feed my German Shepherd? What are the best meats for my German Shepherd? Dry Kibble Diet Meat Vs. Meat-Meals Can German Shepherds eat grains in their food? Is corn OK to feed my German Shepherd? German Shepherd Puppy Diet German Shepherd Meal Plan (By Age) 6-Week-Old German Shepherd 8-Week-Old German Shepherd 12-Week-Old German Shepherd 4-Month-Old German Shepherd 5-Month-Old German Shepherd 6-Month-Old German Shepherd 8-Month-Old German Shepherd 12-Month-Old German Shepherd 18-Month-Old German Shepherd Senior German Shepherd Diet Homemade Diets Weight Maintenance Diets Overfeeding and Underfeeding How often should I feed my adult German Shepherd? What food do German Shepherds need? The Importance of Good Nutrition What are the nutritional requirements for German Shepherds? Proteins Estimating Protein needs Fats Treats and Snacks Healthy Treats Feeding Habits How to Choose the Best Diet and Meal Plan for your German Shepherd Additional References References

The best German Shepherd diet needs the right formulation to support the breed’s powerful strength, athletic abilities, and superior intelligence.

And the stores have no shortage of colorful marketing gimmicks and fancy product descriptions at your fingertips to entice you to part with your money at every turn.

It’s enough to make your head spin and for you to turn running!

But, this article will more than explore the best German Shepherd diet…

It’ll be your comprehensive, easy-to-understand road map to choosing an optimum diet with balanced nutrition.

By the time you finish reading this, you’ll know the best food to feed a German Shepherd, their unique breed-specific nutrition, and the healthiest diet plan for your high-energy puppy.

Let’s jump right in!

Nutrition Basics

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The nutritional content of commercial pet foods must follow regulated guidelines that meet the dietary needs of your dog’s lifestyle if they carry the official AAFCO statement. By these standards, the minimum protein percent for adult German Shepherd maintenance is 18%, with 5% minimum fat. For German Shepherd puppy growth and pregnant dogs, 22% protein and 8% fat are the minimum.

There are only two life stages provided using these standards: growth/reproduction and maintenance. Senior German Shepherds also have the same minimums as listed for maintenance.

Industry Minimums

LifestageCrude ProteinCrude Fat

But here’s the problem…

These guidelines list only the minimum amounts and not the amounts for your dog to thrive!

And, that’s not all…

The Problem with Feeding Your German Shepherd the Industry Minimums

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I hope you’re providing your dog with more than just the minimum.

Because your German Shepherd isn’t just eating to survive, they’re eating for optimum health!

Would you feed an athlete with only the minimum needed for their basic health?

I didn’t think so!

So, don’t feed your athletically driven, known working-breed lineage German Shepherd with just the minimum of protein and fats. A German Shepherd eating only the minimum isn’t at their highest level of health — she’s only at her “minimum!”

Fuel your German Shepherd like the athlete they are, with premium ingredients in a high-quality food that’s more nutritious than the “minimum dog food standards.”

Don’t have a minimum German Shepherd…

Have an OPTIMUM German Shepherd.

German Shepherd Diet

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For optimum nutrition, a healthy, full-grown adult German Shepherd’s diet should have a guaranteed analysis of 20% – 25% protein, 10% – 15% fat, and 3% – 7% fiber. Calorie intake can range from 1,272 for a lower-activity German Shepherd to 2,100 or more for a highly active German Shepherd. Look for animal-based proteins as the top ingredient. If you see chicken, lamb, beef, or turkey as the number one ingredient, also look for a “meal” or “by-product meal” within the top 5 ingredients. These are the more concentrated sources of protein that are nutritious for your German Shepherd (despite what you might have read before).

This is because whole meats are wet and contain as much as 60% water; whereas, “meal” or “by-product meal” has little to no water.

To help support very active German Shepherds, it’s best to feed diets with a guaranteed level of protein at 26% or higher. German Shepherds that receive dietary protein at these levels are more likely to perform at their peak level for their active lifestyle (source). Most companion German Shepherds are considered active or moderately active and will do best on 20% – 25% protein.

Adult German Shepherds enjoy two meals a day, ten or twelve hours apart. Feed your dog after you eat breakfast and then again after you have dinner to stick to a feeding routine.

German Shepherd Diet Chart

Lifestage Crude Protein Crude Fat Crude Fiber Calorie Range, Per Day
Adult20% – 25%10% – 15%3% – 7%1,272 – 2,100

Puppies require even more additional calories and protein to keep up with their growth, while senior German Shepherds need foods to maintain a healthy weight and increased protein to avoid muscle loss.

Let’s figure out how much you should feed your German Shepherd daily.

How much should a German Shepherd eat per day?

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An inactive German Shepherd weighing approximately 70 lbs should eat around 1,272 calories, while a 90lb inactive German Shepherd should eat about 1,540 calories. On the other hand, active dogs need more fuel. A 70lb active GSD will need at least 1,740 calories a day, and a 90lb active German Shepherd needs 2,100 calories a day for their weight and activity levels.

Adult German Shepherd Calories Per Day

  • Inactive German Shepherds: 1,272 to 1,540
  • Active German Shepherds: 1,740 to 2,100

These calorie amounts are based on The National Research Council of the National Academies for dog nutritional feeding.

There are also guidelines on how much to feed your German Shepherd written on the food packet. These are guidelines only, so you may need to adjust accordingly for your dog’s individual needs. This is affected by their activity levels and unique metabolism.

Then, there’s also the number of cups of food your GSD eats that you might want to know.

Like I said earlier…

It’s enough information to make your mind spin!

How many cups of food does a German Shepherd need?

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Knowing how many cups of food to feed your German Shepherd becomes a bit trickier when you consider the vast differences in calories and energy-dense foods from each manufacturer.

While calories vary from brand to brand, you may use this chart to approximate the number of cups of food of dry kibble your adult German Shepherd needs.

Meal Plan and Feeding Guide (By Weight and Cups)

Current ADULT WeightAmount of Cups, Per Day
50 pounds2 3/4 – 3 cups per day
60 pounds3 – 3 1/2 cups per day
70 pounds3 1/2 – 3 3/4 cups per day
80 pounds3 3/4 – 4 1/2 cups per day
90 pounds4 1/2 – 5 1/4 cups per day

The diet of a German Shepherd must take into account the size of the dog, her level of activity and exercise, along with any preexisting conditions that might need special consideration.

Therefore, if you want to know how much your German Shepherd needs to eat, you’ll need to know their age, weight, and activity levels. Typically a full-grown German Shepherd should eat at least 3 cups of food per day, but may eat upwards of 5 cups of food per day or more if they are fairly large and routinely active.

Let these cup measurements be your guide, but don’t let them dictate the exact cups of food to feed your German Shepherd.

Your dog’s health will flourish if you adjust the cups based on your dog’s specific nutritional and caloric needs.

Now, let’s take a look at what really is the best food to feed a German Shepherd.

Best Food to Feed a German Shepherd

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The best food to feed a German Shepherd is dry kibble dog food that uses traditional muscle meat as one of the top ingredients. Muscle meats are listed on the label simply as beef, chicken, fish, or any number of meat-based proteins. Meat meals are an important source of high protein and are perfectly healthy. Ideally, look for a food that also contains glucosamine and additional joint supplements for an adult German Shepherd. Stick to large-breed diets for your German Shepherd puppy, with DHA, thought to promote brain development, as a preferred supplement.

YourGerman Shepherd Dog doesn’t need sugar in their food, so don’t purchase dog foods with any added sugars. Sugars are also bad for her dental care and contribute to tooth decay.

Based on optimum nutrition and performance indicators, here are the best dog foods for German Shepherds:

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Iams Adult Large Breed Real Chicken High Protein Dry Dog Food

With added glucosamine for supporting large-breed joints and protein to support your high-energy companion.

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Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food

Easily digestible, this formula will promote coat health and shine in 30 days with power-packed antioxidants.

Dog Foods for German Shepherds with Sensitive Stomachs

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Many German Shepherd Dogs have digestive issues—either a sensitive stomach or adigestive tract that easily reacts to a change in diet or even mental stress. They may even end up developing gastroenteritis or colitis.

These particular dogs often do better on diets that help in cultivating a healthy microbiome and overall digestive well-being — all while keeping stools regular and healthy!

If your dog has a sensitivity or loose stools, then grains can help aid in firmer stools with better quality.

Provide your sensitive German Shepherd a dog food made specifically for stomach issues like this Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Digestion Chicken, Brown Rice, & Whole Oats Recipe Dry Dog Food

This particular Hill’s blend includes gut-loving prebiotics, whole grain oats, and pumpkin that help support your dog’s unique microbiome for smooth digestion and complete nutrition.

When you’re worried because your dog has uncomfortable skin problems read about the best dog foods for German Shepherds with skin allergies to help them find itch relief. And you’ll find additional sensitive dog food recommendations for your German Shepherd’s stomach here.

There are several options for German Shepherds with both skin and stomach problems who can’t tolerate a traditional diet.

German Shepherd Diet Chart

Feeding a German Shepherd the right diet will bring out their inner Olympian and give you longer and healthier years with your favorite companion.

When choosing the best food to feed a German Shepherd, look for the following ingredients in your selection. These items listed are all good foods for a German Shepherd’s diet when mixed in the appropriate amounts in a premium dry kibble.

ChickenBrown Rice
BeefWhite Rice

What type of food should I feed my German Shepherd?

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Feed a German Shepherd a commercial dry dog food diet that lists animal protein sources first, such as chicken or beef, and that also has additional protein sources and meat meals (which are high in protein) listed between the top five ingredients.

On top of this, since their digestive systems aren’t the most efficient, their diet should also contain easily digestible proteins that are absorbed much better by the German Shepherd’s body.

Providing your German Shepherd with a high-quality diet can help prevent future stomach upsets. Premium diets will also help support proper bowel function to keep them regular and avoid diarrhea.

If the protein source isonlymeat, then there’s a chance that the dog food will have excessive calcium, sodium, and phosphorus. The right answer to the best dog food for a German Shepherd is acombination of ingredientsthat provide a full spectrum of value to fuel your powerful dog.

If in doubt, start with Iams Adult Large Breed High Protein Dry Dog Food and Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food as both of these premium formulas are specially formulated for optimum adult German Shepherd nutrition.

What are the best meats for my German Shepherd?

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Here are the best meats for a German Shepherd:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Fish (Salmon, Whitefish, etc)
  • Duck
  • Venison
  • Rabbit

Additionally, muscle meat and by-products such as hearts, livers, lungs, and kidneys are all good sources of protein, as well as meat meals made from them.

While you might turn your nose up at the thought of these animal organs, they contain essential nutrients your German Shepherd loves. And, contrary to what you might have heard, these organs are healthy additions to your dog’s diet.

Dry Kibble Diet

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On the whole, a good commercial complete food will provide all the essential nutrients for your German Shepherd.

Dry food is good for your dog’s teeth and so can be beneficial. A wet food diet may cause dental decay quicker as the moist food lacks any abrasive action to scrape the teeth clean.

Good food for German Shepherds also includes other ingredients, such as a digestible carbohydrate (such as sweet potatoes), fat, vitamins and minerals, fiber, preservatives (look for natural preservatives such as Vitamin E or Rosemary oil), and preferably other natural additives that aid in joint, mind, or heart health.

Be wary of the inexpensive (cheap) grocery store or generic brands. They may add artificial colors, additional sugars, and low-grade fillers to reduce their costs.

Avoid these additives — they are not useful to help build a stronger nutritional foundation for your working-breed dog.

Meat Vs. Meat-Meals

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When comparing ingredient lists, do you think you should choose the one with meat or with the meat meal listed first?

If your goal is to have the most meat nutrients, choose a meat meal first. Ingredients appear in descending order of their weight (that weight includes any water in the particular ingredient).

When you see chicken listed as an ingredient, it means unprocessed chicken, including water. Chicken meal means chicken with water and fat extracted.

Yes, it weighs less than chicken but can actually contain a higher portion of protein (source).

Don’t dismiss meat meals, as they are nutritious and healthy for your dog.

Can German Shepherds eat grains in their food?

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Yes, German Shepherds can eat grains in their food and are able to process grains. Still, some people blame grains for allergies in their German Shepherds. While it’s true some dogs can be allergic to some grains, it’s just as important to remember that some dogs can be allergic to some meats. Grains are actually a source of wholesome nutrients.

Interestingly, grains contain more nutrients than alternative ingredients used in grain-free diets (such as peas).

German Shepherds have evolved significantly from their wolf ancestors. This includes developing an ability to digest starch and fat, plus living longer and healthier lives.

Also, the FDA is exploring potential links between grain-free diets and life-threatening heart disease in dogs and the research is still underway.

Is corn OK to feed my German Shepherd?

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The answer is yes. Corn isn’t just a filler in dog foods. It also has several nutritional benefits. Corn isn’t bad when added to balanced dog food, with even top nutritional research institutes supporting the findings (source).

Corn is a rich source of linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid for dogs. It also adds vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet. And let’s not forget the needed fiber that corn in dog food contributes.

Despite the fact that carbohydrates get a bad rap, certain sources of carbs (like corn) also provide essential nutrients.

Corn contains healthy fat, fiber, and evenvitamins. Carbohydrates are also a source of fiber, which promotes gut health and motility in your dog and helps keep their movements more regular.

But don’t take my word for it…

You can read the AKC’s stance on corn here.

In fact, whole ground corn cooked (the way most dry dog kibble is made) is around 97 percent digestible by dogs (source). So, don’t dismiss the benefits of corn in your German Shepherd’s food.

However, corn shouldn’t be the main source of protein for your German Shepherd. Although corn is beneficial, it’s best to buy food with another protein source (i.e. meat) along with the corn. This creates a complete and balanced meal.

I can hear the screams of the blogosphere already when they read the next statement:

Rest assured, corn isn’t just a cheap filler as an ingredient in your dog’s food.

German Shepherd Puppy Diet

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Early in life, puppies must eat often.

Find out why German Shepherd puppies have different calorie and diet requirements that you need to know. You must feed a puppy food specially formulated for “large-breed” puppies to avoid an imbalance in their diets.

Due to their rapid growth, any diet “mistakes” made during puppyhood will have more severe, even irreversible, and lifelong, consequences.

Good puppy food has advantages over adult dog food because it has been specially formulated for a puppy’s demanding nutritional requirements. More importantly, puppy foods contain the appropriate amount of calcium.

A great recommendation for German Shepherd puppies that has the ideal protein and DHA (brain-enhancing supplement) is:

Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy Large Breed Dry Dog Food

If you need to introduce a new diet do so over the course of a week, starting with replacing only a small amount of the current food with the new food. Then, gradually, increase the proportion of the new food daily until you give your dog only the new food.

Daily food quantities are best divided out across the number of meals you feed per day.

Here’s a quick overview of feeding a German Shepherd puppy.

German Shepherd Meal Plan (By Age)

Puppy’s AgeNumber of Daily Meals
6 to 8 weeks4 to 6
8 to 12 weeks4
12 to 24 weeks3
24 weeks onwards2

These meal plans for German Shepherds will keep you on the right track to their longevity.

Even better…

Following a meal plan and breed-specific diet will make both you and your dog happy.

6-Week-Old German Shepherd

At six weeks old, puppies should still nurse and feed on their mother’s milk for the best possible head start in life. Their mother’s milk provides them with special antibodies to ward off illness, and your focus at this early age is on the mother’s nutrition.

However, if you do find yourself with such a young puppy, then I recommended reading up on caring for a 6-week-old German Shepherd so you’ll know how best to support them.

8-Week-Old German Shepherd

At 6 to 8 weeks of age, they need to be fed about four to six meals a day. They need relatively larger quantities of food because they are growing rapidly and have limited space in their tiny stomachs.

This is also a great time to begin training your 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy.

Do you know the best way to care for your new puppy?

Read all about how to take care of a German Shepherd puppy to get started on the right track.

12-Week-Old German Shepherd

3-month-old German Shepherd puppies are normally on four meals a day from about 12 weeks of age.

You’ll notice many changes in your puppy during the 9 to 12-week-old period. They begin growing rapidly and develop their shark-like puppy teeth.

Male puppies can weigh anywhere from 25 to 30 pounds on average, with females weighing about 20 to 26 pounds.

This is the point they become an eating machine!

4-Month-Old German Shepherd

If your puppy seems famished this month, remember that its appetite increases just before a big growth spurt. Increase the amount of food you give them slightly, spreading the amount across the daily meals.

At 16 weeks old, your puppy eats 3 meals per day.

After a large growth spurt, their appetite generally decreases a little. This is normal, so stay alert and ready for their change in eating habits.

5-Month-Old German Shepherd

Your puppy continues to grow rapidly at around 20 weeks old. During this 5-month mark, your puppy could weigh up to 50 pounds!

They might even look a bit out of proportion, with huge adorable ears and lanky legs. Don’t worry, your GSD will grow into an athletic body eventually.

As long as you provide high-quality food you shouldn’t need to make any diet or feeding changes. Keep an eye on their weight to avoid too much weight gain too quickly.

6-Month-Old German Shepherd

At 6 months of age, your German Shepherd puppy will then move on to two meals a day.

During this time, your puppy can eat the same good quality kibble dog food you’ve been feeding them with no negative effects. If they have bright eyes and a shiny coat, then you’ve picked the right food.

Some puppies may develop skin problems due to irritants in the home, seasonal allergies, or food intolerances.

If you notice excessive itching and dry skin, then food made for these issues might help. Read more about giving them a sensitive diet by following the guide for the best foods for German Shepherd puppies with skin allergies and seeing all your options to help them.

8-Month-Old German Shepherd

Some owners might still think their German Shepherd is too small during this stage.

But, rest assured, they will grow into their larger-framed bodies. Typically, German Shepherd puppies take longer to reach their full weight and to fill out their muscles.

Continue to feed them twice a day, and don’t overfeed them thinking you’ll give them more muscle.

Instead, focus on their health by following the steps to help your German Shepherd puppy gain weight the safe way.

12-Month-Old German Shepherd

As your year-old German Shepherd gets bigger and more active, she’ll need more calories to keep her energy up.

But, whatever you do…

Don’t just think more food is the answer! Some German Shepherds are quite the gluttons!

You’ll still need to watch their weight, monitor their growth, and adjust their calories.And, if you haven’t begun training it’s never too late!

Remember to follow this important information to train your 1-year-old German Shepherd. This’ll ensure your training goes smoothly and you feel less stressed with your puppy.

18-Month-Old German Shepherd

A German Shepherd puppy should move on to adult food when it’s stopped growing, which is typically around 18 months for this large breed.

Don’t use the food manufacturer’s advice as to the exact timing of this; rather, track your German Shepherd’s weight and growth regularly to give you a clearer picture.

Adult German Shepherds that are full-grown should still maintain a twice-daily feeding habit.

Doing so reduces the chance of overeating, eating too quickly, and bloating – a serious condition for your dog.

Remember, as your puppy progresses through her life cycle she’ll need different nutrition to keep her looking and feeling her best.

Senior German Shepherd Diet

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Senior German Shepherds need a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat in their diet.

These are only the minimums and research indicates these figures are far too low to provide the optimum nutrition for an elderly dog with unique needs.

German Shepherds over 7 years of age benefit from a diet formulated for their needs. Senior dog diets often have lower calories, higher protein, lower sodium, and fewer carbohydrates. Many also contain ingredients such as prebiotics to maintain healthy intestinal microbial populations, increased omega-3 fatty acids, and other antioxidants to combat inflammation.

As an added supplement senior formulas usually contain glucosamine to promote joint health.

Focus on giving your senior German Shepherd the best dog food for their life stage if you have an older dog.

Look for a senior dog food diet that is not only easily digestible but contains antioxidants, and prebiotics and has at least 25% protein. For example, Iams ProActive Health Healthy Aging Large Breed Senior Dry Dog Food meets all these standards.

Homemade Diets

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There is a growing trend for feeding homemade diets and raw diets, but it’s important to recognize the problem of getting the nutritional balance correct. Seek veterinary advice prior to feeding these types of diets if they are the main source of nutrition for your German Shepherd’s diet.

An occasional feeding of homemade diets, in addition to a high-quality complete kibble, is another option if you’d like to make home-cooked food for your German Shepherd.

German Shepherds do enjoy a bit of cooked, shredded chicken and plain, cooked carrots mixed into their food as encouragement and enticement to eat their kibble.

Weight Maintenance Diets

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Keep in mind if your dog is overweight or underweight because the manufacturer’s caloric content varies widely and you might accidentally overfeed or underfeed your dog.

As a general rule of thumb the cups of food for a German Shepherd that needs to adjust its weight:

  • For weight gain: Aim for more than 450 calories per cup of kibble
  • For weight loss: Aim for less than 350 calories per cup of kibble

But given the wide array of products available, it’s best to use this as a guide and to verify the number of calories per cup of food before feeding your German Shepherd.

Use this table as a general reference guide to find your German Shepherd’s energy level.

Doing so will help you understand your GSD’s calorie needs and the amount of food they need to maintain their daily activities.

Low Activity DogModerate Activity DogHigh Activity Dog
Less than 1 hour per day, e.g. walking on the lead1-3 hours per day, e.g. playing off the lead, swimming, hikingOver 3 hours per day, e.g. working dogs, agility, herding

It’s important to monitor your dog’s weight and pay attention to her body condition over time. This ensures you’re feeding them correctly and that they’re not under or overfed.

Overfeeding and Underfeeding

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As a guide, your German Shepherd should have a defined waistline and you can feel her ribs.

A plump-belly puppy is cute, but it’s not healthy.

Obesity is costly, both in terms of veterinary bills and health. An overweight German Shepherd is at an increased risk of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

German Shepherds love to exercise and keeping them in good body condition is part of maintaining their diet.

Adults and puppies have different exercise needs and it’s best you know the difference to keep them happy:

  • Adult German Shepherds need a heart-pounding, stimulating fitness routine
  • While German Shepherd puppies do best with gentle, low-impact exercise

It’s rare that you can actually overexercise a healthy, fit adult German Shepherd.

But, puppies tire much more quickly and are still developing their joints. Don’t overwork a puppy to avoid any long-term bone damage.

How often should I feed my adult German Shepherd?

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For most adult German Shepherds, feeding twice per day, around 10 to 12 hours apart is healthy.

Regardless of the feeding schedule you choose, avoid allowing your German Shepherd to exercise vigorously after consuming a large meal for at least 1 – 2 hours. This is especially true if your dog eats its food rapidly.

Giving your dog time to fully digest her meal will help minimize problems with bloat, intestinal obstruction, or other serious digestive disorders.

What food do German Shepherds need?

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The German Shepherd is an Olympic athlete at heart!

They love to exercise, play, run, and generally stay in motion most of the time. Giving them the best food is essential to their natural drive.

Due to its convenience and ease of feeding, dry kibble is the most common way to give a German Shepherd her dietary requirements. Common commercial foods are made with chicken, beef, lamb, or fish products and by-products, grains such as corn, wheat, rice, barley, or oats. They contain added vitamins and minerals to ensure that the final diet is balanced.

These foods may be formulated for specific life stages such as puppy, adult, senior, or for “all life stages”.

Some owners prefer to mix dry kibble with wet food, make their own homemade food, and only serve a raw diet, or any combination they feel is the right fit for their dog and lifestyle.

Any mixture of food you feed your GSD must meet their dietary requirements.

It’s vital to understand your German Shepherd’s diet, as this is the main fuel for your dog and the foundation of her health.

The Importance of Good Nutrition

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Dog food sales in the United States are a huge business.

There is tremendous competition among manufacturers, with many of these companies’ goals including making a large profit.

German Shepherd owners must not only stay alert as wise consumers but also monitor the health of their beautiful breed, which is an indicator of the quality of food you feed them.

A healthy German Shepherd has:

  • bright, alert eyes
  • energy for their daily activities
  • and a glossy coat

The old saying “You are what you eat” is also entirely true for dogs, as well as people. Many German Shepherds can carry on for a long time on a substandard diet, but inadequate nutrition can lead to more than health problems.

In fact, poor nutrition could cause your German Shepherd to develop:

  • behavior problems
  • immune system deficiencies
  • susceptibility to disease
  • and even shorten their lifespan!

Keep in mind that everything your dog eats becomes part of their daily diet, whether it’s good for them or not.

Nutrition for your German Shepherd is affected by not only what they eat, but also:

  • the food’s digestibility
  • how their body uses the food
  • and what underlying health issues they might have

Let’s take a quick peek at the nutrients in your dog’s food.

What are the nutritional requirements for German Shepherds?

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The six basic nutrients are water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.

These essential nutrients are required as part of the dog’s regular diet and are involved in all of the basic functions of the body. Good nutrition plays a large part in the appearance and vitality of your dog.

The minimum dietary requirement has been established for many nutrients. Keep in mind, these are the minimum requirements, and not what will give your German Shepherd optimal health.

To understand more, let’s focus on the two most important building blocks of your German Shepherd’s nutrition: proteins and fats.


The main nutritional requirement of German Shepherds is protein. Protein has several functions that keep your dog healthy. Proteins provide energy, help build and repair muscles, form new skin, hair, and nail cells, and even keep the immune and musculoskeletal systems strong.

Protein requirements vary with age, activity level, temperament, life stage, health status, and the specific protein quality of the diet. Most commercial dog foods contain a combination of plant and animal-based proteins which have protein digestibilities of 75%–90% (source).

Estimating Protein needs

Although energy requirements vary widely between dogs, protein needs are fairly constant.

Adult dogs generally need at least 1 gram of protein per pound.

However, younger and geriatric dogs may need more; young pets for early growth, and old pets because they appear less able to take advantage of dietary protein than their younger counterparts.

More protein is not generally dangerous, and senior dog owners shouldn’t restrict protein in their dog’s food. The worst-case scenario is all the protein isn’t fully utilized, so it may be wasted (source).

On the other hand, too little protein can cause far worse damage to your dog’s health.

The amount needed by puppies and adult German Shepherds differs:

Growing puppies require a minimum of 22% protein, whereas adult German Shepherds require 18% protein. But these amounts are only the minimums.

Remember that you want your dog to thrive, not just subsist on the minimum industry standard.


Fat is the second main nutritional requirement for your German Shepherd. Fat provides energy and is necessary for the normal development and function of body cells, nerves, muscles, and tissues.

The amount required for puppies and adult German Shepherds differ:

The recommended minimum fat content for puppies is 8% and 5% for an adult dog. But these minimums will only sustain your German Shepherd, not provide optimum health and sustained growth.

Your dog’s food also contains carbohydrates to provide an energy source to fuel your dog’s active lifestyle and aid in protein absorption. Manufacturers further combine fiber, vitamins, and minerals to meet the minimum nutrient profiles of commercial dog food.

Most German Shepherd owners use treats daily either in the training or for general fun with their dogs.

Let’s review how treats play a role in your GSD’s diet as they are part of your dog’s nutrition, as well.

Treats and Snacks

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There are a wide variety of treats available commercially, but these vary in quality.

While some are relatively natural, others may contain a lot of sugar, milk products, and fat — all of which can increase your dog’s weight.

Try to limit treats to reward good behavior or for enrichment exercises to avoid the dreaded German Shepherd boredom.

Always feed treats in moderation and reduce your German Shepherd’s normal diet if you feed treats.

As a general rule, no more than 10 percent of your dog’s diet should consist of treats.

Healthy Treats

Try healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables if you’re looking to lessen the number of snacks in your dog’s diet.

These are good alternatives as they are lower in calories. Examples of safe natural treats to feed include:

  • Sliced cooked or raw carrot
  • Frozen blueberries (great for teething puppies and on hot days)
  • Slices of apple (with the core and seeds removed)

If you have questions regarding which treats to feed, start with one of these healthy German Shepherd treat options.

Feeding Habits

The Best German Shepherd Diet and Meal Plan for Every Age - Shepherd Sense (26)

A German Shepherd’s diet isn’t just about the food you feed.

It’s about the feeding habits you create for your dog. Follow these diet tips to keep your athletic dog in top form.

  • Don’t leave food out all day.
  • Any uneaten food should be removed after about 20 minutes to encourage good eating behaviors.
  • Some German Shepherds may develop fussy eating habits. In many cases, this is down to an owner being too quick to offer something tastier.

Stay mindful of this and resist giving in to your dog immediately. Ensuring food is only down for a set period will help your German Shepherd understand that it’s not in their best interest to hold out. Otherwise, they’ll miss their meal altogether.

Provide access to fresh water at all times. Always leave their water bowl available and check it regularly.

I routinely fill my German Shepherd’s water bowl with fresh water 3 to 4 times a day. This is normal, as German Shepherds are notoriously messy drinkers and tend to splash out more water than they drink sometimes. Plus, bits of food tend to wind up in the water dish, making the water turn cloudy quickly.

Last, here are a few tips to make feeding your German Shepherd easier.

How to Choose the Best Diet and Meal Plan for your German Shepherd

The Best German Shepherd Diet and Meal Plan for Every Age - Shepherd Sense (27)

Selecting a good, economical diet for your German Shepherd might feel daunting at first.

With so many choices and so many different opinions for pet foods on the shelves, it’s a never-ending sea of fancy marketing.

Choose the best diet for your German Shepherd to match their life stage and activity, as well as dog food that is:

  1. Complete – includes all required nutrients.
  2. Balanced –all nutrients are present in the appropriate balance.
  3. Appetizing– your dog enjoys eating the food in sufficient amounts to keep them in optimum body condition.
  4. Digestible – absorbed into your dog’s body for use as fuel.
  5. Safe – is free of weaknesses, excesses, toxins, unnecessary sugars, salts, additives, and dyes.

Feeding a German Shepherd requires a balanced combination of nutrition to keep their energy reserves in check while not adding any excess weight which could harm their larger frames and bones.

Some German Shepherd adults and puppies might have:

  • Sensitive stomachs
  • Skin allergies
  • Food intolerances

While the vet is your best source for health information, a simple low-cost option is an at-home food allergy and intolerance test to ensure you’re feeding the best diet for your German Shepherd.

The most useful advice you can remember about feeding your German Shepherd is this:

The best diet for a German Shepherd isn’t the minimum…

It’s an optimum balance of nutrition for your athletic dog.

Adjust your meal plan to suit your dog’s lifestyle and health conditions for the healthiest results.

Additional References

Coile, D. 1999, The German Shepherd Dog, Macmillian Publishing, New York.

Henriksson J, et al. Effect of Exercise on Amino Acid Concentrations in Skeletal Muscle and Plasma. Journal of Experimental Biology. 1991:160:149-165.


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