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Best Dog Food for German Shepherds: Keeping Your GSD Trim and Active

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It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but German Shepherds are the Swiss Army Knives of the canine world. They’re tops at everything! The inherent loyalty of their breeding makes them fantastic guard dogs – earning them top spots on police and military forces. A high level of intelligence and trainability saw them leading the way with Service Dogs. And active? Just try to keep a German Shepherd from chasing after a tennis ball or frisbee. Fueling all of those aspects isn’t easy. But we’re here to help, guiding you through picking the best dog food for German Shepherds.

The GSD

German Shepherds (or GSDs, as they’re often referred to) rank at the top of popular dog breeds year after year. And why not? With such a hefty list of credentials under their paws, people love them. They’re not ideal for life in apartments, but if you have room for them to run around (and you can cope with their copious shedding hair), they’re the perfect pup.

Unfortunately, they’re also prone to several health concerns. Most of those are congenital. That means they get passed down through the genes and exist at birth. You can’t do anything to prevent them, and you WILL need a strong relationship with your veterinarian.

But other problems? Those you CAN influence. And many are linked to the dog food German Shepherds eat. Starting from when those GSDs are puppies.

GSD Concerns

German Shepherds are large dogs. When they reach adult size, they weigh between 70-90 pounds. And they can stand between 22-26 inches high at the shoulder. But if they grow TOO fast? You often see problems with their joints.

It’s crucial to pick a dog food for German Shepherds that says “large breed dog” when your kiddo is a puppy. The formulations provide the proper balance of nutrients to allow a natural growth pattern.

The dog foods listed here? Most have puppy options. (It’s one of the reasons they’re here) So if you brought home a floppy-eared GSD, you know what to look for.

GSD Tummy Troubles

GSDs have a few renowned stomach problems. A couple you can control with the proper dog food for German Shepherds. But one (the worst one)? That you need to monitor with YOUR behavior. A choice of diet won’t do it.

  • Bloat: Also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), bloat is the bane of dogs with deep chests. The stomach swings in the cavity, then flips up and AROUND, closing off the openings. It’s a veterinary EMERGENCY. And it usually happens when the dog gulps down a large amount of food and then engages in rapid activity.
    • The best solution? DON’T allow your dog to exercise after meals. You can also look for large kibble sizes to encourage chewing or find slow-feed bowls to prevent gulping.
  • Food Allergies: GSDs and food allergies go hand-in-hand. You see itchy ears, skin, or paws. And a trip to the vet to confirm the allergy is your best bet. They may need a prescription diet to solve the problem.
  • IBD: That’s right, good old inflammatory bowel disease. Dog food for German Shepherds with probiotics may help. But, honestly, you need to talk to your vet, so your dog feels comfortable.

Analysis of a Dog Food for German Shepherds

With so much energy, you’d guess German Shepherds would burn up calories like a pro athlete, right? Nope! The average GSD has a SLOWER metabolism than a small breed pup. So while you DO need to provide protein and carbs for their activity, you have to watch the fat and calories, so your German Shepherd doesn’t end up overweight. (Otherwise, you’ll need a low-fat dog food)

This handy table helps break down the dog food analysis based on your GSDs age and activity level.

Element
Puppy
Inactive Adult
Typical Adult
Working Adult
Calories
500/Day
1200/Day
1500/Day
2200/Day
Protein
22%
18%
18%
18%
Fiber
5%
6%
6%
6%
Fat
8%
5%
5%
12%

The best dog food for German Shepherds will also include a few helpful bonuses:

  • Amino acids such as arginine, carnitine, and leucine to promote healthy muscles and heart
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin, coat, and joints

And, of course, you want to see the label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO regulates dog and cat foods to make sure they meet the nutritional needs of our pets. No AAFCO label? The food needs to stay on the shelf.

Choosing a Dog Food for German Shepherds

Reading dog food labels gets tricky. They’re often printed in teeny-tiny fonts. Sometimes they even appear under folds or where you have to heft the bag upside down to find them. (And since German Shepherds ARE big dogs, they need bags that weigh a ton) And commercials – not to mention internet sites – present confusing information. How do you know what’s a good dog food for German Shepherds? You look for these important features:

  • Processing: Is the company located in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand? If not, skip it. The regulations in these countries are STRICT. That means you get safe dog foods.
  • First Ingredient: You want to see protein at the top of the list. The type of protein doesn’t matter when it comes to dog food for German Shepherds (unless you know the specific food allergy of your GSD).
  • Meal Source: Contrary to marketing campaigns, meals aren’t the enemy. They’re the organs of the animal. But if you see “meat-meal?” That’s a no-no. You should see the animal the meal came from.
  • By-Product Source: Again, ignore the commercials on TV. By-products aren’t the best source of nutrition, but they also won’t hurt your GSD. They’re what happens when you take a meal and dry render it to remove fat and oils. But if you only see “animal by-product,” there’s a problem. It should specify the animal it came from.
  • Additives: No dog – GSD or otherwise – needs artificial colors or flavors. It doesn’t improve their coat, skin, or diet. And it’s not a good choice of dog food for German Shepherds when you see a bunch of worthless chemicals.

The Grain-Free Concern

If you start scanning the internet for dog foods for German Shepherds, you find list after list claiming they don’t need carbohydrates or that their primary allergies come from corn, wheat, or other grains. None of those are true.

First, carbohydrates are NEVER an enemy. They provide beneficial energy to omnivores (and herbivores, but dogs don’t qualify). And German Shepherds DO need a source of fiber (it’s up there in that handy table you read).

Second, the majority of dog allergies? Come from the environment – NOT food. Dogs CAN develop food allergies, but it’s rare. And the only way you know for certain is to have your vet perform allergy-testing. Making an assumption based on a website is dangerous.

Grain-free dog foods pose a significant health hazard – to ANY dog. And German Shepherds already have enough problems on their plate. As of the last FDA report, 19 German Shepherds were affected. So there are NO grain-free diets on this list. I’ve seen first-hand what these diets do to dogs. It’s heartbreaking.

There are so many BETTER dog foods for German Shepherds out there that won’t cause this problem.

The Best Dog Foods for German Shepherds

German Shepherds contribute A LOT to our world. And they deserve the best health we can offer them. That means finding them the best dog foods. It may take a little more research (not to mention the occasional magnifying glass to read labels), but it’s worth the effort. These dog foods for German Shepherds will keep your pup as active, sleek, and shiny as you could wish. Best of all, they get a paw’s up from dogs on flavor approval!

Diamond Naturals is an awesome dog food for German Shepherds. You have puppy and large breed options, and they come in different flavors, including chicken and lamb. Then they add in superfoods like blueberries, papaya, and kale to give your dog a kick of nutrients. And every pound of kibble contains 80 million CFU of live probiotic cultures. Not to mention omegas, glucosamine, AND chondroitin. It checks all of the GSD boxes, and it comes in three handy sizes.

Downsides?  It’s a little high in the fat department (unless you have a working German Shepherd). You’ll want to oversee those calories when you measure your food amounts. Also, the 23% protein is high for even puppies.

The Good

The Bad

Following the fallout with the FDA’s investigation, Merrick reformulated a number of their diets to include ancient grains. They also omitted peas, lentils, and potatoes – an important step. Instead, you get lamb (or beef, chicken, or salmon) at the head of the ingredient list and healthy quinoa to aid in your German Shepherd’s digestion. They also include a healthy dose of omegas, glucosamine, and chondroitin. In four different sizes, you’ll find your GSD chowing down without a problem.

The downsides? While delicious, the nutrition is lacking in this dog food for German Shepherds. At 16% fat, even a working dog is going to put on the pounds. Meanwhile, the 3.5% fiber won’t meet anyone’s needs. And the 23% protein is pushing things.

The Good

The Bad

Sometimes, the more proteins a diet has, the more trouble it causes a GSD. Natural Balance provides a line of limited ingredient diets to try to help. They leave out corn, wheat, and soy, and they focus on ONE protein source (you have seven to choose from). You don’t have to worry about anything artificial, and they add in canola oil, which is chocked full of omegas.’And if your German Shepherd doesn’t like it? They have a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

So what are the downsides? Watch your protein version. Lamb and rice comes in a touch high at 22%, but other flavors go as high as 24%. The fat’s okay for an active, working dog, but if your pup hangs around the house all day, you need to monitor their calorie intake.

The Good

The Bad

Who loves superfoods in their dog foods for German Shepherds? Nutro does! And they pack them in. They start with a combination of chicken, lamb, and salmon, and then they add blueberries, kale, spinach, and chia seeds (among other fruits and veggies). They DON’T use corn, wheat, or soy, though. And artificial ingredients? Not a one. Your GSD gets a boost of antioxidants and linoleic acid (which helps keep their coat shiny). You have two sizes to choose from.

Downsides? That pesky protein level. Nutro pack it in, and 23% is high for adults. And while the fat hits that 12% level, you have the advantage of lower calories. It’ll make achieving a healthy balance easier for you. However, some owners struggled with the combination of proteins. If your dog has an allergy, this may not be the dog food for your pup.

The Good

The Bad

Purina makes a couple of appearances on this list (after all, they have board-certified veterinary nutritionists on their staff), and their True Instinct line of foods is a little more budget-friendly. Does that mean you’re compromising on dog food for German Shepherds? Of course not. You still get genuine proteins (turkey and venison, no less). And they throw in larger “meaty morsels,” which can help with dogs that gulp their meals. Not to mention three different bag sizes to choose from.

The downsides? This ISN’T the food option for a sedentary GSD. The protein’s a whopping 30%. And the fat content? It’s up to 17%! You need to watch how much your dog consumes and consider adding in some extra walks.

The Good

The Bad

GSDs have famously touchy stomachs. So reaching for Purina’s Sensitive Skin & Stomach as a dog food for German Shepherds is a fantastic idea. They avoid corn, wheat, and soy, focusing on salmon and rice – some of the easiest ingredients for pups to digest. Then they add sunflower oil for omega-6 (and, of course, salmon has plenty of omegas, too). You also get prebiotic fiber AND probiotics (600 million CFU), keeping your dog’s microbiome happy and healthy. And they top it off with glucosamine. It’s a well-rounded diet designed to keep your dog healthy – with a settled tummy and a glossy coat.

So what are the downsides? It’s high in protein – coming in at 26%. And the fat is 16%, so you need to watch your calories. But I’m going to point out why it’s manageable. We don’t have a GSD, but we have a Greyhound who adores the diet. And her activity level? It consists of about two zoomies a day – followed by hours and hours lounging on her beds or the couch. She’s a perfect weight at 75 pounds – and she only gets 3 cups a day. So if you’re smart, you CAN make it work.

The Good

The Bad

Royal Canin is another brand that keeps nutritionists close at hand. And they kept the needs of breeds like German Shepherds in mind when they took on a formulation for large breeds. So it’s no surprise they added in plenty of antioxidants, omegas, and amino acids to keep your GSDs system running like clockwork. They’re also one of very few companies that ask you what your dog’s activity level is when they indicate their feeding guidelines. It’s a nice touch.

Downsides? The top ingredient is chicken by-product meal. While we know that’s acceptable, it’s not great seeing it at the top of the list. And, unfortunately, this dog food for German Shepherds still falls short in the analysis levels. Look at the feeding guidelines to avoid weight gain.

The Good

The Bad

Science Diet (the “over-the-counter” version of Hill’s) shows up a couple of times on this list. Their Large Breed dog food for German Shepherds is designed to build lean muscles while still protecting the joints and keeping a sleek coat. They add in glucosamine and chondroitin, and plenty of omegas. It’s also one of the largest kibble sizes, which can help slow down a GSD that likes to bolt their food. It’s a well-balanced diet for an adult dog (though they also offer puppy and senior versions for large breeds).

The downsides? Despite containing corn, wheat, AND soy, this dog food comes in with a  LOW fiber at 2.1%. Not great for upset German Shepherd tummies. Otherwise, it’s fairly comparable to the other dog foods for German Shepherds on this list.

The Good

The Bad

Why not go for a dog food for German Shepherds that veterinarians have voted tops for dogs with touchy tummies? That’s where Science Diet’s Sensitive Stomach & Skin comes in. You have two options – and while one IS grain-free, it’s a safe version, designed by nutritionists and veterinarians. They use beet pulp, which is a healthy prebiotic fiber that feeds the bacteria in the stomach. And, of course, the formula itself goes easy on the tummy. Then they add in a healthy dose of vitamin E (for the skin) and omegas. You have four bag sizes to pick from.

So what are the downsides? This is a SMALL kibble. You’ll definitely want to add a tennis ball to your German Shepherd’s bowl or find another way to slow their mealtime. And it’s the LOWEST fiber – only 1.3%. This may go easy on the stomach, but it’s short on what the average GSD needs for health.

The Good

The Bad

Victor comes in multiple formulas and options, but the Hi-Pro version is best suited as a dog food for German Shepherds (mostly because it DOESN’T contain suspect grain-free ingredients). They mix beef, chicken, pork, and menhaden together to produce a protein-rich formula. And they make sure to include both pre- AND probiotics to help with healthy digestion. There’s also selenium yeast, which aids with the immune system. It’s a well-blended dog food that will keep your dog active and healthy. And at 3.8%, it comes to close to meeting the target fiber.

Downsides? This formula is intended for “all stages.” That means you won’t see a puppy or senior version – and it’s really a PUPPY food. So the values? They’re not the best (actually, they’re not great for ANYONE). The protein soars at 30%, and fat’s close behind at 20%! You NEED an active dog to burn it off. Also, the kibble’s tiny. Watch your pup carefully, and then make sure they have quiet time after the meal.

The Good

The Bad

Everyone’s Hero

German Shepherds have worked their way into every part of our world. They’re even in some of our top movies. So they deserve all of the love and health we can provide. And with the best dog foods for German Shepherds, we can ensure that. It may involve some math as you balance calories with activity, but isn’t your favorite dog worth it? Of course they are.

And hey – I started the math for you! (Not to mention squinting at those pesky labels)

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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