Knowing what and how to feed your dog(s) can be confusing at best. Here are the 5 best feeding choices you can make for your German Shepherd to ensure that your family’s best friend enjoys a long and healthy life.
German Shepherds are muscular working dogs with a lot of energy. Food provides that energy – and strongly influences their health. Just like us humans, good nutrition is essential. But dogs are not people. And there seems to be an overwhelming number of foods, nutritional plans, types of diets and sources of free advice about what’s best for your dog! Let’s establish a few basic big dog principles.
Feed on a Schedule
No free feeding. True, some dogs do fine with putting a bowl full of food on the floor and letting them have access all day. But they are the exceptions. Feed your dog twice a day. Throw away what they don’t eat in 15 minutes. If your dog is used to free feeding they may initially not eat all of their food in this time frame. Don’t worry. Dogs adapt and it won’t take long until they understand that if they don’t eat it, it goes away.
Also, dogs in their first couple of years may only eat part of their meal or even skip it all together. Don’t panic! Perfectly normal behavior. If they skip more than 3 or 4 meals or stop drinking water, however, time to go to the vet.
Lastly, dogs are creatures of habit. It’s a good idea to feed your dog at roughly the same time morning and night. Don’t worry about forgetting. Once they get used to the schedule they will be eager to remind you!
Lastly, structured feeding is yet another opportunity for training. Have your dog do something for the reward of getting their meal. Have them sit, lie down, stay for 30 seconds, or whatever you choose. For many dogs, their meal is the ultimate treat, so use this tool!
Feed the Right Amount
Scheduled feeding are a great help in maintaining your dog’s healthy weight. Your dog is at the right weight if, when viewed from the top, they have a clearly defined waist. When they are standing and looking straight ahead, you should not see any ribs. But when they turn away from you, you should see a couple/few ribs under their coat.
Adding more weight is easy. Add more food. You may have to make it more enticing.
Getting your dog to lose weight can be a bit more challenging. When you first reduce their portions, they’ll feel like they are not full and start looking for food throughout the day. I had one dog that started to eat paperwork off my office desk!
Solve this problem by adding either canned pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie mix, or green beans to their meal. Their short, highly acidic digestive tract will not digest these foods and they will simply pass through. In the meantime, your dog will feel full. Then you gradually reduce these additions until you’re back to just regular food.
Feed a Good Quality Food
Now here’s a loaded topic! Some people will make you feel like you MUST feed your dog raw or you’re doing them harm. The counter argument comes from my friend the holistic veterinarian who says she does not trust the US food chain and never feeds raw. She does however fill a 6 qt crock pot every weekend with meat, different types of vegetables, a calcium supplement and a multi-vitamin to make a week’s worth of food at a time. But she has a Border Collie. When I tried this home made meal plan with my 80 lb German Shepherd, we couldn’t make it through a week without having to prepare more food.
Personally I feed a combination of high quality kibble and raw meat. I feed roughly 25% raw meat. The kibble has no corn, corn meal or grains. Back to that short, highly acidic digestive tract that doesn’t digest these products. I do add a Vitamin E supplement as an anti-inflammatory especially good for German Shepherds. I also add a fish oil tab or a teaspoonish of EEVO to prevent dry skin. And then I add just enough water to swirl it around and make a little gravy. Or not. My current dog doesn’t seem to care. Figured out that there is a lot of trial and error in raising a dog?
The best measure of the quality of your dog’s food is their poop. If there’s lot of it and it’s slightly soft and yellow, then you’re probably feeding grains. You want to see smaller, dark poops which indicate that your dog is digesting most of the food they are eating. And that’s a fine way to choose.
The other thing to watch is the protein level. German Shepherds and other big dogs are typically switched off of puppy food at 6 months. Puppy food typically has very high levels of protein for growth. But if your puppy grows too quickly, they can be more susceptible to joint problems. You want your puppy to grow slowly and steadily so that all parts of the body are growing at the same rate. And older, less active dogs have a problem with too much protein which ends up being hard on their kidneys.
Bloat gets a section all by itself because you REALLY want to avoid this condition. More properly called “torsion” it stems from your dog’s stomach twisting or flipping around and trapping whatever is inside. This is a very serious condition that requires immediate invasive surgery or your dog could die.
There is a lot of advice out there about how to prevent it. Feed your dog standing up. Don’t feed your dog standing up. Feed your dog a mix of dry and wet food. Etc., etc.
That’s one reason I recommend feeding twice a day. One big meal turns your dog’s stomach into a heavier pendulum that could more easily flip. In addition to that the best advice is to not let your dog play exuberantly for an hour after feeding. This may mean crating your puppy after meals just to keep them from running around, but that’s OK. Also, it’s all right for your dog to drink a bit of water after eating. However, you don’t want to let your GSD slurp down a quart of water on top of a meal.
The bottom line is that no one knows exactly what causes bloat. Take the preventive actions of smaller meals, no gulping water and no vigorous exercise after eating. After that, like the rest of us, keep an eye on your dog especially after eating.
Keep Your Dog Away From These Toxic Foods
Everyone knows that chocolate is bad for dogs. Too much chocolate can kill a dog. But it takes even smaller amount of raisins or grapes. There are several other foods that can be toxic to dogs including macadamia nuts, onions, raw bread dough, Xylitol and many other foods. Longer lists can be found almost everywhere including with your vet and good pet supply stores.
Excessively spicy, rich, fatty or greasy food should be avoided as these foods can upset your dog’s stomach and/or cause diarrhea. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than coming home from work at noon and realizing that all the marrow in that last inch and a half of the elk bone was more rich food than your dog’s intestinal tract could handle! Basically avoid anything far away from your dog’s regular food.
Canine diet and nutrition can be just as complicated as human diet and nutrition. In the United States, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) should have a label on your dog’s food. Not a governmental agency, nonetheless their recommendations have become the foundation for most state laws and regulations for pet foods. They certify that the food provides adequate nutrition for your dog. Glance at that label. Sometimes it states the certification for a particular age group such as growth or adult maintenance.
Our dogs are completely dependent on us for making sure their nutritional needs are met. The least we can do is make the best feeding choices for our best friends.