The German Shepherd is easily one of the most energetic and endearing dog breeds around. They have many good qualities which contribute to their overall popularity, but you are probably familiar with those already.
Instead, let’s talk a little bit about proper canine nutrition. The providing of food is one of the most important ways in which you bond with your pet, so this matter is of great importance.
On a more practical level, a good diet will enable your German Shepherd to live a long and healthy life. With that in mind, let’s look at six of the best dog foods that we could find online.
1. Best Overall Product: Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Adult Dog Food
Blue Buffalo is easily one of the most respected brands on the market, and there are plenty of reasons for that. Although this product is not going to be easy on your wallet, it offers a lot of benefits for your canine friend.
Like all other products made by this company, everything is sourced from organic and natural substances with a bare minimum of processing. This alone is probably the main explanation for the brand’s good reputation.
We like the fact that this food is made with real chicken. Most of the time, dog food is made with meat by-products that are purchased cheaply from slaughterhouses.
Obviously, these companies don’t take a lot of care with their waste products, so the risk of contamination is greater. Blue Buffalo has a pretty good track record for being truthful about this kind of thing, which is always a plus.
This dog food contains generous amounts of chondroitin and glucosamine, two substances that have been proven to improve bone/joint health in dogs and humans.
These substances, along with other nutrients and vitamins, are contained in small particles called “Lifesource bits.” These bits are one of the most distinctive qualities of the product.
Although most dogs won’t have an issue, some of them will avoid those “Lifesource bits,” suggesting that maybe they don’t taste that good. Still, we don’t worry too much about them because this company has a good safety record.
In 2018, a lawsuit alleged that Blue Buffalo products contained unsafe amounts of lead, but that lawsuit was both disproven and dismissed.
Grain-free dog foods like this are a perfect choice for diabetic dogs. Carbohydrates and sugars are closely related, and so some starchy grains can be dangerous to those with this condition. Because of its minimal processing, it is definitely a safer bet.
- Made with whole chicken instead of by-products
- No grains whatsoever
- “Lifesource” bits give extra nutrients
- The manufacturer is well-regarded by most
- Chondroitin and glucosamine for joint health
- Pretty expensive
- Some dogs will avoid the “life source bits”
2. Best Budget Product: Diamond Naturals Dry Food for Adult Dogs
When it comes to a price-per-pound basis, this food came in at the top of the list. It offers most of the features that a responsible dog owner would want, and it offers them at a pretty reasonable price.
Of course, it should be noted that our list only includes high-end dog foods, so this is still more expensive than most. We have done things in this way because this article is intended for those who want to give their dog the best.
Apart from its great value, dogs seem to like the taste of this food very well. It’s sourced from beef-meal, which means that it is coming from a by-product.
However, dogs don’t seem to mind that fact. As long as the ingredients are pure and processed cleanly, you probably have nothing about which to worry.
This food has a high level of omega fatty acids, which are good for a variety of things. Their anti-aging properties are well-documented, and numerous reviewers have said that it helped their dog to re-grow lost hair or whiskers.
We also like the fact that it contains some probiotic enzymes that help your dog to maintain optimal gut health.
When we look for complaints, we find two: One minor and one major. The minor complaint is gas, AKA flatulence.
Some say this stuff will cause terrible odors, but that is only an annoyance. We are far more concerned with the reports of a moldy product being delivered to online customers.
Although these reviews are a small minority of the whole, they are too consistent to ignore. We would recommend that you don’t buy this brand through the mail, and discard it immediately if your dog refuses to eat or becomes ill after eating.
Again, most buyers reported no such problems, but it never hurts to play it safe.
- Quite cheap when compared to the others
- Plenty of omega fatty acids
- Contains probiotics for gut health
- Most report new hair growth
- Dogs love the beefy taste
- Possible shelf life issues
- Some report issues with gas
3. The Runner-Up Product: Eukanuba German Shepherd Dry Dog Food
Eukanuba is one of the more high-end brands, and this is because they put a lot of research behind their products. We can really tell when we look at the reviews because most people don’t have anything negative to say.
Those negative reviews which we did find were not very consistent, so we tend to think that they are less reliable. This is the only product on our list that is specifically made for German Shepherds, so that is a major selling point.
Unlike most others, this food contains small hard bits called “Dentadefense.” These are supposed to clean your dog’s teeth, and presumably work a lot like dental chew toys. We find that to be a good idea because it saves you time that would normally have been spent brushing your dog’s teeth.
Like most other high-end brands, this one contains plenty of omega fatty acids, as well as chondroitin and glucosamine.
These ingredients are common because their benefits have been well-proven and are well-known. There’s also plenty of good natural fiber, which should help dogs with digestive issues.
We do see two little problems when we look at the label. This food is only about 23% protein, and our research indicates that to be a little low.
Most German Shepherd owners report results from a dog food with at least 25% protein, so we are concerned that there might be too many fillers here.
This fear is reinforced when we see that the second ingredient is corn. It may be cheap, but it isn’t the best source of carbs for a dog.
- Specifically made for German Shepherds
- Contains “Dentadefense” particles for oral hygiene
- Plenty of fiber to promote digestion
- Fortified with plenty of omega fatty acids and chondroitin/glucosamine
- Very positive reviews overall
- Only 23% of protein
- The second ingredient is cornmeal
4. Honorable Mention: Iams Proactive Health High Protein Adult Dog Food
Based on the reviews that we read for this product, its customers seem to be a very satisfied bunch. We only saw a couple of negative reviews, and both of them were pushing alternate brands very hard.
This is a red flag because companies will sometimes hire people to “review-bomb” their rivals. As a matter of fact, we saw no negative reviews that appeared legitimate.
This is a high-protein food, containing about 30% protein. This is a very good number for German Shepherds, although the most active specimens might benefit from something a little higher.
Still, 30% is more than enough protein for all but the most active dogs. Because dogs (and humans) require fat in order to process protein, it is good that this food also has a relatively high level of fat content.
This one seems to be free of many things that concern people, such as grains, soy, and artificial preservatives. The only thing that does concern us is the huge number of ingredients we see.
They are sourced from many different things, which isn’t normally a problem. However, more ingredients will mean a greater chance of an allergic reaction, at least in theory.
We are also a little bit concerned about the inclusion of L-carnitine. This is a natural substance that humans and dogs use for metabolism, but the effect of supplementation on dogs is not very well-researched. To be fair, L-carnitine has proven safe and effective for humans, but more research is needed to verify if it’s safe for canines.
Some people say that Iams has degraded in quality since being acquired by Proctor and Gamble in 1999, and there is some reasoning behind these concerns.
- Lots of protein from several good sources
- Good fat/protein ratio
- No artificial preservatives
- No grains or soy
- Huge variety of vitamins and minerals
- Carnitine seems a little suspect
- Might have a higher likelihood of an allergic reaction
- Concerns about changes in ownership
5. Alternate Product 1: Instinct Raw Boost Grain-Free Dog Food
Obviously, wild dogs never cooked their food. As such, there is a lot of appeal in the idea of feeding raw foods to our canine friends.
Sure, we humans can’t usually eat raw meat without getting sick, but dogs don’t have that problem. That brings us to the most distinctive feature of this product: It contains pieces of a whole chicken that have been freeze-dried while raw.
Because the chicken has never been cooked, it has not experienced the nutrient loss that normally occurs when something is heated. The idea behind freeze-drying is to preserve the item and lock in its nutrients without using heat.
According to the analysis, this one has plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids. We will go over the benefits of these substances in greater detail later.
This one is very high in protein, coming in at 36%. This makes it the highest-protein food on our list, but we aren’t sure about its fat content.
We don’t see a guaranteed analysis on the label, and that could be a bad sign. Because it contains no known source of carbs, we are concerned that this food won’t have enough for an active dog.
More importantly, dog food made from raw chicken bits will naturally be more vulnerable to spoilage and contamination. We recommend using this as a secondary treat rather than a primary diet.
- Made with whole freeze-dried raw chicken
- No grains, potatoes, corn, wheat, or soy
- Plenty of antioxidants and omega fatty acids
- Can be mixed with water to make a nice gravy
- Very high in protein (36%)
- Might be some concerns with spoilage or salmonella
- May contain insufficient carbohydrates for an active dog
6. Alternate Product 2: Purina ONE SmartBlend True Instinct
This is the only product on our list that contains venison (deer meat), and it is blended with turkey to create a tasty and enticing mix.
We should note that both of these meats tend to be quite lean, so this food should be a good choice for dogs that need to lose weight. They will get plenty of protein without a large amount of fat in the bargain.
This one is sourced from corn and meal, but they do at least avoid the use of food industry by-products. They might not be using whole meat, but at least it comes from a trustworthy source.
We can’t really expect more than that because this food is priced more reasonably than most high-end brands. Thus, it’s a great middle-shelf option for those who can’t afford the premium choices.
This dog food is relatively soft, and the darker-colored bits are even softer. As such, older dogs should find it to be easier on their teeth and gums than most others.
If you add a little bit of liquid and let it sit for a few minutes, it becomes almost as moist as canned food.
At the same time, we don’t like seeing soy flour on that list, as there is no reason for it to be there. We do understand why they included glucosamine, as it’s good for bones and joints. At the same time, there isn’t enough there to make much of a difference.
- Good mix of deer and turkey meat
- Price is reasonable for a high-end brand
- Not sourced from the food industry by-products
- Easy for dogs to chew
- Plenty of protein without much fat
- Should not include soy flour
- Not enough glucosamine to help anything
Best Dog Food For German Shepherd Buyer’s Guide
At this point, we have examined six popular products, all of which seem to offer good nutrition and sustenance for German Shepherd dogs.
We have attempted to give you all the information that you need in order to choose the right one. However, that is not enough.
In this section, we will go into some of the specifics of canine nutrition, with emphasis on the breed in question. This discussion may get a little bit technical, but we will attempt to keep things as simple as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not pure carnivores. Rather, they are omnivores who prefer meat (much like ourselves). That being said, there is a reason that most of their diet consists of meat.
In the wild, meat is the main component of their diet, while plant-based foods are merely a supplement.
For these reasons, all dogs require a diet that is high in protein. However, the issue is not a simple one because too much protein is also a bad thing.
Some dogs will experience digestive problems like diarrhea from extremely high-protein food, and it is possible for protein overdose to occur.
This is usually the result of eating too much lean meat, and the phenomenon is usually referred to as “rabbit starvation.”
Let’s look at two sources to determine the optimal level of protein for a German Shepherd dog. First, let’s read this article from a respected pet products supplier.
Here, we can see that the recommended amount of protein is 18-22% of their total diet. Most mainstream sources seem to echo these numbers, but we suspect that the info is generic to all dogs and not specific to the German Shepherd.
To determine how much protein a German Shepherd needs, it makes sense to see what owners and breeders have to say on the matter.
This popular GSD forum should give us a good start. Most of the people commenting here seem to recommend a higher level of protein than that which is recommended for most dogs.
Considering that this breed is known to be very active, and because of its large size, this should not be surprising. Based on what we see here, a dog of this type should be given a dog food that is 25-30% protein.
Some people are of the opinion that older dogs need less protein, but this may not be the case. For example, consider this study, which was performed on senior cats and dogs.
Although this one was done for the purpose of advancing human health, its lessons are still quite valid. They found no evidence to suggest that older dogs or cats suffered from a reduced ability to digest protein and recommended that senior dog diets should be roughly the same as adult diets.
Your dog’s carbohydrate intake is not quite as important a factor as protein, but it still warrants careful consideration.
While protein provides the body with building materials for construction and repair, carbohydrates provide the body with the short-term energy that is needed for daily activity.
Protein takes a long time for the body to process in full, which is probably why nature has developed carbohydrates as a stop-gap measure.
Unfortunately, there is no standard amount of carbohydrates that can be given to all German Shepherds with confidence.
Still, we can look at this veterinary study to get a few ideas. The energy requirements of both German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers were assessed and compared, with some interesting results.
The researchers found no significant difference between the breeds, but some enlightening trends could be seen among the test subjects.
Basically, they found that overweight dogs did not need as much energy, because of the fact that adipose tissue (fat, basically) simply uses less energy than muscle tissue.
The dogs in the study did not lose any weight, and even gained a very small amount (roughly 9 grams per day), so it’s safe to say that they were getting enough energy. Thus, we can see the obvious answer to this issue: Your dog’s carbohydrate intake should depend on how active they are.
At the same time, you also need to consider the source of your dog’s carbohydrates. Cheaper brands of dog food will often use corn or low-grade wheat as a filler, reducing the cost of the product and thus, increasing their profit margin.
Naturally, this is not the ideal choice, and should only be bought if you are on a tight budget.
Of course, there is no need to freak out about some corn in your dog food. For some good information, we might look at this article from the American Kennel Club (which is about as authoritative a source as you can get on this subject).
Although they do confirm that corn is safe and nutritious for dogs, they do caution the reader to avoid large amounts. Rice is generally a better source, as are oatmeal, rye, and millet.
At this point, we need some specific recommendations as to the percentage of carbs that should be present in a German Shepherd’s food. For a start, let’s look at a GSD-specific website. This source recommends that you get food containing 40-50% carbs, with puppies being on the high end of the scale.
For a second opinion, let’s go back to the GSD forum. The general opinion here seems to be that corn is fine, but that these dogs should get most of their energy from protein and fat.
Only one poster was of the opinion that corn is always bad, and their opinions didn’t seem very well-proven.
That’s probably why everyone else was contradicting that person, suggesting that most German Shepherd owners haven’t found corn to be a big problem.
This is another important group of macronutrients, and they are more important than most would guess. For the record, these three substances (protein, carbs, and fat) are called macronutrients because they are the three most common and important in nature.
You probably don’t want your German Shepherd to be fat, but you need to understand that fat is an essential part of their diet.
In the wild, canines eat all parts of the animal, and the fat represents an important energy source that would be foolish to overlook.
Because of their wild past, dogs are able to process fat more efficiently than humans. That is why they are less likely to become overweight.
As we can see from this veterinary comparison study, dogs have significantly less colon mass than the other animals studied. Because the colon contains a large number of microorganisms, it is one of the main centers of fatty acid production and use.
We have already mentioned the fact that all creatures need a certain amount of fat in order to process protein. Without this, the protein will eventually build up in the system and poison the dog or person involved.
This condition can even be fatal if it is allowed to progress too far. For humans, it is recommended that protein should make up no more than 35% of your diet. But, are those figures the same for dogs?
The following study should prove to be helpful. These researchers cite other studies showing that dog food should be about 12% fat.
However, the actual percentage of fat that is found in dog food may vary from that which is shown on the label.
This is because there are different ways of measuring the fat content, with percentage-by-weight being the most common. They also warn that high-fat dog foods are always lower in protein and/or carbs.
As also noted in that study, some types of dog food contain more than 40% fat, especially canned food and certain freeze-dried foods. That’s why these foods should constitute an occasional treat and nothing more.
Yes, it is true that dogs will eat a lot of fat in the wild, but it’s also true that wild dogs might go days or even weeks without making a kill.
Fat is also important to the proper functioning of the brain, both in canines and humans. In particular, omega fatty acids play a large role in brain function, so it’s good to look for a dog food that contains at least some of them.
This is particularly important for older dogs who will definitely need a little bit more help in this department. A diet rich in omega fatty acids will help a dog to remain fully coherent well into old age.
This study is just one of many that have proven omega fatty acids to be helpful for brain function. For this experiment, they gave 26 beagles a daily dose of omegas, which were derived from a type of algae called Schizochytrium.
This alga contains a powerful omega fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and it apparently contains quite a lot.
The results of this study were quite encouraging, to say the least. All of the dogs showed measurable improvements in cognitive performance.
The group that was not given omega fatty acids (called the control group in the study) consistently scored lower on cognitive tests, showing what a big difference this stuff can make.
Fish and nuts are some of the best natural sources of omega fatty acids, which is why so many popular brands of dog food will incorporate fish oil as an ingredient.
There doesn’t seem to be a big difference between omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids, so don’t worry too much about that matter.
The Importance Of Raw Foods
It has been said that the German Shepherd is more like a wolf than any other dog breed. While this is debatable, there is no doubt that this statement is rooted in fact.
When we think about this, it makes a lot of sense that these dogs would do better with raw foods. After all, no wild dog ever built a fire to cook his meat, and that might make more of a difference than previously believed.
We took a look at this comprehensive study, which seems to have been very thorough. The researchers measured the incidence and effects of canine hip dysplasia and attempted to draw connections between this condition and the diet of the dogs involved.
On a more humorous note, raw food diets were abbreviated as “BARF” in this study, that being an acronym for “Bone And Raw Food.”
Anyway, the results of this study were pretty conclusive. All of the dogs that ate the BARF diet showed a much lower rate of hip dysplasia.
Of the dogs that were given commercial dry food, about 69% showed signs of the condition, while about 61% did not. Based on this, we can see that dogs in this category had roughly a 50% chance of developing hip problems.
On the other hand, the dogs that were fed the BARF diet had a rate of hip dysplasia that was only about 5%. Obviously, these numbers do not reflect the general population because the researchers specifically looked for dogs with existing problems.
Still, it does illustrate the importance of raw foods in your dog’s diet. After all, the study didn’t find any other significant trends.
Some people prefer a raw food diet for their dogs, but this has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, we have already shown that a raw food diet is a more natural and healthy alternative.
On the other hand, it’s a lot more expensive and introduces a much greater risk of food poisoning. For this reason, many veterinarians are cautious about endorsing such a diet.
As a compromise between the warring factions, we would suggest that you use raw foods as a supplement and a treat.
Most of us cannot afford to feed our dogs raw foods on a daily basis, and many people are not properly trained in food safety. Just remember this general rule: If you wouldn’t eat it, they probably shouldn’t eat it either.
Vitamins And Minerals
Many brands of dog food will talk about all the “vitamins and minerals” that they contain. As with humans, dogs can certainly benefit from the inclusion of these valuable nutrients. For a quick reference, we might look at the AKC’s guidelines on this subject.
Vitamin A is essential for dogs because it is used for the maintenance of the eyes, bodily growth, fetal development, and the proper functioning of the immune system.
Dogs that suffer from a vitamin A deficiency will appear weak and listless, and will often manifest as problems with the skin and coat.
Fish, liver, and egg yolks are all good sources of vitamin A, so look for a dog food that incorporates at least one of those things.
Vitamin B is essential for dogs because it is used for quite a few different things. The B-type vitamins are a large and diverse category, including things like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and folic acid.
They are used for things like the activation of brain cells, glucose production, hormone regulation, immune response, and energy metabolism in general.
Vitamin C is essential for dogs because it is a powerful antioxidant. Surprisingly, dogs can produce vitamin C in their livers, but they often do not produce the optimal amount.
As such, a little bit of supplementation can go a long way. Antioxidants slow the gradual decay of the body, which gives them anti-aging properties.
This vitamin also tends to reduce inflammation, making your dog a little bit happier. According to this source, dogs that are sick or injured will often have extremely low levels of vitamin C in their bodies.
Thus, a dog in this condition will need some kind of vitamin C supplement. Fruits will generally make the best source, but be sure that you pick something that is not toxic to them. Avoid grapes and anything with a large pit in the center.
Vitamin D is essential for dogs because it is used for the balance of nutrients within the body. It allows the dog to absorb more calcium from their food by enhancing the ability of the gut/kidneys to process this substance.
It is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because of the fact that mammalian skin can absorb a certain amount of Vitamin D from the sun.
At the same time, you need to be careful with this one. Dogs do not need large amounts of vitamin D, and large amounts can even be toxic to them. Do not underestimate this danger, as it can lead to death if the problem is severe enough.
Vitamin E is essential for dogs because it is used for vision, reproductive health, brain function, and immune system health. Deficiencies of this sort are rare in dogs, but can certainly occur.
It is usually derived from plant sources like coconut and safflower. More importantly, however, Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant (much like Vitamin C). You probably don’t need to supplement this mineral, but make sure your chosen dog food contains at least a little.
Vitamin K is essential for dogs, but they don’t need a large amount. It is an essential vitamin because it is used to promote the proper clotting of the blood. As such, it is sometimes used as a treatment for accidental poisoning.
Many rodent poisons will use anti-coagulant substances, and these can also kill a dog if the rodenticide is eaten. However, a strong dose of vitamin K has been shown to reverse the effect.
This one shouldn’t be a huge cause for concern, but it’s still good to make sure your German Shepherd gets a small amount in their diet.
Choline is essential for dogs because it is used for liver and brain function, among other things. This nutrient is among the newest to be discovered and has only been categorized as an essential nutrient since 1998.
You probably know that all living things are constructed of cells, but you may not know that the outer membranes of those cells are (usually) made of choline.
In dogs, it has been shown to impact the brain’s production of dopamine, which is why it has been linked to emotional and mental well-being.
So, there you have your answers. This is not a simple subject, so we hope we haven’t gone over your head with all this medical talk.
At the same time, it is our goal to help all of our readers to become experts with the same level of knowledge that we have. To accomplish that, you will have to put in a little bit of work.
If it seems like a waste of time, just take a look at your lovable canine friend one more time and then tell us that they aren’t worth a little reading! Chances are, you cannot do that any more than we can.