When you bring a new German Shepherd puppy home for the first time, how do you prepare?
If it’s your first puppy, you’ll probably do a ton of research and consult with friends and family that have experience with dogs.
In preparation, you begin collecting bedding, toys, leashes, collars, training books, and brushes – then you run into the overwhelming subject of food.
It seems no matter how many puppies you have, a new dog always involves a mad rush to figure out exactly how to feed them.
How much to feed a German Shepherd puppy is not an exact science. However, various models support feeding your German Shepherd pup about 2 cups of dog food daily at the age of two to three months.
Once your pup hits 16 weeks, food intake jumps to approximately four cups a day spread over two to four meals. Your puppy’s metabolism will mature and slow to adult levels around nine months of age.
At this time, you’ll start feeding it five to six cups of food per day or about 1300 calories for a 60-pound dog.
We address three methods to determine how much to feed a German Shepherd puppy. We also cover why concerns other than basic nutrition are important for growing puppies.
Why Do You Feed Your German Shepherd Puppy?
The two most obvious goals of feeding your German Shepherd are for health and growth.
How fast do German Shepherds grow?
German Shepherds are medium-large dogs and therefore grow at a fast rate over the first six to seven months leading up to adolescence. Adult German Shepherds are 22 to 26 inches tall and weigh 50 to 95 pounds.
Reputable weight charts suggest your German Shepherd puppy will have attained three-quarters of their final weight over these first six to seven months.
This is A LOT of growing to do in a short amount of time – when you brought your puppy home, it was probably only eight inches tall and weighed around 15 pounds.
By 12 to 15 months old, a German Shepherd is within an inch or less of their adult height. By the 18 month mark, it will have reached 98% of its adult weight.
Therefore, your male German Shepherd will be 23 to 25 inches tall and weigh 59 to 93 pounds by his first birthday.
How does diet affect the health of growing Shepherds?
Recently it has come to light that a proper diet for puppies does more than prevent malnutrition.
Many orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia have a strong hereditary component. However, people often discount the role of diet in bone developmental issues.
There’s a clear link between obesity in puppies and the resulting exacerbation of hip, elbow, and back problems.
However, your German Shepherd pup doesn’t have to be overweight to suffer a myriad of health challenges. Merely creating an oversized puppy, as is often the case for show animals and people fixated on large dogs, can lead to several painful disorders:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Panosteitis – Generalized inflammation of the long bones in puppies; common in German Shepherds.
- Wobbler’s – More common in Great Danes and Dobermans, Wobblers is a condition whereby the spinal canal is too narrow, causing neurologic instability.
Overnutrition and over-supplementation of certain vitamins and minerals lead to paradoxical malnutrition of the bone, and subsequently improper development.
Nutritional experts have modified their recommendations regarding the diets of large-breed dogs.
Many nutritionists and veterinarians advocate feeding German Shepherds and other large-breed puppies an adult or professionally-formulated homemade diet to limit the occurrence and severity of developmental problems.
Pet food manufacturers have caught onto the concept of overnutrition in puppies, and most carry special diets for large-breed puppies.
Some argue for additional vitamin and mineral supplementation for puppies – we recommend working with a professional to formulate a diet that limits the growth rate and your puppy’s size during the early months.
Also, do not supplement your puppy with vitamins, minerals, or proteins without veterinarian direction – their excessive use will disrupt bone and cartilage growth and harm the growth plates.
Limiting calories and slowing your puppy’s growth rate in the first eight months of their life will not affect their mature size in any way.
How Should You Feed Your German Shepherd Puppy?
There are two ways to determine how to feed your puppy
The most pressing questions you probably have about your new puppy are how much to feed them and how often – let’s go over a few things to consider.
Many people use the food bag as a starting point to decide how much to feed their dogs. However, a label on commercial food is one of the easiest ways to overfeed your growing puppy.
Dog food labels may raise feeding guidelines by up to 25% to ensure the diet meets or exceeds NRC (Nutritional Research Council) requirements. It’s more accurate and healthier for your puppy if you calculate and measure meals yourself.
Feeding your puppy involves regularly evaluating and tracking their weight. You should be able to assess how close your pup is to their ideal weight just by looking at them.
Weight charts are useful guides, but they don’t account for an individual’s variations from the norms. Also, don’t forget to include treats in your calculations for daily food allowances!
If you give a lot of treats during training, for example, you need to account for it by decreasing meal sizes according to your pup’s weight or body condition.
Assessing Body Condition
Drake Center for Veterinary Care uses a body scoring system modified from Purina’s charts and other sources.
- Silhouette from the side – a slight tuck. Pat the ribcage where the abdomen slightly lifts towards the hips. Note that some breeds don’t have an abdominal tuck, but the German Shepherd does.
- From above – Clear waist; should see an hourglass shape from rib cage to hips
- When you palpate – You should feel the ribs under a thin layer of fat without having to prod very hard.
Puppies will vary in their body scores and may change rapidly within a few days. Pups often lose their abdominal tuck right after a meal.
Puppies under 16 weeks old commonly have a pot-bellied appearance without much abdominal tuck.
Persistent abdominal distension could indicate intestinal worms, so be sure to check in regularly with a veterinarian during your pup’s first six months.
It’s difficult to keep growing puppies at a specific body score, but it’s always better that they be slightly underweight or even thin rather than overweight.
Thin dogs will show more visibility of ribs, waist, and pelvis without appearing emaciated or unhealthy.
If your puppy eats well but fails to grow or gain sufficient weight, consult a medical professional. German Shepherds can be susceptible to rare cases of pituitary gland dwarfism or a deficiency of enzyme production from the pancreas.
The easiest way to determine how much food to give your Shepherd pup is to figure out how many cups they need in a day and divide it by the number of feedings.
You can adjust volume based on how your puppy’s body condition fluctuates from one week to the next.
German Shepherds eat about four cups of food daily from 16 weeks of age to nine months or a year regardless of weight. The volume accounts for the relatively high caloric requirements of the young growing animal.
Once your dog reaches nine months of age, you’ll rely more on the weight and activity level of your pet. German Shepherds over a year old may need as much as five to eight cups of dog food.
Other references, like Thegermanshepherder.com, use weight rather than age. Pups eat one cup of food daily per 15 to 20 pounds. Dogs over 100 pounds receive five cups of kibble plus an additional half a cup for every extra 20 pounds.
Like all models, more active dogs need to eat more food – make adjustments up or down based on body scoring.
Calculating your puppy’s caloric requirements is the most accurate means to determine how much to feed it. You can estimate the volume to feed your German Shepherd pup once you find the conversion rate.
Dry dog food bags and wet food cans usually have the kilocalorie equivalence of each cup of the product. If you feed your dog a raw or homemade diet, you’ll have to figure out the caloric content of each ingredient you use.
To determine the ideal caloric range of requirements for your puppy, it’s helpful to know the anticipated adult weight.
The number of calories you feed your Shepherd depends on how close to the adult weight they are.
- Shortly after weaning: 11 to 17 pounds (0 to 20% of adult weight) >>10 calories per 10 lbs body weight
- 4 to 5 months old (40 to 50% of adult weight) >> 50 to 100 calories per 10 lbs body weight
- 6 or 7 months old (50 to 60% of adult weight) >> 40 to 50 calories per 10 lbs body weight
- 7 to 9 months old (60 to 80% of adult weight) >> 30 to 40 calories per 10 lbs body weight
- over 9 months old >>20 to 25 calories per 10 lbs body weight
Caloric requirements, again, vary depending on the individual, and you still need to be aware of your puppy’s changing body condition.
The ‘When’: How Often Should You Feed Your German Shepherd?
If you have the added challenge of acquiring your Shepherd pup when they’re under six weeks of age, it may be worth preparing a mash of kibbles that can be given every few hours.
Once your puppy reaches six weeks old, you may still have to feed it a mash but can decrease meals to four per day.
German Shepherd puppies between the ages of 12 and 16 weeks can eat three to four times daily, while most dogs over four months of age decrease to a frequency of two to three times daily.
Although many owners are eager to decrease their pup’s mealtimes to one or two times daily for convenience, there are a couple of important reasons not to do this.
It’ll require a few months to completely housetrain your puppy. Young puppies need to ‘go to the potty’ pretty frequently. Centering a few potty breaks around meals that stimulate their intestinal tracts helps develop consistent habits.
Your German Shepherd puppy will begin to develop a deeper chest combined with significant size by four to six months of age. Both physical characteristics put your puppy at additional risk of gastric dilatation and volvulus compared to smaller breeds.
Four months is the age at which most pups will see a significant increase in their meal sizes. Studies have linked large meals with GDV, or bloat, life-threatening distension, and rotation of the stomach.
Increasing the number of feedings greatly reduces the incidence of GDV. We recommend at least two meals a day for your dog, even as your Shepherd approaches adulthood.
Our YouTube Video On Feeding German Shepherd Puppies
Meals are extremely important for your German Shepherd puppy’s health, well-being, and vitality.
How much to feed a German Shepherd puppy is part of a broader equation that includes avoiding overfeeding, calculating portion sizes, and scheduling appropriate mealtimes.
Note that the puppy doesn’t have much of an abdominal tuck at this age. However, a fat or pudgy puppy is not a look anyone should encourage.
The puppy may appear to be in good shape, but you need to feel the ribs to be certain.
You can really start to see the amount the pup has grown compared to the eight-week-old puppy!
To get a better idea of what to expect with a young GSD, feel free to watch this video!
It illustrates the rapid growth rate of the German Shepherd and touches on diets as well.
One final note that we’d like to leave you with is that the enhancement of German Shepherd growth through nutritional excesses is neither necessary nor desirable.