What to feed a German Shepherd Dog

This article was originally published in December 2009 and significantly revised in February 2011 to share new thoughts and experiences.
I love my dogs. I think most pet owners feel the same way. I want to make sure my dogs live a long, healthy and happy life and so I ensure they get lots of exercise—I rollerblade and walk them 2-3 hours every day—and provide proper discipline to create calm submissive pack followers who can be the members of the family they should be. After exercise and discipline are covered, affection is next on the list and that includes healthy food. I have lost two dogs to cancer over the years, both about fourteen years of age at those times and it really got me focused on preventing that from happening again. Did you know, that cancer is the number one dog killer? No matter what anyone tells you, that's hardly normal, nor acceptable. The reasons for this can certainly be debated, but looking at the ingredients in dog food, I am pretty sure I know where the blame lies. It lies with us, for feeding our fury friends commercial dog food full of by-products, meats laced with growth hormones and antibiotics, etc.
Much of the food found in the grocery isle, made by mega food companies, is not good for people (read the labels and check human cancer rates) and the same goes for dog food. I want to make sure my dogs eat well, but like everyone, I clearly have to also watch the price tag. The good news is, expensive doesn't necessarily mean good and cheaper doesn't necessarily mean bad. It is however important to feed a dog the right type of food, that is appropriate for its breed and ensure that those things are healthy. The most important thing to understand is that when it comes to the right dog food: BREED MATTERS!
This blog post addresses some of the basics of German Shepherd nutrition and also gives you additional resources to learn about the nutritional needs of other breeds. All information is based on my own research, feeding my own dogs and the advice of the late Animal Advocate William D. Cusick. Mr. Cusick published breed specific nutritional guides and his books are very informative. A free copy of his previously best selling dog nutrition guide can be found here: Canine Nutrition.
This information is for educational purposes only and you should always consult with a professional before making any significant nutritional adjustments or have any concerns or questions.
So let's get to what I feed my German Shepherd dog Sylvester—the picture above, is him—and why.
From "Canine Nutrition & Choosing The Best Food For Your Breed Of Dog" by William D. Cusick
"The German Shepherd originated in the Alsatian Region of Germany (read more on Origin & History). The official name for this breed is German Shepherd Dog, although it is usually called German Shepherd or just Shepherd. The German Shepherd is unique because it has a very short colon in comparison to other breeds of the same body weight. For this reason a high fiber diet is required to slow the movement of food through this breed's digestive track, thereby allowing more time for the nutrients to be drawn out. This high fiber diet will result in a larger stool but better assimilation of the food.
The environment for the Alsatian Region of Germany provided this breed with primary food sources of beef, wheat, and leafy greens like cabbage and alfalfa. Thus, I recommend a blend of these food sources as the ideal base diet for the German Shepherd. Conversely, I feel the worst commercial food blend for the German Shepherd Dog would contain fish, soy, or rice. "
So the diet of my dog is based on beef, wheat and cabbage and I avoid fish, soy, or rice. But let's be realistic, knowing what Sylvester should eat and mixing that all up in a way he will actually eat it, are two very different things. While in nature in its original habitat he would consume these types of things naturally, he would not walk up to some spinach plant and start chewing. Sylvester is a dog and dogs eat and NEED meat; dogs are omnivores. In nature, he he would hunt down any smaller animal and eat that. He would get lots of his nutrition by eating the stomach and its half digested content of his dinner kill—don't think about that for too long but that IS how dogs in the wild do get their vegetables.
Obviously I won't allow that to happen, so I decided to purchase William D. Cusick's "The Best Diet for a German Shepherd Dog" manuscript and I have been cooking my doggie's food following his recipe. My German Shepherd loves this food and thrives on it. He has higher energy levels, has gained about 15 pounds of pure muscle due to the rigorous exercise he gets daily and is 100% healthy. He doesn't get any flea or tick medications either—the garlic in the food is a natural pest repellent—and doesn't have health problems of any kind.
I cook for him once a week and it only takes about 1-2 hours (including clean-up) to prepare 14 portions and box them in tupperware. I got a small refrigerator in the garage dedicated to his food. I have him on a twice a day feeding schedule. It is well worth it in my view and it only costs about $40 a week to have really healthy, nutritious well tasting—from a dogs perspective—dog food.
The following table is for reference purposes only and you should NOT start mixing up dog food without the recipe itself as the right amount of each ingredient is essential for it to be healthy. I.e. a small amount of garlic in my German Shepherd's food will keep ticks and fleas away while a too high amount is actually poisonous. So please, get the recipe referenced above if you are serious about healthy, natural feeding.
German Shepherd Dog
Nutritional Needs
Best
Food Sources
Vitamin A Palmitate
Source: WH Foods
cabbage, carrot, broccoli, squash
Vitamin B-1
Source: WH Foods
cabbage, carrot, yellow corn, squash, broccoli
Vitamin B-2
Source: WH Foods
broccoli, cabbage, squash, beef
Vitamin B-6
Source: WH Foods
chicken, beef, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, carrot, squash, potato
Vitamin B-12
Source: WH Foods
beef
Vitamin D
Source: WH Foods
cheese
Vitamin E
Source: WH Foods
broccoli
Niacinamide (B3)
Source: WH Foods
broccoli, chicken, squash, carrot, beef
Biotin
Source: WH Foods
carrot (raw)
Folic Acid
Source: WH Foods
broccoli
d-Calcium Pantothenate (B5)
Source: WH Foods
yellow corn, broccoli, squash
Para Amino Benzoic Acid (PABA)
Source: Any Vitamins
whole grain wheat
Calcium
Source: WH Foods
cheese, broccoli, cabbage, squash, garlic
Copper
Source: WH Foods
squash, cheese, potato, garlic
Iodine
Source: WH Foods
cheese
Iron
Source: WH Foods
cheese, broccoli, squash, beef
Magnesium
Source: WH Foods
cheese, squash, broccoli, whole grain wheat, cabbage
Manganese
Source: WH Foods
garlic, squash, whole grain wheat, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, yellow corn
Phosphorus
Source: WH Foods
cheese
Potassium
Source: WH Foods
broccoli, squash, carrots, cabbage, potato
Zinc
Source: WH Foods
beef, squash, broccoli
The above ensures Sylvester gets what he needs to be healthy but there are a couple of other things I have been adding to all my dog's food for years with great results. Here are some additions to consider:
  • Bragg's Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (1/2 tsp) – Bragg's is something we have been using for years for ourselves and all our pets and it works very well to support healthy skin and fur.
  • Healthy Motion by Green Dogs Natural – especially older dogs with joint issues benefit from this (our 14 year old dog's life quality has improved significantly); it really helps with their mobility. In case of Sylvester, he is a large dog and is prone to develop joint issues later on if not properly cared for. I believe he needs all joint and bone support he can get, and this product works very well. It contains: Glucosamine HCl (from Shellfish) 500 mg, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) 250 mg, Green Lipped Mussel Shell (Perna canaliculous) 100 mg, Joint Comfort Blend (Bromelain, Ginger (rhizome), Turmeric (rhizome), Meadowsweet (herb), Stinging Nettles (tops)), Ocean source Omega Blend 75 mg, Organic Antioxidant Greens Blend, Organic Ground flax seed, Natural Chicken Flavor.
I have been doing this for quite a while now and Sylvester is doing very well on this diet. He does get about 2 hours of exercise a day so he is a more active dog and needs some more nutrition than a couch potato.
When he gets his food—twice a day—he always finishes all in one setting. He is very lean and has even been putting on some more muscles due to the daily rollerblading.
I strongly recommend you take a look at the individual breed nutrition guides from William Cusick, as they have been a great starting point for my research.
If Your Dog Could Talk
If Your Dog Could Talk is a "straight-forward" guide to understanding your dog.
If you ever wonder what your dog is thinking, this book is for you. Dive inside your dog's mind and read in plain English how your dog sees the world and you—its pack.
Learn what it means to be a dog and how dogs relate to other animals and the people around them.
Understand how dogs learn, how their minds function and the foundation of all dog training and behavior modification.
If Your Dog Could Talk helps you understand your dog like never before!
Ralf Weber is a certified dog trainer (IACP CDT, CDTA) and behaviorist. A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and an AKC evaluator for Puppy S.T.A.R., Canine Good Citizen, and Community Canine certifications.
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