Choosing the right food is one of the most difficult parts of owning a German Shepherd, or any dog for that matter.
We all want what’s best for our pups, but the world of pet food can be pretty confusing.
In this article, we’ll give you the tools you need to find quality food for your GSD, as well as share some recommendations based on our own research.
German Shepherd at a Glance
German Shepherds are intelligent, loyal companions that are affectionate with their families but sometimes aloof toward strangers. Sheepherders in the past, they are now well known for their role as police dogs.
Considered a large breed, GSDs weigh between 50 and 90 pounds.
Unfortunately, they are prone to suffering from hip dysplasia and arthritis, especially in old age.
Because of this, it’s important to take extra care with their exercise and nutrition while they are growing.
You should talk with your vet about your German Shepherd’s diet to ensure she remains healthy throughout her life.
Should You Use Breed-Specific Food?
While breed-specific pet foods do exist, they are not necessarily better than all breed foods.
Breed-specific foods that treat breed-specific health issues can’t be sold to the public. This is they are considered “therapeutic” and must be prescribed by a vet.
This isn’t to say that breed specific foods available over the counter are completely irrelevant. Some such foods may take into account, for instance, a breed’s likelihood to become obese, and thus utilize a low-calorie formulation.
However, you’ll notice that a food marketed for German Shepherds isn’t much different from a food formulated for large breed dogs.
Rather than looking for breed specific foods, it’s better to research dog foods in general to learn which are safe, quality options for your dog.
How to Choose a Quality Pet Food
Contrary to popular belief, the labels on dog food aren’t that useful. Veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Lisa Freeman, goes in-depth on the matter in her article, “Stop reading your pet food ingredient list!, as well as in a co-authored article titled “Why you shouldn’t judge a pet food by its ingredient list.”
She discusses how labels are largely marketing ploys as they often include ingredients (like certain fruits and veggies) that are attractive to customers but aren’t nutritionally valuable.
Worse, foods with meat or poultry as the first ingredient make you believe the food has a high meat content, which isn’t necessarily true.
These cuts of meat are comparable to what we would see at the grocery store, and thus they have a considerable amount of liquid in them which increases their weight.
Therefore, a food with chicken as the first ingredient may actually have less chicken in it than a food with chicken meat as the second or third ingredient.
Lastly, ingredient lists tell us nothing about the quality of the ingredients.
Research and Ask Questions
Since labels don’t offer much insight, how do we choose a quality food?
For starters, only consider foods that follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) guidelines. Foods that adhere to AAFCO standards will have a statement on the bag.
Though the AAFCO doesn’t regulate dog food, it publishes and revises nutrition profiles for manufacturers to follow and is considered an authority on pet nutrition.
The best way to insure food quality and safety involves contacting companies directly to ask questions about their products.
The questions listed here are modeled after those from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) article, “Recommendations on Selecting Pet Foods.”
- Who is responsible for formulating the food and what are their qualifications?
- Where do you source your ingredients from?
- What quality control measures are in place?
- Does the company conduct any research? Is it published (preferably in peer-reviewed journals)?
- Does the company own the manufacturing plant(s) where products are being made?
- How much of a certain nutrient is in the product?
These questions will help you better understand if a company is trustworthy and is manufacturing quality products.
If contacting companies is too extra for you, then stick to brands that follow AAFCO guidelines and have information about their food safety measures on their websites.
Best Dog Food for German Shepherd Dogs
We included the previous information to help you find quality food for your GSD on your own.
We will share some recommendations, but we think it’s important to give you the tools you need to do your own research.
Using the questions above, we contacted a handful of brands to determine if their products were worth including in this article. The following is an outline of their responses.
Blue Buffalo (Blue Wilderness)
A team of certified veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians formulates this food. Blue Buffalo only owns two of the plants that manufacture their products. The company conducts feeding trials.
Blue Buffalo does only owns two of the plants that manufacture their products. But they conduct feeding trials to ensure their foods meet their aims.
Most meats are from the U.S., though more “exotic” meats (venison, duck, etc.) may come from other countries. Lamb, for instance, is imported from New Zealand by almost all dog food manufacturers.
Blue Buffalo employs various procedures to ensure the quality of their products, including ELISA testing. The company meet AAFCO requirements.
Canidae’s food is formulated by a certified veterinary nutritionist. They own all of the plants in which their products are manufactured and conduct feeding trials.
Most of the meats in their food are from the U.S. and Canada, though more exotic meats are imported from other countries.
Canidae conducts a number of tests on their products and ingredients, including testing incoming ingredients, testing for harmful substances and bacteria, ensuring correct levels of nutrients, and a test and hold protocol. Learn more on their website.
Canidae meet AAFCO requirements.
Diamond Pet Food Company
Diamond also owns Taste of the Wild. A team of nutritionists and veterinarians with varying levels of qualification formulate their foods, including at least one certified veterinary nutritionist.
They own all of the plants that make their foods. Meat is sourced from U.S. farms with exotic ingredients imported as necessary (lamb comes from New Zealand).
Diamond does mycotoxin testing, microbial testing, finished product nutritional tests, and more.
They meet AAFCO requirements.
Fromm Family Foods
A team including a nutritionist, veterinarian, chemist, and quality control analysts analyzes Fromm’s products. The nutritionist does not have a PHD, but a B.S. in pre-veterinary medicine and is currently studying for her PHD.
They own all of the plants that make their foods, and carry out feeding trials.
Meats, including poultry, are sourced from U.S. farms (aside from lamb, which is imported from New Zealand) and are grown without hormones or antibiotics.
Fromm tests incoming ingredients, implements Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points programs, and is subject to random, periodic inspections from outside agencies. Each bag of Fromm food has a batch number, making it traceable. Learn more on Fromm’s website.
Fromm meets AAFCO requirements
The Nutro Company
A team of certified veterinary nutritionists, veterinarians, and scientists formulate The Nutro Company’s food.
They own all of the plants that make their foods, and carry out feeding trials. The Nutro Company occasionally publishes it’s research in scientific journalsls.
Meats are sourced from locations nearest to the manufacturing plants, though the more exotic meats may be imported. Meats are all raised without antibiotics, hormones, or GMOs.
Nutro tests every grain shipment for mycotoxins before unloading and tests finished products for microbiological safety and nutritional compliance. Learn more on their website.
The Nutro Company meets AAFCO Standards
Being a large company, Purina has multiple teams of certified veterinary nutritionists on staff to formulate their dog food. They do all their manufacturing themselves, conduct feeding trials, and publish research in scientific journals.
Most meats are sourced in the USA. Purina only imports ingredients when they are not readily available in the U.S.
Purina samples the ingredients from their suppliers to ensure safety and quality, and they also sample finished products to ensure they meet AAFCO, FDA, and USDA standards. Learn more on Purina’s website.
Wellness also owns Eagle Pack and Holistic Select brands of dog food.
A certified veterinary nutritionist formulates their food.
The own all of the plants that manufacture their foods, and conduct feeding trials. Most meat is sourced from the USA, though some of the more exotic meats are imported from other countries when there is not enough supply within the U.S.
Wellness performs audits on incoming meat, Hazard Analysis and Control Points programs, and other quality control tests. Learn more on their website.
They meet AAFCO standards.
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The companies we contacted seem responsible and safe to purchase from, but the final decision is yours.
Now, let’s get into our dog food recommendations for German Shepherds. We have linked to products available on Amazon, but you may find them cheaper elsewhere.
Best Dry Food for German Shepherds
This is a list of balanced foods that have received positive feedback from customers.
Canidae All Life Stages Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, and Fish Recipe is suitable for puppies, adults, and senior dogs. There is also a reduced activity version of this recipe
This food can be bought in whopping 44lb bags, which is a great option for owners with multiple dogs. This food does not contain corn, wheat, or soy.
Although not specifically formulated for large breeds, Fromm Adult Gold meets the growth and maintenance requirements of dogs weighing 70lbs or more in adulthood.
This recipe includes Wisconsin cheese which increases palatability and serves as a source of protein and fatty acids.
Wellness Complete Health Large Breed Deboned Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe contains “added glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy hips and joints.”
This formula does not contain soy, wheat, or corn.
Best Dog Food for German Shepherd Puppies
Feeding your German Shepherd puppy a nutritious meal is important for healthy growth; that’s why the following foods are formulated for large breed dogs.
Fromm Gold Large Breed Puppy Food is developed for puppies with adult weights greater than 50 pounds.
The main meat ingredient is chicken, and the recipe also includes lamb and duck.
Nutro Max Large Breed Puppy Recipe is formulated with chicken and whole grains (excluding wheat, soy, and corn).
This food is an affordable option at $35 as of writing this article (prices may fluctuate).
Best Dog Food for German Shepherd Seniors
While senior dogs don’t have to be fed senior diets, it’s definitely worth considering. Senior foods often have fewer calories to accommodate reduced activity levels.
Furthermore, some foods may include small amounts of glucosamine, which acts as a joint supplement.
Nutro Max Senior Dry Dog Food Chicken Recipe is an affordable option for pet owners.
Includes glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health. There is no soy, corn, or wheat in this recipe.
Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ Large Breed Formula includes glucosamine to support joint health.
The Bright Mind formula uses “enhanced botanical oils” to promote alertness and mental sharpness.
Best Dog Food for German Shepherds with Food Sensitivities
Some GSDs may have trouble with food sensitivity. This term is a bit confusing as it can be used to refer to both allergies and digestive issues. However, many limited ingredient dog foods address both issues by removing certain ingredients from their recipes.
If your German Shepherd is suffering from food sensitivity, he may benefit from a limited ingredient dog food. Your vet can help you determine which option is best for your dog’s needs.
Blue Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Turkey and Potato Recipe for Adult Dogs contains easily digestible sources of protein and carbs and has pumpkin added to “ease digestion.”
None of the foods in the Basics line contain corn, wheat, soy, dairy, or eggs. There is a grain-free version of this food available.
Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Lamb and Sweet Potato Recipe for Adult, Large Breed Dogs is grain-free and does not contain corn, wheat, soy, or dairy proteins which are common culprits of food sensitivities.
Nutro only sources non-GMO ingredients and does not use artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Best Grain-Free Foods for German Shepherds
In July of 2018, the FDA announced that they are researching certain pet diets due to a rise in dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Grain-free formulas are suspect, but they have not been proven guilty and research is ongoing.
Because dogs are adept at digesting grains, there is no need to put your dog on a grain-free diet.
However, dogs with food allergies may benefit from this type of diet.
You should discuss with your veterinarian if grain-free is right for your pup.
Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Adult Dog Food with Smoked Salmon is free of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
This recipe does not contain chicken or eggs and may also be suitable for dogs with such sensitivities.
Purina Beyond White Meat Chicken and Egg Recipe provides an affordable grain-free option with this recipe.
This recipe is free of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Contrary to popular belief, relying on pet food labels isn’t a great way to choose the best dog food for German Shepherds.
These labels don’t give much useful information, and ingredient lists often contain marketing ploys.
It’s important to research the foods you are interested in to ensure they are made by responsible companies that use quality ingredients.
A trustworthy brand will also follow AAFCO guidelines and standards for nutrition.
You should discuss your German Shepherd’s diet with your veterinarian to ensure she is meeting her nutritional needs throughout her lifetime.
Axelsson, Erik, et al, “The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet.” Nature, vol. 485, no. 7441, Jan 2013.
“FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy.” U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 19 Feb. 2019.
Freeman, Lisa M, “Stop reading your pet food ingredient list!” Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, 1 Mar. 2019.
Freeman, Lisa M., et al, “Why you shouldn’t judge a pet food by its ingredient list.” Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, 21 June 2016.
Heinz, Cailin R, “Breed Specific vs All Breed Diets.” Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, 2 August 2018.
“WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee: Recommendations on Selecting Pet Foods.” World Small Animal Veterinary Association.