What Is a Balanced Diet for German Shepherds?

Reviewed By Tom •  Updated: 02/10/23 •  8 min read
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Diet for German Shepherds

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Nourishing your German Shepherd with a balanced diet is essential to ensuring their overall health and happiness. By providing your furry friend with a nutritious diet, you can help them avoid health issues such as obesity, joint problems, and digestive issues, and give them the best possible chance of a long and healthy life.

According to the guideline from AAFCO, German Shepherds need six primary nutrients for a balanced diet. Those nutrients are protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. Puppies usually require a higher percentage of certain nutrients when compared to adults.

Don’t worry if you’re feeling uncertain about providing your German Shepherd with a balanced diet – it’s easier than you might think! By understanding your dog’s nutrition needs, you can give them the gift of a happy and healthy life. Let’s get started!

Why is it important for German Shepherds to have a balanced diet? 

A balanced diet is crucial for German Shepherds as it helps maintain their health, avoid health issues such as obesity and joint problems, and ensures a happy and long life.

What are the AAFCO guidelines and why are they important when it comes to a balanced diet for dogs?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, is an independent organization that provides labels for animal feed that is balanced and has all the essentials. 

You can find the AAFCO label on many common dog food brands.

Dog food being labeled with AAFCO is important because it has been inspected to meet all animal nutrition needs. The label gives peace of mind that your German Shepherd will not miss any vital nutrients.

AAFCOs recommended requirementPuppyAdultSenior/Aging
Protein22% to 30%18% to 29%18% to 29%
Fat9%5.5% to 25%5.5% to 25%

The essential nutrients for German Shepherds

Ensuring you are giving a balanced diet can be overwhelming with so much information. However, it is simple and can be split into categories. There are six essential nutrients to consider in providing a balanced diet. AAFCO recommends this list.

Each nutrient is an essential building block of a complete diet for German Shepherd dogs. Clean and fresh water should always be available. 

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates help provide energy and growth. 

Vitamins and minerals are varied and offer different essential benefits.

Let’s discuss a little bit further.


Proteins are vital in maintaining healthy muscles, skin, and hair. Protein also provides energy and essential amino acids when broken down in the body. You may have previously seen the term “crude protein” on food labels. The phrase describes how the protein was calculated in the food and does not reflect quality standards.

What are good protein sources in dog food?

Animal protein sources are the best source because they are easily digested and provide high levels of essential amino acids. Plant proteins are not as easily digested. Animal protein sources can be chicken, beef, or fish. Some good protein sources are:

How much protein do German Shepherds need?

Store-bought dog food will have a guaranteed analysis and should list the crude protein, among other nutrients. 

The minimum dietary requirement for growing dogs is 18% and 8% for adults. These numbers are based on high quality and basic minimum needs. The AAFCO guidelines have puppies at 22% and adults at 18% protein.

Puppy protein recommended amountAdult protein recommended amount
22% Protein18% Protein


Fat helps to provide energy, healthy skin and hair, and absorb specific vitamins. Fat is an important nutrient to help support joint health, GSDs commonly have joint problems. Fat plays a significant role in dog food and should be considered when trying to give a good diet. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids also help to support a healthy diet.

What are good fat sources in dog food?

You can find many good sources of fat in dog food. Fat is an essential nutrient from fish oil, flaxseed, and vegetable oils. An unnecessarily high-fat diet can cause problems such as obesity and other health problems. However,  it is essential not to omit this nutrient completely. 

How much fat do German Shepherds need?

The AAFCO guidelines recommend 8% fat for puppies and 5% for maintaining adults. It is also worth noting that the recommended fat for fat-soluble vitamins is between 1% and 2% of the food.

Puppy fat recommended amountAdult fat recommended amount
8% Fat5% Fat


Many of the essential nutrients help to supply a source of energy. However, carbohydrates are the primary source of energy. They provide glucose for energy and are a good source of dietary fiber. 

What are good carb sources?

Some good sources of carbohydrates can come from corn, oats, and wheat. If your GSD needs grain-free dog food, ingredients such as potatoes, peas, and lentils offer good carbohydrates.

How many Carbohydrates do German Shepherds need?

Believe it or not, no researcher has been able to prove that they need carbs in their diets. Yet, many dog foods have a whooping 46 – 74% of carbohydrates in their formulas – and this is often hidden from you.  

Dog food companies are not required to report how many carbohydrates they put into their foods. If you want to learn more about how to identify the amount of carbohydrates in dog food.

Source: Is Grain-Free Good for German Shepherds? 

Do carbohydrates cause problems for GSDs?

While carbohydrates do provide energy, this can also be problematic. German Shepherds are not required to have carbohydrates; too many can cause problems. There are five reasons why carbs can be avoided.

  1. Glycemic index 
    • When large quantities of carbs are present, they cannot be used quickly and are stored as fat.
  2. Insulin resistance
    • Simple carbs spike glucose levels and can stress the liver and pancreas.
  3. Carbs feed bad bacteria
    • Many carbs feed bad bacteria in the gut. This can lead to problems like IBS, leaky gut, and reduced nutrient intake.
  4. GMO carbs
    • Many of the carbs found in kibble are GMO. These GMO carbs destroy healthy bacteria found in your dog’s stomach.
  5. Little need for carbs
    • German Shepherd dogs that are highly active may benefit from some healthy carbs but can get their energy from protein and fat sources.

german shepherd diet


German Shepherds need a variety of vitamins in their diet. Vitamins can look complicated due to the amount and the fact that they serve different purposes. Vitamins can be divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins

This type of vitamin is readily available and used quickly in the body.

Vitamin NameGood Sources Of ItThe Benefits
CholineEgg yolks
Gland meats
Clotting and fat absorption
Biotin (B7 or H)Liver
Egg yolks
Metabolism of fats, sugar, and amino acids
Folic Acid (B9)Green vegetables
Egg yolks
Help create DNA and purines
Cobalamin (B12)Organ meat
Cell function and metabolism
Pantothenic Acid (B5)Liver
Wheat bran
Energy and metabolism of nutrients
Niacin (B3)Yeast
Enzymatic and physiologic reactions
Pyridoxine (B6)Whole-grains
Amino acid metabolism
Riboflavin (B2)Organ meat
Egg yolk
Supports digestion
Thiamin (B1)Liver
Whole grain
Nervous system

Fat-soluble vitamins

These vitamins require fat and other things to be absorbed in the body. They can also be stored, whereas water-soluble vitamins are not.

Vitamin NameGood Sources Of ItThe Benefits
Vitamin A
Fish oil
Vision, growth, and the immune system
Vitamin EGrains
Vegetable oils
An antioxidant
Vitamin DDairy
Fish oil
Helps to retain calcium for bones
Vitamin KLiver
Alfafa meal
Fish meal
Blood clotting

Vitamin supplements

Do GSDs need vitamin supplements? Adding vitamin supplements is unnecessary if they are provided with a balanced diet. Some supplements can be beneficial and may be needed if you provide different diet types. 


Minerals are essential to support various functions of a dog’s body and support structures. They make up the structural components of the body. They also play a role in body enzyme and hormone systems.

There are two kinds of minerals: macro-minerals and trace minerals. Both have daily requirements for dogs but in different amounts.

Macro minerals

This list is macro minerals and must be provided at 100mg/Mcal or greater.

Trace minerals

Also known as microminerals, trace minerals are needed at 100mg/Mcal or below.


The most basic need of a balanced diet is water. Dogs should have access to water that is clean and fresh.

The importance of water

Water is vital for many body functions. Water helps to lubricate joints, regulate body temperature, and break down carbs, fats, and proteins. Water is so crucial that any sudden increase or decrease should be discussed with a veterinarian.

How much water should a German Shepherd drink in a day?

Water can be difficult to measure, but the recommended amount should be about 2.5 times the amount of dry food they eat. If your dog gets a wet food diet or supplements, then it may drink less due to the moisture in the food.


Nourishing your German Shepherd with a balanced diet is the best way to show your love and care for them. By following the guidelines set by the AAFCO, and selecting dog food with the right label, you can have peace of mind that your furry friend is receiving all the essential nutrients they need to thrive. With this knowledge, you can feel confident and proud in providing a fulfilling and healthy diet for your beloved dog.

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Tom has always loved to write since he was little - he wanted to be either a writer or a veterinary doctor, but he ended up being a professional writer while most of his works are based on animals. He was born in San Francisco but later moved to Texas to continue his job as a writer. He graduated from the University of San Francisco where he studied biotechnology. He is happily married and a soon to be father!

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