German Shepherd Care Guide: Food, Grooming, Bathing and More

German shepherds are easy dogs to care for. They need plenty of exercise, regular veterinary care, good food and regular grooming, but they don’t have a number of special needs that some other breeds do.

The Right Food

What you feed your German shepherd will affect its health. Initially, you should use the food that the breeder, rescue group or shelter had your dog on. If you need to change for any reason, do so gradually over a week or two. Mix the new food in with the old, starting at 25 percent new and 75 percent old.

Most German shepherds do well on a premium kibble. You might want to add some canned food, but it could get expensive just feeding your dog on canned food. Avoid the semi-moist foods, as they have many preservatives. Also avoid grocery-store brands, as these are often not top-quality items. Most pet supply stores have a variety of premium kibbles available.

You may want to try home cooking or feeding a raw diet to your German shepherd. This can get expensive but may be the ideal solution for a dog with health problems. If you decide to try either of these options, consult a veterinary nutritionist. Have the professional design a custom diet for your German shepherd. Winging it could mean nutritional deficiencies for your pet.

Many German shepherds suffer from food allergies, food sensitivities or inflammatory bowel disease. Those conditions benefit from special diets with limited and/or unique protein sources.

Feed your German shepherd regular meals. Up until 6 months of age, a pup may need three meals a day. After that, feed two meals daily. Regular meals help you keep track of how much your dog is eating. You will quickly know if your dog doesn’t feel well and doesn’t want to eat. Regular meals also help with housetraining. Dogs who free-feed tend to get obese, as they can eat all day long.

Dealing with Weight Problems

Dog obesity is a problem for many dog owners today. In general, German shepherds are so active that they easily burn off their calories. You should feel your dog’s body weekly to check his conditioning. You should easily be able to feel ribs (though they should not stick out), and the dog should have an obvious “waist” when you look down from above.

If your German shepherd shows a tendency to roundness, you have some options. You can decrease the amount of food you feed. Drastic reductions might limit essential nutrients, however, or lead to garbage raids. Special diets with added fiber can help your dog feel full on fewer calories. Increasing exercise is almost always needed as well. Add a couple of blocks to your daily walk or 10 more minutes. Swimming is excellent exercise, too.

The treats your dog eats should be good quality. Don’t feed table scraps that have a lot of fat. Keep training treats small and healthful. Many dogs enjoy tiny pieces of homemade chicken jerky or cut-up carrots.

If your German shepherd has gained weight, cut back on giving treats, too. Most dogs have a sense of numbers, so they can count how many treats they normally get — up to about six. If your German shepherd normally gets two biscuits at bedtime and you cut that back to one, the dog will bug you for the extra treat. Instead, break the single biscuit in two. Your dog will feel it was treated fairly.

Grooming

Looking at a German shepherd, you would not think there would be much grooming effort needed. That double coat generates an amazing amount of hair, however. During a spring shed, you can easily fill multiple large brown grocery bags with hair.

Surprisingly, the long-coated German shepherds actually shed less, though they need more frequent regular grooming to prevent matting. Proper grooming gives your German shepherd that suave, dignified look.

Your German shepherd can be expected to shed a bit year-round, with dramatic sheds in the fall and the spring. Ideal grooming tools are a slicker brush (bent wires on a rectangular base), a comb with wide teeth and a pin brush (bristles sticking up out of a cushioned brush).

A shedding blade made for horses may be helpful. Expect to groom your dog at least once per week normally and daily during big shed times. For the regular German shepherd coat, simply going with the flow of the hair will work fine. Work down both sides fully, and brush the tail out. While grooming, make a dental cleaning part of your routine.

Bathing

German shepherds don’t need baths very often, but at major shed times, a bath can speed up hair loss. It is also necessary to bathe your dog after a roll in the mud or any noxious substance. In warm weather, you can bathe your shepherd outside with a hose, preferably one that has warmed up in the sun.

Always use a shampoo designed for dogs. Put a cotton ball into your German shepherd’s ears to keep water out. Use a washcloth to clean the face and to keep any shampoo from getting into the dog’s eyes. It can be hard to get a shepherd coat truly wet due to the thickness, so rinse thoroughly. Then let your dog shake well, and towel dry.

If you accustom your German shepherd to baths and grooming as a puppy, life will be easier. For an adult dog that is not used to this and for your puppy at the beginning, make these two-person jobs. One person can hand out small treats and help hold the dog, while the other person handles the brushing and bathing.

Trimming Nails

German shepherds tend to have thick, tough nails. Decide early if you want to use guillotine nail clippers or a Dremel tool. When trimming, take off the hook that goes past the plane of the foot when held flat.

Most shepherds have black nails, so you can’t see the quick. With a Dremel to grind the nail, remember that even though it cauterizes as it works, you do not want to go into the quick. It helps to have two people initially.

Treats given after each nail or each foot will keep your shepherd from dreading nail time. If you aren’t sure where to trim, ask your veterinarian or a veterinary technician at your next visit. Handle your dog’s paws at other times as well, so your dog is comfortable with you holding the paw.

The quick is the sensitive part of your dog’s nail and contains nerves and blood vessels. Trimming into this area is painful, and it will bleed. Use a stypic pen (for shaving) or a silver nitrate stick to stop the bleeding.

At-Home Assessment

While you are grooming your German shepherd, take a few minutes to conduct a quick home checkup. Assess your dog from nose to tail. The nose should be dark and not crusty. There should be no discharge other than a clear, watery one.

The eyes should be wide open, not squinted, and not have discharge. Both ears should be erect and not have a discharge or bad odor. The teeth should be white and the gums pink (unless pigmented black).

Run your hands down your German shepherd’s body and legs. Feel for any asymmetry. If your dog flinches, check that area carefully. Feel for any lumps or bumps. Check under the tail for any signs of diarrhea or fistulas (moist, abscessed areas).

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