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German Shepherd Health Care & Feeding

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

German Shepherd

Start your German Shepherd puppy off on the right foot by feeding the right food, giving the right vaccinations, finding the right vet, and if you're going to spay or neuter, don't do it too early.


Jump down to this list of
German Shepherd Health Problems


Or check out my advice for raising a healthy German Shepherd puppy or adult dog:

Obedience instructor and author Michele Welton Dog Health Care – The Sensible Way
Read my advice on daily health care so your German Shepherd lives a long, healthy life and seldom needs to see the vet.

Real homemade dog food The Best Dog Food For Feeding Your German Shepherd
Food is the #1 foundation for good health. The best diet for feeding your dog is real food. Real chicken, turkey, beef, fish....these are not just "people foods" and I'll tell you why.

Natural dog foods for your German Shepherd. Kibble or Canned Dog Food – Almost As Good As Homemade?
Are you looking for the best dry kibble or canned dog food?

NomNomNow homemade dog food service Feed Homemade Dog Food Without Needing To Make It
Would you like to feed your dog homemade, but think you don't have the time or skill to make it? I have the solution for you....

Pet insurance Should You Buy Pet Insurance? An Honest Review
My advice on the pros and cons of pet insurance, and the best pet insurance company I've found.

Information on booster shots for your German Shepherd. Vaccinations and Booster Shots: Needed or Not?
How many vaccinations does your German Shepherd puppy really need? Does your adult German Shepherd need yearly booster shots? The vaccination guidelines have changed! Find out what some vets aren't telling you.

Information on spaying your German Shepherd. Spaying Your Female Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of spaying your female dog.

Information on neutering your male dog. Neutering Your Male Dog: Pros and Cons
Advantages and disadvantages of neutering your male dog.

Information on choosing the best vet for your German Shepherd. The Type of Veterinarian I Recommend
Is your veterinarian really the best choice for your dog? Learn about the differences between vets who practice conventional, holistic, and alternative veterinary medicine.

Assisi Loop Assisi Loop Review: How I Helped Treat Inflammation and Pain
Does your dog suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, disk disease, colitis, a skin wound? My honest review of a veterinary device you can use at home to help reduce inflammation and pain.

German Shepherd dog breed

Complete list of German Shepherd health problems

The typical lifespan of German Shepherds is 10-12 years old. Some do live to 13 or 14, but often with chronic health issues such as arthritis.

And sadly, many don't even make it to age 10.

As a long-time German Shepherd owner, I know first-hand how many health problems this breed suffers from. Crippling joint diseases, autoimmune diseases, heart and eye diseases.... truly a breed with serious health problems.

Orthopedic disorders

German Shepherds suffer from high rates of two painful joint diseases: hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. At least 20% of the breed suffers from hip dysplasia, and another 20% from elbow dysplasia. Surgery for these joint diseases runs to several thousand dollars.

Panosteitis, which causes pain and lameness in young Shepherds, is another common orthopedic problem.

German Shepherds are prone to tearing the cruciate ligaments in their legs – that's another expensive surgery.

Skin problems

Rampant in this breed, especially allergies (which cause itchy skin) and pyoderma (skin infections that set in after frantic scratching of the itchy skin). There's also seborrhea, and in young Shepherds, demodectic mange.

Autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases, where a dog's defective immune system attacks its own body, are extremely common in German Shepherds:

  • Often the skin is the target of the defective immune system. Autoimmune skin diseases in German Shepherds include perianal fistula (a particularly nasty infection in the poor dog's hindquarters around the anus), sebaceous adenitis, lupus, pemphigus, and nail bed disease.
  • When the defective immune system targets other organs, the resulting diseases include megaesophagus, myasthenia gravis, and degenerative myelopathy (DM). Long ago, I had a German Shepherd with DM. The defective immune system eats away at the spinal cord and leads to a slow, inevitable paralysis of the hind legs. There's no cure.

Digestive ailments

German Shepherds are notorious for digestive problems, especially chronic diarrhea caused by food intolerances and colitis (inflammatory bowel disease).

Believe me, you haven't lived until you're awakened at 3 am by your German Shepherd experiencing a bout of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (bloody diarrhea) all over the house.

Pancreatic insufficiency, a defective pancreas that wreaks havoc on the dog's ability to digest food, is yet another issue in the breed.

As with all deep-chested breeds, German Shepherds are at high risk for an emergency gastrointestinal syndrome called bloat (gastric torsion). It strikes out of the blue and can kill a perfectly healthy dog in just a few hours.

Heart disease

Just about every form of heart disease occurs in German Shepherds: sub-aortic stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, cardiomyopathy, mitral valve disease, and patent ductus arteriosus.

Eye diseases

Serious eye diseases in the breed include pannus (which is yet another autoimmune disease – I had a female German Shepherd with it) and cataracts (not just old-age cataracts, but cataracts that can cause blindness in Shepherd puppies).

Other eye diseases in the breed include cherry eye, corneal dystrophy, retinal dysplasia, and lens luxation.

Other health problems

Many German Shepherds are lost to cancer, the most common being hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, and lymphosarcoma.

Epilepsy is one of the most recent concerns in the breed.

Blood-clotting diseases include von Willebrand's disease, hemophilia A, and the more severe hemophilia B.

Hormonal/endocrine system diseases include hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, and diabetes. According to the Michigan State University Thyroid Database, up to 12% of German Shepherds have low thyroid levels.

Sigh. I love this breed and hate to see them suffering.

Preventing health problems

Some health problems are inherited. For example, if both parents of your German Shepherd have certificates proving they were tested and cleared of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, heart disease, and degenerative myelopathy, your German Shepherd has less risk of developing those conditions.

Dog feeding and health book by Michele Welton Other health problems can be prevented, or partially prevented, by the ways you raise your dog.

My best-selling book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy shows you how to raise your German Shepherd puppy (or adult dog) in all the right ways. It will help you be your dog's health care champion!

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.


To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.