Worst Dog Foods for German Shepherds: What to Avoid

Categorized as Feeding, Health
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German Shepherds are powerful, active dogs that require a nutritious diet to stay healthy. However, not all dog foods are created equal. Some contain low-quality ingredients and toxins that can wreak havoc on your German Shepherd’s health.

As a German Shepherd owner, it’s crucial to understand what ingredients and additives to avoid when selecting your dog’s food. This article explores the worst dog food choices for German Shepherds and how to identify more suitable options.

Why Diet Matters for German Shepherds

The German Shepherd is a large, energetic breed prone to joint problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. They have sensitive digestive systems and may develop food allergies. Obesity is also a common health threat.

That’s why paying attention to your German Shepherd’s diet is so important. Poor nutrition can exacerbate orthopedic issues, digestive troubles, skin conditions, obesity and other health problems. It can even shorten your dog’s lifespan.

On the other hand, an optimal diet enhances your German Shepherd’s quality of life by:

  • Promoting healthy muscle development and maintenance
  • Supporting bone, joint and coat health
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Providing sustained energy
  • Maintaining an ideal body weight
  • Preventing nutritional deficiencies

Selecting the right dog food establishes the nutritional foundation your German Shepherd needs to thrive.

Fillers: The Cardinal Sin of Dog Foods

Fillers offer no nutritional value and can irritate your German Shepherd’s digestive tract. Cheap fillers are used to bulk up low-quality dog foods without adding any real protein or other nutrients.

Some common fillers to avoid include:

  • Corncobs – Indigestible and linked to food allergies. They can cause stomach upset.
  • Feathers – Offer negligible nutrition. The hard quills are difficult to digest.
  • Soy – Another common food allergen for dogs that offers minimal nutrients. Associated with bloating and flatulence.
  • Cottonseed hulls – The indigestible outer casings of cottonseeds. No nutritional value.
  • Peanut hulls – The fibrous shell of peanuts is too abrasive for a dog’s GI tract.
  • Citrus pulp – The remains of citrus fruits after juicing. Too acidic for dogs.
  • Screenings – Floor sweepings like stalks and vines rejected by other industries.
  • Weeds – Undefined plant matter with no nutritional benefit.
  • Straw – Indigestible fiber with little protein or fat. Can irritate the intestinal lining.
  • Cereal by-products – Cheap leftover grains rejected for human consumption.

Fillers like these pass through your German Shepherd’s body without providing any nutrition. At best, they offer empty calories. At worst, they can cause chronic digestive upset and malnutrition.

Harmful Preservatives

Some synthetic preservatives added to dog foods are linked to organ damage, cancer and other serious health conditions. Three notorious preservatives to avoid are:

  • Ethoxyquin – Originally created as a pesticide. Associated with reproductive issues, thyroid and kidney disease, immune disorders, cancer and premature death. Banned from human foods but still used in some pet foods.
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – A suspected carcinogen also linked to liver, kidney and stomach damage.
  • BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) – Another likely carcinogen that may cause nutrient deficiencies, blood disorders and fatal conditions like hemorraghic disease.

Safer preservative alternatives include vitamin E, vitamin C and rosemary extract. The healthiest dog foods use natural preservatives or none at all.

4D Meat: Dead, Dying, Diseased or Decayed

4D meats come from sick animals or carcasses unfit for human consumption. This low-grade meat has higher bacteria loads and poorer nutritional quality.

Eating 4D meat increases your German Shepherd’s risk for foodborne illness and nutritional deficiencies. At best, it offers minimal protein quality. At worst, it introduces deadly pathogens like salmonella and E. coli into your dog’s diet.

Ethical manufacturers avoid 4D meat meals, by-products and animal digests in their pet foods. When shopping, look for specific whole meat ingredients like chicken, turkey, beef or fish.

Synthetic Vitamin Premixes

Low-cost pet foods use synthetic vitamin supplements to compensate for poor nutrient profiles. However, these lab-created vitamins lack the enzymes, cofactors and micronutrients naturally found in whole foods.

Vitamins derived from whole food sources are more bioavailable and contain complementary nutrients your dog needs. Synthetic vitamin mixes are less usable for your German Shepherd’s body. They are also linked to nutrient imbalances and deficiencies over time.

Carefully read ingredient lists and select foods with vitamins from whole food sources when possible.

Harmful Human Foods

Some people foods are downright dangerous for German Shepherds and should never be fed. Toxic human edibles to avoid include:

  • Chocolate – Contains theobromine and caffeine, both toxic to dogs. Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, irregular heart function and even death.
  • Grapes and Raisins – Contain an unknown toxin that can lead to sudden kidney failure. Even small amounts are hazardous.
  • Onions – Destroy red blood cells and cause anemia in dogs when ingested. All forms of onions are unsafe.
  • Alcohol – Can cause dangerous drops in blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature. Also linked to tremors, seizures and respiratory failure.
  • Salty Snacks – High salt content taxes the kidneys and causes thirst, vomiting and electrolyte imbalance.
  • Xylitol – An artificial sweetener that triggers a massive insulin spike in dogs, resulting in hypoglycemia and liver failure.
  • Yeast Dough – The fermenting yeast produces ethanol, which can lead to alcohol poisoning and dangerous bloating in dogs.
  • Coffee – Contains dangerous stimulants like caffeine. Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, tremors, abnormal heart rhythms and death.
  • Avocado – The persin toxin causes vomiting and diarrhea. The high fat content can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Fatty Foods – Rich, fatty foods may trigger acute pancreatitis. This excruciatingly painful condition can be life-threatening.
  • Cooked Bones – Can shatter and cause lacerations, obstructions or perforations in the esophagus or intestines.
  • Macadamia Nuts – Contain an unknown toxin that can result in weakness, vomiting, lethargy, swollen limbs, fever and muscle tremors.
  • Cherries – The pits contain cyanide, which is toxic to dogs. Even cherry flesh may cause digestive upset.

If your German Shepherd accidentally consumes any of these toxic human foods, contact your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately. Timely treatment is critical.

What to Look for in Dog Foods

Now that you know what to avoid, let’s discuss what makes an excellent dog food for German Shepherds. Follow these tips for choosing the best diet:

  • First 5 ingredients – The first five ingredients give you insight into the food’s nutritional priorities. Look for multiple high-quality protein sources like chicken, lamb, fish or eggs in the top spots.
  • Guaranteed analysis – This shows minimum percentages of important nutrients like protein and fat. Look for a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat for adult German Shepherds.
  • Protein sources – Meat, fish and eggs from named sources are ideal. Avoid by-products, generic meats and plant-based proteins which are harder to digest.
  • Grain-free – Grains are common allergens for German Shepherds. Prioritize digestible carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, peas or tapioca instead.
  • Limited ingredients – Simple foods with fewer ingredients reduce your dog’s risk of developing food sensitivities over time.
  • Made in the USA – American-made dog foods must meet stricter quality and safety standards than imported brands.
  • Supports joint health – Look for natural compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin to maintain your German Shepherd’s bones and joints.
  • Probiotics – Live bacteria cultures aid your dog’s digestion and immunity. Both probiotic supplements and fermented foods like yogurt or kefir provide probiotics.
  • Omega fatty acids – Ingredients like fish, flaxseed and olive oil provide anti-inflammatory omega-3s to nourish skin, coat and brain health.
  • Antioxidants – Vitamins A, C and E plus superfoods like blueberries and spinach contain antioxidants to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.
  • Balanced calcium levels – Excess calcium stresses growing puppy bones and joints. Adult German Shepherds do better with moderate calcium around 1% total.

Following these criteria will help you identify more nutritious dog foods for your German Shepherd. Be wary of marketing hype and always check the ingredients list yourself.

Diet Tips for German Shepherd Life Stages

German Shepherds have different nutritional needs depending on their life stage. Here are some tailored diet tips:


  • Feed puppy-specific food for the first 12 months for optimal bone and joint development.
  • Choose high-protein (at least 22%) and fat (8-10%) formulas to support growth.
  • Feed 3 scheduled small meals daily until 6 months, then switch to 2 daily meals.
  • Avoid over or underfeeding to prevent orthopedic problems. Follow label feeding guidelines.


  • Maintain adult dogs on adult dog food with a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat.
  • Reduce meals to twice per day, except for pregnant or nursing females who need more frequent small meals.
  • Monitor calorie intake and weight gain. Keep adult German Shepherds fit and lean.

Senior Dogs

  • Switch to senior dog food around 5-7 years of age. Seniors need lower calorie but highly nutritious diets.
  • Choose senior foods with glucosamine, omega-3s and antioxidants to ease joint stiffness and maintain cognitive health.
  • Serve smaller, more frequent meals. Seniors can struggle with large single servings.
  • Increase fiber and consider probiotic supplements to support digestion and bowel regularity.

Regardless of life stage, every German Shepherd benefits from a nutritionally balanced species-appropriate diet. Avoid cheap filler-laden kibbles and cook up fresh balanced meals when possible.

Special Diets for German Shepherds

Some German Shepherds need specialized dietary adjustments including:

  • Overweight dogs – Gradually transition to a weight control formula until ideal body weight is reached. Incorporate more lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats. Reduce starchy carbs.
  • Allergies – Try limited ingredient or novel protein diets to identify food intolerances. Common triggers include beef, dairy, chicken, grains and egg.
  • Sensitive digestion – Choose easily digestible carbs like sweet potato or pumpkin, and lean protein sources like fish or eggs. Add probiotics to support gut health.
  • Joint issues – Support cartilage and soft tissue with glucosamine, chondroitin, turmeric, omega-3s and collagen builders like bone broth.
  • Urinary health – Increase moisture content to dilute urine. Add antioxidants like cranberries, blueberries and vitamins C and E to maintain urinary tract health.

As always, partner with your veterinarian to develop the ideal diet for your individual German Shepherd’s needs.


Choosing the right diet is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your German Shepherd’s health and longevity. Avoid foods containing fillers, artificial preservatives, low-quality proteins, and ingredients toxic to dogs. Instead, look for dog foods with digestible carbohydrates, premium proteins, probiotics, omega fatty acids and joint support.

Adjust your feeding guidelines based on your dog’s life stage and special needs. With nutritious whole-food nutrition tailored for your German Shepherd, you can set the foundation for an active, happy life together. The effort to research and select the best diet will reward you with your dog’s excellent health for years to come.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.