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Are German Shepherds Fussy Eaters? (How to Feed a Picky Dog)

Last Updated: December 31, 2023

German Shepherds can become fussy eaters for one reason or another. If you’re dealing with a picky-eating dog in your home, you can fix it in a matter of days or weeks.

Unfortunately, many owners give in to their dogs’ eating habits, making the problem even worse!

German Shepherds are not usually fussy eaters, but they can become picky if you allow them to be by feeding them too many treats or table scraps. However, be aware that occasionally, GSDs may suffer from a food allergy or intolerance.

This article will explore why some German Shepherds are picky eaters, how to break your dog’s bad eating habits, and the health risks associated with fussy eating.

Let’s begin!

A German Shepherd Puppy Staring at his Bowl.

How to Get Your German Shepherd Eating Again

It can be a bit worrying when your German Shepherd doesn’t eat his meals.

Some dogs will even go as far as leaving their stomachs empty for one or two days to avoid eating something they don’t want to, especially German Shepherds, who can be pretty stubborn!

If you know that their dog food is healthy and of high quality, and they aren’t suffering from a food allergy, you can try a few tips to get them to eat normally again.

Watch How to Get a Fussy Dog to Eat in This Video…

Here are 15 tips to get your German Shepherd to eat if they’re being fussy:

  1. Stick to one variety of high-quality complete food whenever you feed your dog. If you repeatedly give them too much “human food,” such as chicken or steak, they’ll decline the meals specifically intended for them as they will hold out for something more delicious. Instead, stop them from any begging behavior and never give them anything that you didn’t buy for them to eat.
  2. Don’t feed your dog treats during the habit-breaking process. It might be tempting to reward them for their progress away from fussy eating but treats only worsen it. Rather than working towards eating a normal diet, your dog will start only to eat their meals if they know they’re getting a treat after. Try rewarding them with toys instead.
  3. Consider the food that you’re feeding them. Many pet owners grab the cheapest, bland food on the shelf to save money. However, it often lacks nutrition and flavor. If your dog feels that they’re not getting any taste from their food, they’ll only eat it if they’re starving. Even then, they won’t get the nutrition they require. Always choose the most expensive food you can afford to give your dog.
  4. Mix other food into their meals or add it as a topping. Some dogs can’t handle the consistency of their kibble. Whether it’s because their teeth aren’t sharp enough or have become sensitive, or their digestive systems can’t handle it due to their sensitive stomach. You might need to add a topping to their meals with something to moisten them up, such as a spoonful of plain yogurt or unsalted chicken broth.
  5. Stick to a specific feeding schedule. Dogs are like humans because you can train their body clocks for sleep, energy, and hunger. If your dog’s body tells them it’s time to eat, they’re much more likely to eat the food you put in front of them. Free feeding is not a good option for finicky eaters. German Shepherds can go for hours or even an entire day without eating. You can also make a “special place” where they always eat and keep them away from your mealtimes by feeding them first so they won’t be hungry or show bad behavior such as begging or barking for food.
  6. Make sure you’re feeding them the correct quantity of food. Along with quality, the amount of food they eat could have something to do with their fussiness. When a dog doesn’t have enough food and is worried that the food in front of them won’t suffice, they will start to beg and depend on handouts. Most reputable brands will have helpful feeding guides or calculators on their websites or packaging to help with this.
  7. Be persistent and patient throughout the process. Some German Shepherds can be very dominant and stubborn, especially males. If your dog is having trouble and being too fussy, you need to stick to your plan and have the mindset to wait it out. They’ll eventually eat their food, bringing them one step closer to a normal diet. Remember also that dogs can sense any stress or anxiety you may feel due to them being finicky, which can worsen the situation. Stay calm!
  8. Supplement their diet with raw food. Many studies prove that dogs do well with raw diets that mimic what they eat in the wild. These diets include raw beef, fish, and certain vegetables. Whether you want to completely change their diet or add a few raw meals occasionally is up to you. Check out my outrageously detailed article on the best diet for German Shepherds, including a section on raw diets.
  9. Consider making a vet appointment. If your dog refuses food for two days (24 hours for puppies), you should take him to the vet for a check-up. Although it’s usually just a matter of pushing through with a stubborn German Shepherd, there might be an underlying health reason that your dog won’t eat. Look for other signs such as lethargy, excessive thirst, vomiting, or diarrhea. Visiting the vet can help you determine the cause of their fussy eating and will put your mind at ease.
  10. Be aware of food allergies or intolerances. Kibble usually contains safe ingredients for dog allergies, but in rare cases, your dog could be allergic to the food they’re eating. The most common symptoms are dry, itchy skin, bald patches, and excessive scratching, leading to skin infections, ear infections, and poor coat quality. Tummy troubles such as vomiting and diarrhea can also occur.
  11. They might still be full from their last meal. If you’re okay with leaving their food bowl out if they are a free feeder, your dog could still be processing breakfast by the time you’re ready to give them dinner. German Shepherd puppies can eat as much as three times per day, whereas adults only eat once or twice. It is recommended that large breed dogs do not eat all their daily food in one go, preventing bloat (GDV), a life-threatening condition.
  12. Buy a vitamin supplement to add to their meal. Most supplements have a delicious aroma and flavor that your dog will quickly chew without knowing they’re getting added nutrition. It is good to get them eating again, but you won’t have to stress about them becoming malnourished. Always consult your vet before providing any vitamins or supplements to your dog, as over-supplementing can be dangerous.
  13. Get them to exercise more often. German Shepherds need a lot of exercise to keep themselves mentally and physically healthy. Most health problems stem from a poor diet or improper exercise, so why not fix them? GSDs require at least two sessions of 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise. They require more than regular leash walking and need off-lead running, play, or agility. Exercise them well to work up an appetite. However, you must give them at least an hour of rest before and after feeding.
  14. Limit their meal times to 15 minutes. If your dog knows that they’ll only have a short period to eat, they’re much more likely to get food in their stomachs while they can. This goes back to their instinct and not knowing when their next meal will be available. Ten minutes is long enough for them to eat slowly but short enough to prevent them from walking away mid-meal. Read more here: Should I Take My Dog’s Food Away If He Doesn’t Eat It?
  15. Never force them to eat. Many pet owners try to force their German Shepherds to eat by waving the bowl in their faces or pointing at the bowl. Although it might work with some breeds, GSDs are notoriously stubborn. Combined with their intelligence, their natural mindset keeps them from being submissive and eating when you tell them. If they refuse the meal after 20 minutes, remove the bowl and only give it back a few hours later or at their next mealtime. They will soon learn that food goes away if they don’t eat.
German Shepherds Eating kibble with a cheese topping

Why Are Some German Shepherds Fussy Eaters?

Here’s a list of reasons that your German Shepherd might have become a fussy eater:

  • Your dog might be eating poor quality food, too many “human foods” or treats, or be overfed. They may not get sufficient daily nutrition if you always give them food from your table or low-quality, cheap, mass-produced kibble. Remember that dogs aren’t used to digesting too many carbohydrates, so low-quality, high-carb kibble or large quantities of bread and potatoes are unhealthy. Never remove an uneaten food bowl and then replace it with something tastier, as this teaches your dog that by turning their nose up and refusing their regular food, they will get something better.
  • If your dog has developed an allergy to the food you’re providing, he’ll undoubtedly become a fussy eater. Your German Shepherd will notice that they get super itchy or uncomfortable after eating their regular kibble, preventing them from returning to it when it’s time for their next meal. Remember, excessive itching, frequent ear infections, and tummy troubles are all signs of a food allergy.
  • Depression and anxiety can prevent your German Shepherd from eating as he should. Stress in dogs is more common than you would believe. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to see if your dog is suffering from chronic stress caused by a significant change in his life, such as a house move, a relationship break-up, or a death in the family. In addition to appetite changes, which include fussy eating, keep an eye out for excessive panting, whining, or pacing. If you suspect that your dog has depression or anxiety, you must seek professional help.
  • Your German Shepherd might skip meals if he’s bored of the same food. Imagine eating the same food every single day. You’d quickly get sick of it and not want to eat as often! However, this is a bit of a myth, as dogs do not experience food like we do. Let me explain. Dogs only have a fraction of our taste buds, so they use their powerful noses (up to a million times stronger than humans) to differentiate between various flavors. Consider adding toppings such as plain yogurt, chicken, or fish to your dog’s food, or buy different flavors of the same brand and add unsalted chicken broth or warm water to make it into a gravy. This will increase the aroma, making the food more exciting and enticing.
  • Your German Shepherd might have an underlying health condition if all else fails. This would be of concern, especially if he refuses treats or the human foods he usually loves. Digestive issues, pain, muscle injuries, and even dental problems could be the cause. Organ failure, heart disease, or cancer may be to blame in more severe cases. Since our dogs can’t speak to us, it’s crucial to figure out why they’re acting differently, and the only way to find out for sure is to visit your veterinarian.
German Shepherd Pup sitting at the veterinarians

Health Risks Associated with Fussy Eating

Sometimes, there’s more to the problem than having a picky dog. If your German Shepherd stops eating correctly for several days or weeks, he will inevitably become fatigued, malnourished, and anxious.

Let’s review five of the most common risks associated with fussy eating in German Shepherds:

  1. Aggressive or hyperactive behavior. This can be common when your dog is not getting all the correct nutrients. If they eat a diet too high in protein, they may become aggressive, or if they have too many carbohydrates, the blood sugar spikes can make them hyperactive! If they’re becoming overly aggressive due to a lack of nutrition, you must keep an eye out.
  2. They might start eating things they shouldn’t, including their stools, garbage, or grass. When your dog is a fussy eater, it can seem like they’re staging a hunger strike, and they want you to give in to their every demand! Eating non-food items or getting into the garbage due to a lack of nutrients can significantly impact your dog’s health. Many poisonous foods that he may find in the garbage can harm your dog, so you must be extra careful.
  3. Elevated heart rate and anxiety. These are common symptoms of a dog not getting sufficient nutrition. When they act picky and won’t eat what you give them, they will eventually feel weak, anxious, and scared. If you notice this problem, you should seek a vet or a pet nutritionist. I found this helpful directory of veterinary nutritionists from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, should you wish to get expert advice.
  4. Diarrhea, vomiting, and other digestive problems. These are all additional issues your dog may suffer if he isn’t getting the vital vitamins and minerals he needs from his food. At this point, most German Shepherds will probably give in and start to eat the food that you’ve provided them, primarily if you feed them a bland diet like chicken and rice to help with diarrhea. It’s improbable that a dog will intentionally starve itself!
  5. Poor body condition, skin, coat, and poor dental hygiene. Malnutrition can be the cause of all these health issues. Your German Shepherd may become fatigued and underweight, and if his diet is devoid of fatty acids, such as those found in fish and vegetable oils, this will have a detrimental effect on his skin and coat. Dogs also need good-quality dry food instead of eating wet food all the time, leading to plaque build-up. They also need healthy chew sticks, dental treats, or bones, which promote good dental hygiene. Check out my dog treat recommendations here.
German Shepherd puppy with a stethoscope in a veterinary clinic.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Eating Habits

Keeping an eye on your German Shepherd’s eating habits is an important part of ensuring they are healthy and getting the proper nutrition. Here are some tips to help you monitor your dog’s eating habits:

  1. Keep a food journal: Record what your German Shepherd eats and when they eat it. This can help you identify any patterns or changes in their eating habits.
  2. Observe their behavior: Watch how your dog behaves during mealtime. Do they eat eagerly, or do they seem disinterested? Do they leave food in their bowl, or do they clean it all up?
  3. Check their weight: Regularly weigh your German Shepherd to ensure they are maintaining a healthy weight. Sudden weight loss or gain can be a sign of underlying health issues.
  4. Look for signs of digestive issues: Keep an eye out for vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation, as these can be signs of digestive problems that may be affecting your dog’s appetite.
A German Shepherd With a Young Girl

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds may have particular eating preferences, but they’re not inherently fussy eaters. With the right diet and a bit of understanding of their habits, you can easily meet their nutritional needs.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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