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Do German Shepherds Need Large Breed Food?

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

Most German Shepherd owners want their beloved pet to be healthy. But with so many different dog food choices on the market, it can be challenging to decide which type of food is right for your dog. Aside from brands and ingredients, another worry is whether “large breed” kibble is essential. So, do German Shepherds need large breed food?

German Shepherds need large breed food as it is made with balanced nutrition specifically designed for larger breeds. These foods include a higher amount of protein, lower amounts of calcium, phosphorus, fat, and the correct amount of fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Trying to decide on the right food for your dog might be challenging, but I’m here to make it easy. I’ll discuss in-depth why large breed food really is the right way to go when raising a German Shepherd.

I’ll provide answers to the below questions:

  • Are German Shepherds considered a large breed?
  • Is large breed food necessary for a German Shepherd puppy?
  • What is the difference between large breed dog food and regular?
  • Do adult German Shepherds also need large breed food?
German Shepherds in a field

Let’s get started!

Are German Shepherds Considered Large Breed?

If you’re unsure what a large breed dog is, then it will be challenging to know whether or not your German Shepherd fits the category and if his food should follow suit.

So, what exactly is a large breed dog? Well, the specifics will differ from source to source, but it mostly boils down to any dog weighing over 50 pounds when fully grown.

Now let us take a look at the German Shepherd specifically, however as with any breed, there can be variation.

German Shepherds typically grow to be anywhere between 22 and 26 inches tall – and that is pretty big. Weight-wise, you can expect your GSD to weigh well over 50 pounds. In fact, some bigger-sized male German Shepherds can be over 90 pounds and be taller. My female GSD is one big girl – she weighs 88lbs and stands 27 inches tall!

Large Breed Dog - German Shepherd
My German Shepherd Willow – definitely a large breed dog!

That being said, it’s reasonably clear that German Shepherds are considered large breed dogs.

Therefore, you would be wise to purchase dog food specifically designed for larger breeds, whether your German Shepherd is a puppy or an adult.

But why?

Is Large Breed Food Necessary For a German Shepherd Puppy?

You may think that large breed dog food is a sales gimmick. Perhaps the food is a little bit pricier than other types of dog food, so pet owners can easily think it’s a sham. After all, why would you want to spend more money on something if you did not actually know why it was essential to your dog’s health? 

Well, I’m here to tell you that large-breed dog food is essential to your German Shepherd’s health. Giving your German Shepherd regular puppy food while growing can be somewhat dangerous to his health.

This is because regular puppy food won’t be able to control your German Shepherd’s rapid growth or help him develop at the right speed. Large breed dogs grow fast, sometimes too fast! As Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, from VCA Hospitals says: 

“How fast a pup grows has to be carefully regulated.”

VCA Hospitals

If your German Shepherd puppy grows too fast he may suffer from a range of conditions known as Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD) such as hip and elbow dysplasia. The GSD is already genetically prone to hip dysplasia, often due to poor breeding practices, so it’s important to avoid excessive growth that may increase this risk.

What is the Difference Between Large Breed Dog Food and Regular

The composition of your German Shepherd’s large breed food should contain nutrients and minerals that are different from regular dog foods. Let’s take a look at some of these differences:


Protein is vital for all types of dogs, big or small. However, large breed dog foods will typically feature whole proteins, such as protein from chicken, beef, or fish. These whole proteins come complete with all essential amino acids required for their development. Chicken is ideal as a whole protein as it contains glucosamine and chondroitin, which are beneficial to joints. 

Omega 3 and Omega 6

These fatty acids are incredibly beneficial to your German Shepherd and are commonly seen in large-breed dog foods. These fats lead to healthy skin and hair for your furry best friend while also increasing their cardiovascular health. 

German Shepherds are known for being heavy shedders, and one way to help reduce year-round shedding is the inclusion of omega fatty acids in their diet.


Large dogs may have a more significant challenge when it comes to regularity. That is why most large breed dog foods will contain extra fiber that comes from all-natural, plant-based ingredients, such as pumpkin or sweet potato.

These ingredients will lead to a healthy digestive system, which also goes hand-in-hand with a healthy weight. Here’s my complete guide on vegetables your German Shepherd can eat which are also great to use as treats for your dog.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical for your German Shepherd to regulate how much calcium and phosphorus he absorbs. Dogs get their vitamin D through their diet or by exposure to sunlight. This is why having a large-breed dog food with sufficient Vitamin D is essential to his health.

Less Energy Density

Now, this is where his health really comes into play. You see, when your German Shepherd is a puppy, he will have a higher capacity for nutrients than smaller breeds. And he can technically be a puppy for up to 2 years, so take that into consideration when thinking about adult food.

Therefore, your German Shepherd must have a large-breed food as a puppy as it is formulated with fewer calories and fat content.

And don’t think that a smaller number of calories will hinder his growth. It will simply allow him to grow at a slower, healthier rate that is optimum for his bone and joint health. Overfeeding can cause damage to these critical areas and can also lead to obesity.

Less Calcium

Aside from fewer calories and fat content, you may also notice that large breed dog foods have fewer calcium levels. This is simply because too much or even too little calcium can cause problems during growth.

Your German Shepherd needs the correct calcium levels to help his bones grow properly, at the intended rate. This is especially important during their first few months of life.

Less Phosphorus

Phosphorus works hand-in-hand with calcium to ensure the skeletal system is growing correctly. Just as it is essential to have lower calcium levels, your German Shepherd also needs a lower amount of phosphorus and the correct ratio to calcium (between 1:1 and 1.3:1).

That is why I highly recommend that you feed your German Shepherd large-breed dog food, especially during the growing stages.

Do Adult German Shepherds Also Need Large Breed Food?

Now you know how important it is to make sure that you buy puppy food that is designed for larger breeds. Doing so will ensure that he grows at the rate he is supposed to, without becoming overweight. And do not let the lower levels of calcium, phosphorus, calories, and fat content scare you from buying it – those lower levels are critical to your dog’s health and well-being.

But what about when your German Shepherd is an adult? Is large breed dog food necessary then, too?

Yes, large breed dog food is also important when your German Shepherd is an adult. The large breed dog food designed for adults will contain the proper nutrient balances, much like the puppy food, to ensure your dog stays in tip-top shape. 

German Shepherd with its Puppies resting on green lawn. Is Large Breed Dog Food Necessary for Puppies and Adults?

Remember, though, that you don’t need to switch to adult food until your German Shepherd is around two years of age. This is because German Shepherds will continue to grow into their second year, much like other larger breeds. You do not want to switch him too early as the nutrient levels will be slightly altered to keep your adult dog healthy and strong during his adult life.

Tip! Some large dog food brands satisfy both puppies and adults, so you don’t need to worry about when to transition from puppy to adult food. The profiles for the nutritional requirements of dogs are published by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), and dog foods that fall into this category are marketed as suitable for “all life stages.”

Pro Tip! Free-feeding of large breed puppies is also not recommended. It’s far better to feed your German Shepherd several smaller meals throughout the day. This can also help prevent bloat (GDV) from which large breed dogs, especially deep-chested ones, are more prone.

Pro Tip! It’s also a good idea to get your pup weighed regularly at the vets to ensure his weight is on track while he is growing.

Final Thoughts

Large breed dog food is important for your German Shepherd’s health, both as a growing puppy and as an adult. This is because large breed dog foods are designed with specific nutrient benefits that help with their growth levels and bone and joint health. 

Don’t be tempted to buy a cheaper large breed food for your German Shepherd, as it’s important to choose one that contains a high-quality protein in addition to the correct quantity. As an owner, it’s down to you to do your due diligence and determine which food to buy. However, I hope we’ve made the process a little easier for you.

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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