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How to Care for a Senior German Shepherd: 10 Essential Tips

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

When your German Shepherd starts slowing down, is reluctant to move, and eats less, you know he has officially ventured into his advanced years. You cannot treat him as a young dog anymore and have to accommodate for his slow metabolism and declining joint health.

To care for a senior German Shepherd, you have to change his diet, reduce exercise, and give him supplements and items that accommodate his declining joint health, such as a raised feeder. Switch to a gentler chew toy and buy pee pads if required. Above all, you must get him an orthopedic dog bed.

In this article, you will learn about 10 things you can do to make life easier for your senior German Shepherd, including:

  • Reduce or modify exercise
  • Switch to a dog food for senior GSDs
  • Use a raised feeder 
  • Get your senior GSD an orthopedic dog bed 
  • Invest in joint care supplements
  • Give healthy dental treats
  • Get a senior dog toy
  • Invest in pee pads
  • Consider a lift harness
  • Get a car ramp to facilitate onboarding

So, if you want to learn how to care for your old German Shepherd, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started!

A German Shepherd asleep on the couch. How To Care For a Senior German Shepherd.
Here’s my German Shepherd, Willow snoozing on the couch.

How to Care for a Senior German Shepherd

Caring for an older German Shepherd is an opportunity to give back to a dog that has loved you unconditionally over the years.

Sometimes, your doggos “senior years” might have crept up unexpectedly due to health problems, as in my case. Sadly, my German Shepherd Willow was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the spine at six years old, so I now treat her as an older dog to ease her symptoms.

It can be quite an emotional experience seeing your German Shepherd be uncomfortable or in pain. However, the steps listed below will help you practically reduce your dog’s pain, and by the end, you will know everything you can do to make him as happy as he can be at his age.

1. Reduce or Modify Exercise

You might have two reactions to seeing your German Shepherd have a lower appetite for activity. One reaction is to let the dog stop exercising altogether, and the other is to keep pushing him. Neither of these is the optimal approach. Instead, you have to find the middle path. 

Switching from long walks to short walks and more indoor activities will help reduce the pressure on your GSD’s joints while keeping him stimulated. If you let him rest perpetually, his physical abilities will stagnate. However, you must use your best judgment to avoid exhausting your senior German Shepherd.

“In my case I’ve modified Willow’s exercise to shorter yet more frequent walks.”

World of Dogz

So now, I’ll take her on 3-4 short walks throughout the day instead of 2 long ones. You do need to listen to your dog, though, and don’t force him if he doesn’t want to go. Instead, play some stimulating games.

2. Switch to a Dog Food For Senior GSDs

German Shepherds’ calorie needs decline as they grow beyond their prime years, but their food intake doesn’t immediately adjust.

Some dogs can continue eating as long as you don’t stop them. German Shepherds can also refuse to eat food altogether at an advanced age, especially if you have a less food-motivated dog. Depending on your senior GSD’s stage, you will need to adjust his food intake.

Initially, you’ll need to switch him to senior German Shepherd dog food with fewer calories and higher volume. This will help your dog feel full without overshooting his calorie intake target.

Switching over to a mix of wet and dry food or a dry one that he prefers is recommended. There is no universal dog food that all old German Shepherds love, which is why my post on the best dry foods for senior German Shepherds covers several options.

Don’t worry, though, as I narrowed it down to a handful of choices, as choosing dog food can get overwhelming. But if you want my straightforward recommendation that most German Shepherds of advanced age like, you should try Diamond Naturals Senior Dog Food from Amazon.

The product is nutrition-rich without being calorie-dense. This allows your German Shepherd to consume all the essential vitamins, fats, minerals, and fiber. Its protein-to-other macro ratio is also explicitly set for larger dogs of advanced age, so your German Shepherd has a shot at being lean while his metabolism slows down due to advanced age.

3. Use a Raised Feeder

German Shepherd Eating From a Raised Feeder. How To Care For a Senior German Shepherd.
My arthritic German Shepherd eating from her raised feeder.

No conversation about feeding an older German Shepherd would be complete without discussing raised feeders. Just skip this section if your German Shepherd lays down to eat and has always done so. Willow now has a hybrid approach – sometimes she’ll lie down, and she prefers her elevated bowl at other times.

So, why use a raised feeder?

Your best friend might have joint pain or discomfort and may not be able to sit down in a way his mouth can comfortably reach the bowl. This may cause a senior dog to stop eating as he can associate the discomfort of reaching the ground with feeding.

An elevated feeder allows your senior German Shepherd to consume the food in his bowl without having to bring his head to an uncomfortably low point.

Willow’s raised feeder is pretty old. I need to upgrade! One of the best options I’ve seen is the Vantic Elevated Dog Bowl. This adjustable feeder has a bowl with a slight angle that makes eating easier for larger dogs.

There are three height settings and two bowls attached to the feeder. The wooden stand has an aesthetic finish that can go well with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and matte white walls.

4. Get Your Senior GSD an Orthopedic Dog Bed

German Shepherd on Orthopedic Bed. How to Care for a Senior German Shepherd.
Willow resting on her Big Barker dog bed.

I hope this step is redundant for you and that your “big barker” has been sleeping on an orthopedic dog bed throughout his years. Since German Shepherds are large dogs, they have significant weight to bear.

Added to that is the genetic liability that makes German Shepherds likelier to develop medical conditions like arthritis. When a standard dog bed is given to a big dog, he cannot vocalize that his joints are under pressure. With the constant use of an unfit bed, a German Shepherd can have chronic joint aches.

An orthopedic dog bed can prevent this by ensuring that your dog’s weight gets enough support. When it comes to orthopedic dog beds, check out the Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed, a German Shepherd-friendly bed made in America with high-quality orthopedic foam and backed with a 10-year no-flatten guarantee.

I favor this brand because it is founded by a dog owner and isn’t backed by a faceless corporation. Of course, the brand itself would mean nothing without a good product. You can read my Big Barker dog bed review here.

And while the Big Barker’s story made me (actually, my dog) try the product, what made me become a vocal champion of it was how much better rested my German Shepherd, Willow, was after I switched to it.

But if you prefer to widen your choices, that’s cool. My round-up of the best orthopedic dog beds for German Shepherds can help you pick an alternative.

5. Invest in Joint Care Supplements

Older German Shepherds have aching joints and no vocabulary to communicate the pain. Your doggo won’t lick his joints because licking doesn’t bring relief. Start by assuming that your German Shepherd’s joints hurt if he is at an advanced age.

You can also look for clues in how your dog walks or sits to confirm this idea further.

“I first noticed my dog struggling to get up from a lied-down position, taking a while to sit down, and appearing stiff upon first walking.”

World of Dogz

The following symptoms indicate joint ailment.

  • The German Shepherd is reluctant to move – If your senior GSD doesn’t seem too eager to move, chances are his joints hurt. This reluctance is different from laziness, and if you pay attention, you can tell which kind of hesitance he has with regard to movement.
  • The dog limps while he walks and slows down when he sits – When your German Shepherd seems to take forever to sit, his joints hurt. This is almost always accompanied by a slight limp. Watch out for either the limp or the slow grounding.
  • The German Shepherd yelps when touched – The biggest giveaway of aching joints is that your German Shepherd yelps or whines when touched, especially around the joints. This becomes obvious when you brush the dog.
  • The GSD seems irritable – German Shepherds of advanced age usually aren’t aggressive, so any sign of irritability cannot be chalked off as a result of sudden excess energy or sexual frustration. In most cases, it is a result of pain, which can be in the joints or elsewhere.

Upon noticing a combination of any of the symptoms listed above, you should immediately consult your veterinarian. Following Willow’s diagnosis, she was not only prescribed medication to help with the pain and inflammation, but my vet also advised me to invest in joint supplements.

While you cannot use supplements retroactively to relieve the dog of his pain, they can help improve your German Shepherd’s joint health, which ultimately results in less pain. YuMOVE Hip and Joint Supplement for Dogs from Amazon are among the best solutions of this nature and are approved by veterinarians.

A Senior GSD with joint supplements. How To Care For a Senior German Shepherd
Willow showing appreciation for her YuMove supplements.

Since German Shepherds are at risk of developing complications like hip dysplasia, these supplements are ideal for dogs even before they start exhibiting symptoms of poor joint health. YuMove supplements come as chew tablets, which even senior dogs can consume. The following are YuMove joint supplements’ key ingredients:

  • Glucosamine – This promotes cartilage growth which reduces friction upon movement. Cartilage is the soft tissue in the joints, and when it is worn out, the dog’s bones become creaky like unserviced door hinges.
  • Chondroitin – Chondroitin or Chondroitin Sulphate also promotes cartilage growth and ensures there’s enough padding between the bone ends in your German Shepherd’s limbs.
  • Hyaluronic Acid – If poor joints are like worn-out hinges, then Hyaluronic Acid is the equivalent of adding lube to the hinges. This substance reduces inflammation and lubricates the joints, making movement easier for your German Shepherd.
  • Green-Lipped Mussel – This additive boosts your dog’s immunity while reducing joint pain. It also reduces inflammation, which is good for joints that have been under a lot of pressure.

Combining the above ingredients makes YuMove supplements quite potent for reducing joint pain and promoting movement among big dogs. The product is also marketed specifically towards senior dogs, indicating alignment between my recommendation and the manufacturer’s intent. 

YuMove Supplements have accumulated over 10,000 top reviews on Amazon. The tablets are also rated based on specific features, the top being flavor. I have to say – my German Shepherd will take these out of my hand as if treats.

I advise having a chat with your vet about YuMove, and if approved, getting them from Amazon does qualify you for a 60-day money-back guarantee.

6. Give Healthy Dental Treats

We all love to give our best friends treats. But when weight management and good dental health play a part, we need to ensure they’re both healthy and good for aging teeth and gums.

Dogs love to chew no matter their age, but some dental chews are just too hard for your senior German Shepherd. That’s why I recommend DENTASTIX Dog Treats. These have a soft enough texture yet are clinically proven to reduce plaque and tartar build-up.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is the only organization that reviews the data from dental-product testing to validate that the product can prevent plaque and tartar build-up.

While not a regulatory body, the VOHC mark of approval is highly prized by dental-product makers. It signifies that the product successfully cares for your dog’s oral health and that regular use will minimize the severity of any periodontal disease.

Although you can feed daily (according to the feeding guidelines), I only give my girl one around every two to three days to keep her weight in check due to her reduced activity. Nonetheless, they are low in fat with no added sugar and come in various flavors, from chicken and beef to fresh mint.

You can read more about my pick of the best treats for German Shepherds here.

Old GSD with dental treats. How To Care For a Senior German Shepherd.

7. Get a Senior Dog Toy

German Shepherds are renowned for their bite force. But, unfortunately, a senior German Shepherd no longer has the kind of bite strength that he had in his younger days. Most dog owners consider subtracting toys from their dog engagement repertoire, but if you’ve taken your dog’s toys away for even a day, you know that this isn’t a good solution.

Fortunately, there are a few toys for senior dogs. Switching chew toys to the same brand’s senior-specific toys is ideal. And if you know how much I love KONG toys for German Shepherds or have bought your dog a KONG toy before, then you’re in luck.

KONG Senior Dog Toy from Amazon features customized gentle rubber for aging GSD’s teeth and gums. It can be used as a treat dispenser as well. The rubber isn’t so tough on your dog’s jaws and can keep him occupied for ages despite his reduced jaw strength.

Just like its puppy and adult-dog versions, this chew toy helps resolve the need to chew, the potential for obesity, and boredom. It doubles as a food puzzle and can be used as a fetch toy.

8. Invest in Pee Pads

Once a pup is house-trained, life gets pretty easy for owners. However, this training’s return has its limits. When your German Shepherd reaches an advanced age, he might end up leaking urine in the house.

Pee pads can help in your senior pet’s health and wellness as they quickly absorb liquid waste.

You must train the dog to use the pad, which is easier said than done for an old German Shepherd. You will require a lot of patience for this step. Placing the pad on a hard floor area helps because carpets can incur damage during the introduction of a pee pad and its adoption.

Different pee pads have different absorbing abilities. Check out Amazon Basics Dog and Puppy Training Pads. Even though the product’s primary purpose is to train puppies, it works just as well at preventing the mess from a senior dog involuntarily peeing.

I like this product as it features five layers where each serves a specific function to keep it dry. At 34 inches long and 28 inches wide for X-Large size pads, this product is big enough for a grown German Shepherd’s use and even has a plastic border on all sides to help prevent overflow.

9. Consider a Lift Harness

Once a German Shepherd’s sleep, food, treats, bowls, supplements, toys, and toileting are taken care of, the rest that remains is his transport. Your German Shepherd might not be an eager walker in his advanced years but may still need to be moved.

A lift harness allows you to help your elderly German Shepherd navigate the stairs, get up from lying down, help with walking, and support them getting in and out of the car.

Have a look at this Dog Lift Support from Amazon. This lifesaver helps pick up your German Shepherd’s rear end, preventing hip pain and providing support. I like this one as it’s super comfortable due to the thick fleece material that won’t chafe the underbelly.

10. Get a Car Ramp to Facilitate Onboarding

If your German Shepherd is too heavy to lift with a harness, getting a car ramp might help. Your senior German Shepherd will have an easier time getting in and out of your car. 

If you want to go with my recommendation, I advise getting the PetSafe Happy Ride Folding Pet Ramp from Amazon, which supports up to 150 lbs of weight and has a lightweight yet sturdy frame.

I love the side rails, and I like that replacements for the fabric are available, so you don’t have to replace the entire ramp due to wear and tear. However, for a senior German Shepherd getting into a car, the depreciation won’t be as intense as a young puppy springing in and out.

This 62-inch ramp is adjustable according to the height of your car seat or trunk. It has good ratings from over 8,500 reviews, which inspires confidence. Finally, it is also the best-priced with other factors considered, which is why the ramp is also Amazon’s product of choice for its respective category.

Final Thoughts

Once your German Shepherd is past seven years of age, he is officially a senior and needs geriatric care. You must start becoming more protective of his joints, and you should switch to an orthopedic dog bed if you haven’t already.

Changing his diet and exercise levels are crucial – so he doesn’t get obese or stay perpetually weary. Above all, be there for him. It might be tough to see him in discomfort, but your presence reduces his ailments more than any single accommodation you can make from this list.

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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