When I decided to choose a German Shepherd for my first dog, I wondered, what do I feed my German Shepherd, what do they need to keep them healthy, and what do they like to eat? So, what is the best diet for German Shepherds?
The best diet for German Shepherds is a high-quality protein-rich diet consisting of 18-22% protein. They can also derive nutrients from grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, dogs need to ensure they have the right mix of protein, fats, essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber for optimum health.
This article will explore the nutrients your German Shepherd needs, what he can and can’t eat, the various types of dog foods, including their pros and cons. We’ll also cover how much food your dog should eat, how much water he requires, how often to feed your puppy, types of bones to feed, all about treats, and loads more!
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To discover the best diet for German Shepherds, read on!
What Nutrients Do German Shepherds Need?
German Shepherds need several different kinds of nutrients to survive. These are proteins, fats and carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.
But first, check out the below really cool short video from “Banfield Pet Hospital” describing all about the power of dog nutrition:
The nutritional content of all commercial pet foods has to follow the guidelines that have been developed by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
I also found that the MSD Vet Manual publishes dog nutrient profiles. This goes into a ton of detail and even lists all the individual vitamins and minerals that your German Shepherd needs (should you wish to read it)! However, these are the main points:
The main nutritional requirement of dogs is protein. Protein has several functions from providing energy, building and repairing muscles, forming new skin, hair and nail cells, and keeping the immune and musculoskeletal system strong. The amount required by puppies and adult German Shepherds is different:
Growing puppies require a minimum of 22% protein whereas adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein.
The protein is measured on a dry matter basis which means what’s left after all of the moisture is extracted from the food.
The second main nutritional requirement for your German Shepherd is fat. Fat comes from protein and provides energy. It is also necessary for the normal development and function of body cells, nerves, muscles, and tissues. Again, the amount required for puppies and adult German Shepherds differ:
The recommended fat content for growing puppies is 8% and 5% for an adult dog.
Your dog will also have different nutritional requirements depending on his or her life stage, size, breed, activity level, and overall health. For example, an active and growing puppy may need twice as many calories as an adult dog of the same breed. Elderly dogs may need 20% fewer calories than middle-aged dogs.
As a further example, my well-exercised German Shepherd will require completely different nutrition than a lap-dog that likes to laze around all day. Lastly, a pregnant or lactating dog will require considerably more calories than that same lazy “couch dog.”
So what are the recognized life stages of dogs? The AAFCO defines them as:
- gestation/lactation (pregnancy and nursing)
- growth (includes puppies)
- adult maintenance
- all life stages
So that got me wondering, what exactly does “all life stages” mean?
I found that a German Shepherd diet designed for all life stages meets both the nutritional requirements for growth and reproduction as well as adult maintenance. This diet is therefore suitable for dogs of any age.
One thing to be wary of is that an “all life stage” diet is generally higher in calories so you would only choose this diet depending on your dog’s circumstances.
For example, if your dog is an adult, inactive, or needs to lose weight, then you would choose a diet for adult maintenance. If your dog is a working dog or extremely active then you may choose a diet for “all life stages” due to the extra calories and nutrition.
Are German Shepherds Omnivores?
Some people like to think of dogs as pure carnivores; however, according to a study published in Nature Research, dog domestication over thousands of years has resulted in dogs adapting to a starch-rich diet. They are, therefore, omnivores.
Whilst protein makes up most of a dog’s diet, the domesticated dog also now obtains nutrients from not only grains but from some fruits and vegetables.
All of these are a valuable source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Therefore dogs have evolved to become omnivores and have proved that they can thrive on a variety of foods.
What Can German Shepherds Eat?
So now we know what nutrients dogs need, let’s take a closer look at what exactly they can eat. These are the main foods German Shepherds can eat, however, they do come with some caveats, so read on!
|Celery & Corn||Kiwi Fruit|
|Parsnips||Peach & Plum|
These are the caveats to be aware of:
- If a fruit contains pits or seeds, these must be removed as they contain toxic cyanide.
- Most vegetables should be cooked first to help with digestion.
- Fruits, vegetables, dairy, and nuts should be fed in small amounts – no more than 10% of daily calories.
- Although dogs can eat some nuts they are not recommended due to their high-fat content which can cause an upset stomach.
- It’s not advisable to feed raw eggs or raw fish due to the risk of salmonella or listeria.
- Some dogs are lactose intolerant and can not eat certain dairy foods, depending on how much lactose they contain.
My 5 Favorite German Shepherd Products to Make Life Easier:
- Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness. I love this harness, and it’s what I use. There’s just no way your dog can pull. It’s easy to fit and inexpensive. You can read my full review here.
- Midwest Homes for Pets iCrate. A crate is a must-have product. This cool all-inclusive one has a ton of handy features, and there’s nothing extra to buy.
- FURminator Undercoat deShedding Tool. I’ve tried many others, but this grooming tool is by far the best. It gets right through to the undercoat and easily removes all the loose hair.
- KONG Classic. I love KONG toys as they’re super tough and made for your German Shepherd’s teeth! The Classic Toy is fun to chew, chase, and fetch or even stuff with tasty treats.
- Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed. Scientifically proven to prevent and reduce joint pain in big dogs. The 10-year guarantee is also pretty cool too! You can also get it on Amazon here, but you don’t get the 10-year warranty.
My full list of recommendations can be found here.
What Can’t German Shepherds Eat?
Many foods are toxic to German Shepherds and I have listed the main ones in this handy table for you.
I found that Pet Poison Helpline also lists tons of other poisonous stuff including plants, household items, and medications. It is really helpful but hopefully, you won’t need their help if your dog avoids these!
|Hops||Horse Chestnut||Macadamia Nuts|
|Xylitol||Yeast Dough||Walnuts (Black)|
|Tomato (green)||Raw Potato||Shallots|
I wrote a complete article on the foods that are poisonous to German Shepherds which also includes one or two hidden dangers that are good to know!
What Type of Dog Food is Best for German Shepherds?
We all want the best for our German Shepherds and want to feed them the best diet for their needs. Most people feed their dogs commercial dry food or wet canned food, however, there are numerous different types and it is difficult to know where to start!
However, these are the main different types of foods that you can feed your dog:
- Complete dry foods
- Canned wet foods
- A mix of dry and wet
- Home produced diets
- Complete raw diets
It is a requirement that all commercial dog food should be complete and balanced according to the strict guidelines of the AAFCO. Complete means “the food must contain all the nutrients required” and balanced means “the nutrients present must be in the correct ratios.”
The AAFCO also provides information on how to understand a dog food label. It’s a pretty heavy read but what it means is dog food will be nutritionally labeled depending on a dog’s life stage.
If you choose to feed commercial dog food (dry, wet, or a mix), always check the packaging for what is known as “The Nutritional Adequacy Statement.” This was designed for vets, nutritionists, and dog owners to evaluate the food’s nutritional value to their pet.
This statement should say that the food meets nutrient profiles established by the AAFCO according to the dog’s life stage, or that it has passed feeding tests designed to AAFCO standards. It is the key to meeting all of your German Shepherd’s nutritional needs.
Therefore, when choosing a dog food, you should not only check the list of ingredients but also the nutritional content of the food.
High-quality protein sources (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc) should be high on the list, as should quality sources of grains or vegetables and fats.
Vitamins and minerals should also be included. The best quality commercial dog foods will also include additional protein sources, such as fish, eggs, and also plant-based proteins, such as vegetables, legumes, and grains.
You should choose the diet that best suits your German Shepherd, and in particular, their size and lifestyle. Not only is it important to satisfy your dog’s needs but yours as well! I will explain more what I mean by this when we take an individual look at the different types of food you can feed your dog (see below).
Many pet food companies have invested millions of dollars into researching what ingredients contain the maximum levels to achieve a healthy, balanced diet which aids not only in essential puppy growth but also mental and physical development.
So, which type of dog food is best for your dog?
If you have a large breed like a German Shepherd I would recommend dry food rather than wet. Even if you choose a high-quality brand this will still work out less expensive than canned wet foods.
Let’s take a look at the different types in turn which should help you to decide the type of food to feed your dog.
Dry dog foods are one of the most popular choices. There are two main types of complete dry foods, KIBBLE, and COLD-PRESSED DOG FOOD, however, the latter has yet to hit the streets of the United States but has become very popular in the UK and Europe as this is deemed a higher quality of kibble due to how it is cooked.
So what exactly is kibble? Kibble is dry dog food made either through an extrusion process or through oven baking. The food is made under high pressure and high temperatures. All kibble is made the same way and by using the same kind of machinery. Even high-quality dry foods that use “human-grade” ingredients are made using the same process.
However, cold-pressed dog food is made using much lower temperatures. This unique method means that the food retains more nutritional value, flavor, aroma, and vitamins. All the goodness is then retained in bite-size pieces.
These types of dry dog food provide more nutrients per bite than wet food because kibble contains less moisture. That means you won’t have to feed as much to satisfy your German Shepherd’s appetite and nutritional needs. Dry food may be fed dry, or you can add water to the food to make it into a tasty “gravy,” depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you wish to compare dry food with canned wet food, dry costs less per serving and there can be less waste as it can be left in your dog’s feeding dish longer, unlike canned. Dogs with dental problems may benefit from dry food as it helps to clean their teeth and gums.
It is the most practical choice for a large dog, especially a German Shepherd, however dry food comes in all shapes and sizes and so a smaller sized variety can be suitable for smaller breeds.
It is also okay to feed your dog a pure dry diet and add cooked meat, fish, or vegetables, and this is exactly what I do! I feed Guru Pet Food which is cold-pressed dog food.
Although this is a complete and balanced high-quality food, I like to mix things up for my German Shepherd, and I often add a small amount of cooked lean chicken, beef, pork, salmon, or a spoonful of yogurt.
Occasionally she will have a little tinned tuna or mackerel in oil which is also good for her skin and coat. If I add a topping, I always make sure to slightly reduce her quantity of the cold-pressed food to ensure that she is not gaining extra calories.
Canned Wet Foods
Canned wet dog foods contain high moisture content – around 75%. I found some things to be wary of are that not every brand of commercially canned food provides the protein that your German Shepherd needs.
Also, the higher the water content, the fewer nutrients, so your dog has to consume more food to get the nutritional value their body needs.
This can work out more expensive, especially if you have a larger breed of dog but may be ideal if your dog enjoys eating a larger portion.
Be wary of lower quality canned foods too as manufacturers often add wheat flour as a thickener or add a lot of white rice or other grains. However, a good quality wet food may be a better choice if you have a toy or small breed.
Other advantages of wet food are that it may be more suitable if your dog is a picky eater or if you have a senior dog who may have lost their appetite and who may find wet food more palatable.
There are also semi-moist dog foods however these are not as popular as they offer the least nutritional value and can also be quite expensive. Unfortunately, manufacturers add substances to preserve the moisture and shelf life, such as sugar and salts.
This means that this particular diet may not be appropriate for your German Shepherd especially if they are on the heavy side and need to lose weight. Many semi-moist foods are also loaded with artificial color, chemical preservatives, and chemical flavor enhancers.
However, semi-moist may be the best choice if your dog finds it difficult to digest all other types of food. Your dog may also enjoy the meaty taste and find this food more palatable if they are an extremely picky eater.
Semi-moist dog food is also very convenient because you just need to open the pouch (which is usually resealable) and pour it into your dog’s bowl.
If I were considering this type of food, I would seek my vet’s advice to determine the calorie content of the food and an appropriate daily portion for my dog.
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A Mix of Dry and Wet
A third option is to choose a mix of both dry and wet foods. You can either mix the foods in the same bowl or give dry for the morning feed and wet for the afternoon feed (or vice-versa). Some owners of medium or large breeds that generally feed dry dog food like to use wet food as a topping or a special treat.
Again, you will need to make sure you’re not increasing your dog’s calorie intake if mixing these foods, and you may need to seek the advice of your veterinarian to ensure that you are feeding the correct nutrition. Should you choose this option it’s advisable to keep to the same brand.
Home Produced Diet
Some German Shepherd owners choose to feed their dog a home-produced diet (known as home-feeders). This got me wondering exactly why someone would want to be a home-feeder? These are the main reasons I found:
- They sought alternatives to commercial pet foods as they were concerned about the nutritional value of the ingredients used.
- They just simply enjoyed preparing the food and strengthening the bond with their dog, or satisfying their views.
- They believe their pets will simply not like or refuse commercial dog food.
- A home-prepared diet may be needed to help with a diagnosis (eg, for a food elimination trial).
- A home-prepared diet may be required if a dog has a combination of diseases for which no commercial diet exists.
- They sought comfort as a home-feeder for dogs with a chronic or terminal illness.
There are several drawbacks to the home preparation of dog food. It can be done, but it takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and it may be more expensive than even the best quality dog food on the market.
Home-made diets can provide complete nutrition, however, you need to make sure your German Shepherd gets the right mix of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins and this can be quite difficult to do.
If you are going to prepare a home-cooked diet, it’s best to consult your vet or a pet nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition who has the expertise to customize a healthy diet for your pet.
You can find their directory of professional nutritionists here. This is by far a better option than relying on a dog recipe found on the internet that may not be nutritionally correct.
It is recommended to cook all animal products to kill bacteria that could make your German Shepherd sick, however, if you are a raw feeder (see below) then you are likely to disagree with this statement. Grains, beans, and starchy vegetables also need to be cooked to make them easier for your dog to digest.
Never add foods that are toxic to dogs. These include chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, avocados, macadamia nuts, to name but a few.
Here’s my top article on 34 human foods that your German Shepherd CAN eat that you may find helpful.
My final thoughts on helping you decide on whether to become a home feeder would be:
- Do you have the time to become a home-feeder?
- There are plenty of high-quality commercial dog foods on the market to choose from.
- Your dog will require regular health checks to check for any nutrient deficiencies.
From three to four weeks onwards, it’s safe to start feeding a German Shepherd puppy raw food. Raw feeding is based on the principle of feeding dogs the foods that they would have naturally consumed in the wild.
Occasionally, there will be a trend for feeding dogs an all-raw diet (eg, raw meat, fish and veg), instead of specially formulated dog food, but it’s important to ensure that your German Shepherd is getting all the nutrients they need and isn’t at risk of poor health or disease.
There are two important factors to consider when deciding to feed a raw diet to your dog. The first concern about raw feeding is how to ensure you are providing a complete and balanced diet, and this is especially important if you are feeding a growing puppy.
Like home-made diets formulating raw diets can be difficult, especially if your German Shepherd is either pregnant, lactating, or sick, and therefore has different nutritional requirements. It can be very difficult to ensure you are not either under or overfeeding key nutrients.
Again, it is recommended to consult your vet or a pet nutritionist from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition first before deciding to feed raw.
The second biggest concern is that of food safety issues relating to bacterial or parasitic contamination. Food poisoning is also a major worry and the health aspects of feeding raw foods to our pets cannot be underestimated.
If you are contemplating feeding your German Shepherd a raw food diet, you should make sure you are fully aware of the safe and proper handling of raw foods and all the associated food safety issues.
Many raw-feeders will claim that feeding a raw diet has numerous health benefits for your dog, ranging from better digestion, shinier coat, healthier skin, stronger teeth, less disease and generally living a longer and healthier life.
However, according to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the vast majority of the believed benefits of feeding raw foods remain unproven:
“No studies have examined differences in animals fed raw animal products to those fed any other type of diet (kibble, canned, or home-cooked) with the exception of looking at the effects on digestibility. Typically raw meats (but not other uncooked foods like grains or starches) are slightly more digestible than cooked meat.”American College of Veterinary Nutrition
If you choose a raw diet for your German Shepherd you have the option of either preparing the food at home or you can purchase commercial raw food products. These range from complete foods, which are usually sold frozen or freeze-dried, to grain and supplement mixes, which are then combined with the raw foods.
What are the Pros and Cons of Each Type of Dog Food?
I have put all this information in a handy table for you as it is easier to compare the pros and cons of each type of dog food and will hopefully help you decide on the best diet for your German Shepherd.
Before transitioning your dog from one type to another, you may wish to talk to your veterinarian about the individual benefits and risks.
|TYPE OF DOG FOOD||PROS & CONS|
|DRY FOOD||More practicable for large dogs|
Inexpensive and less waste
It provides more nutrients per bite than wet
Convenient and easy to feed
No need to worry about nutritional deficiencies
No need to refrigerate
Good for “grazers” as can be left in the bowl longer
Can add cooked meats, fish or veg for variety
Can add water to make a tasty gravy
It comes in many shapes and sizes to suit your dog
Great for interactive feeders
It can be good for the teeth
Be wary of poor quality brands added with “fillers” and low-quality ingredients
|CANNED WET FOOD |
|More practicable for a toy or small breeds|
Some dogs find wet more palatable than dry foods
Good for picky and senior dogs
Good for hydration if your dog doesn’t drink much
No need to worry about nutritional deficiencies
Dogs can enjoy a larger portion per meal due to the high water content
Good for dogs who have trouble chewing
Semi-moist may be good for dogs that find foods difficult to digest
It has a longer shelf life than dry
More expensive than dry foods
Be wary of poor quality brands added with “fillers”
and low-quality ingredients
May contribute to gum disease
Watch out for added salt and sugar in semi-moist
There can be more waste if the food is uneaten
|MIX OF DRY & WET||May get the best of both dry and wet|
Can mix in the same bowl or at separate feeds
It provides a variety for your dog
Adviseable to keep to the same brand
Need to track calorie intake
May require the advice of a vet
|HOME PRODUCED||You control your dog’s food and nutrients|
It can help with bonding
Good for picky or fussy eaters
It can help with a diagnosis or healing
Expensive and time-consuming
Need to ensure correct nutrition is being given
Regular health checks advised
|RAW||You control your dog’s food and nutrients|
Need to ensure correct nutrition is being given
May be unsuitable for sick or senior dogs
Risk of food contamination
No proven health benefits except for better digestion
Expensive and time-consuming if preparing at home
Regular health checks advised
How Much Food Should a German Shepherd Eat?
The amount of food your dog needs will largely depend on the size, breed, activity level, age and overall health of your pet. The key is to make sure you don’t overfeed or underfeed your dog.
I would always recommend seeking the advice of your vet if you are ever unsure of what to feed or how much to feed your dog depending on his or her situation.
When my German Shepherd was a growing puppy I used to visit my vet once a month to have her weighed and to get a quick overall check of her general health.
If you are feeding commercial dog food, your brand choice should have the recommended feeding guidelines on the packaging. Most brands also display helpful tables or calculators on their websites.
These must specify how much weight of the food to give per weight of the dog, again depending on its life stage. For example, my dog’s brand has really helpful feeding guides and calculators on their website for puppies and adult dogs.
You also need to assess your dog’s activity level. Lapdogs who get minimal exercise may need 10% less than what’s recommended on the food label, whereas an active dog that regularly exercises may need 20% to 40% more.
I have certainly noticed that if my German Shepherd has a lot of exercise in a day she will eat more, I suppose that’s a bit like you and me!
Working dogs, such as sled dogs or police dogs may need foods designed for working or performance dogs. These foods have a higher fat content to provide extra calories for their needs.
In addition to this, you may need to make adjustments based on your dog’s health or body condition. Your vet can explain how your dog’s body condition affects the amount of food he or she needs. Serious illness, pregnancy or nursing can also increase a dog’s energy needs.
How Often Should I Feed My Puppy?
You and I have already learned that a growing puppy has different nutritional needs than an adult dog. They also need feeding more frequently at different stages as they are growing. These are the recommended guidelines for the number of meals per day:
|AGE OF PUPPY||DAILY MEALS|
|6 to 12 weeks||4|
|12 to 24 weeks||3|
|24 weeks onwards||2|
Puppies receive all the relevant nutrients from birth by feeding from their mother. However, after three to four weeks it’s safe to begin the weaning process onto a new diet.
Growing German Shepherd puppies need to take in enough calories, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals to meet their needs for rapid growth and development that will set them on the right path to a healthy life.
Puppies should continue on a puppy diet until adulthood, which is defined as between 8–12 months of age in small and medium breeds and between 10–16 months in large and giant breeds, according to the MSD Vet Manual.
An adult dog diet, or maintenance diet, contains nutrients suited for pets that have passed their growth stage.
However, you may choose to feed your German Shepherd a puppy diet only for their first 6 months as an early switch to an adult food can be done in large dog breeds to help prevent too-rapid growth, which can lead to bone and joint issues. Many puppy foods labeled specifically for large breeds are formulated to address these issues.
My German Shepherd was transitioned from her puppy food at just two months old, however, I fed her a high-quality food suitable for this.
Most pet owners prefer feeding an adult dog twice a day, although a dog can eat just once daily. Giving two meals a day may make it easier for the dog to digest the food, helps control hunger and bloat which is a life-threatening condition. My German Shepherd certainly prefers to eat twice a day.
Here’s where you can learn more about bloat (GDV) including 10 helpful prevention tips.
Can German Shepherds Eat Bones?
Do you remember the saying “give a dog a bone?” But should German Shepherds eat bones? Here’s the answer:
German Shepherd Dogs can eat bones and they are a good source of nutrients especially calcium and phosphorus. However, you must never feed cooked bones as the cooking causes them to soften and they may splinter as your German Shepherd chews them.
This can cause choking or serious damage to your dog’s mouth or throat. Beef or lamb bones are better than chicken or pork bones as they are stronger and won’t easily splinter. Bones can also help to clean your dog’s teeth and keep them strong. Always supervise your GSD when giving him a bone.
The best bone to give to your dog is one that matches his or her size as dogs will try to swallow them. Bones should be larger than the length of the muzzle, making them impossible to swallow whole. For example, a large beef shank bone would be just the thing for my German Shepherd and she certainly thinks so!
What are the Best Treats for Dogs?
Many dog owners give treats and snacks. Dog treats don’t have to follow AAFCO standards, which means they may not contain the proper nutrients in their correct proportions. Let’s just say many dog treats on the market will provide hardly any nutritional value at all for your dog!
If you’re going to feed treats, look for ones that are high quality and full of nutrients, low in calories, fat, and additives. You will be able to find some good high-quality treats on the market. However, they can be quite expensive, but you only get what you pay for, like anything in life!
Vets recommend it’s best to limit treats. They should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s total daily calories.
I’m happy to pay that bit more if it means my dog stays healthy and happy. Willow loves her Guru venison sausages, as you can see from the below photo (only available in the UK). She also enjoys Blue Buffalo Health Bars, which you can get on Amazon or any good pet store.
How Much Water Should a Dog Drink a Day?
How much water your dog should be drinking in a day depends on quite a few variables. These can be size, age, activity level, type of food eaten (dry or wet), weather, medication, lactating, etc.
Generally, your dog should drink one ounce (30 ml) of water every day for each pound that they weigh.
Always make sure your dog’s water bowl is filled up at all times and frequently changed throughout the day. If your dog is reluctant to drink water, these are some fun ways to keep them hydrated:
- Give your dog ice cubes.
- Make doggie ice-pops.
- Add water to dry food.
- Invest in a dog water fountain such as the PetSafe Drinkwell from Amazon. I like this one as it has two tiers and even comes with filters.
- Make fun playtime with a hose in the summer.
Do German Shepherds Need Vitamins and Supplements?
You and I may choose to take vitamins and supplements, but do German Shepherds need them?
“If your pet is eating a complete and balanced commercially available pet food, supplements are not recommended unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian.”American College of Veterinary Nutrition
I have never given my German Shepherd unnecessary vitamins and supplements as I’m happy that the food I give her has everything she nutritionally needs.
I would also be worried that I could be causing her more harm than good. It’s best to always check with your vet before giving any vitamins and supplements.
Final Thoughts – The Importance of Nutrition
You and I now know what the best diet is for our German Shepherds. There’s certainly a lot to consider and I hope I’ve given you enough food for thought!
The best advice I could give you is to firstly, choose a type of food that suits your dog’s life stage and your lifestyle.
Secondly, make sure you invest in the best quality dog food you can afford as I’m a firm believer that your dog will live a longer and healthier life if you do this. Good luck!
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