Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down to Eat? 5 Reasons!


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My German Shepherd will often lay down to eat from her bowl. However, this is not new for her as she has done this from being a young puppy. But why do German Shepherds lay down to eat?

German Shepherds lay down to eat as it’s a natural canine behavior previously used to protect their food against predators. Other reasons include tiredness, laziness, or old age. A few health issues can also be the cause, such as neck or pain, osteoarthritis, trouble swallowing, or being overweight.

This article will explain why your German Shepherd lays down to eat, possible health issues, and what you should do if this behavior suddenly occurs. We’ll also look at the dangers of bloat (GDV), whether you should use elevated food bowls, why your dog lays down to drink and loads more!

Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down To Eat? German Shepherd laying down whilst eating from bowl
My German Shepherd laying down whilst eating

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To learn more about why German Shepherds lay down to eat, read on!

Reasons Your German Shepherd Lays Down to Eat

Here are the reasons why your dog may lay down to eat:

  • Natural canine behavior
  • Laziness
  • Tiredness
  • Health
  • Old age

Natural Canine Behaviour

My German Shepherd Willow lying down whilst eating

You may be surprised to learn that most domestic dogs don’t eat the way nature intended. So what do I mean by this, you may be wondering?

Thousands of years ago, wild dogs had to hunt for their food. Once the prey had been captured and killed, dogs would often lay down to eat. This meant they could hold their food between their front paws, which allowed them to guard it and keep a lookout if anything approached.

Eating in this less vulnerable position allowed wild dogs to protect their food and defend themselves if needed.

In contrast, domestic dogs generally eat from their bowls in a standing position, with their heads and necks bent down towards the ground. They no longer need to protect their food from scavengers (unless the neighbor’s cat is around), so they don’t need to keep a lookout whilst eating!

If you picture wolves, lions, tigers, etc., they mainly eat their prey whilst lying on the ground, which allows them to keep an eye on anything approaching and making them less vulnerable to attack from scavengers.

If you like to give your German Shepherd a raw bone, you can’t fail to have noticed they eat it whilst lying down. They are mimicking the behavior of their ancestors by using their front paws to hold the food whilst keeping their heads up.

Also, picture a pack of German Shepherd puppies lying down to feed on their mother. All dogs begin life eating that way; however, most outgrow it.

Laziness

Let’s face it, some dogs are just like some humans, born lazy, and that’s the way they like it! If this is a normal trait for your dog (for example, the English Bulldog and the Bullmastiff are renowned for being lazy breeds), then you will know there is nothing to be concerned about.

Just be wary. If your dog suddenly becomes lazy, you may need to take them to the vets for a full checkup to rule out any medical conditions. Infectious diseases, trauma, parasites, and metabolic disorders are just some conditions that might affect your dog’s energy levels.

Tiredness

Tiredness may be the reason your German Shepherd lays down to eat. You need to pay attention to your dog’s behavior and keep an eye on anything unusual.

If this is new behavior for your dog and typically lasts for more than a couple of days, they may be suffering from sickness or disease. If it’s just a one-off, maybe following a lot of exercise or play, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Old Age

All dogs, like you and I, get older! Dogs of different breeds and sizes age at different rates. The life expectancy of the German Shepherd is 9-14 years.

Behavioral changes in your German Shepherd are one of the signs of old age. As your dog enters his senior years, you should be prepared for certain changes that might occur, and this may include your dog starting to lie down to eat their food.

As the inevitable old age sets in, this can come with all kinds of health issues, including osteoarthritis, which causes your dog to suffer from joint pain and stiffness. Your German Shepherd may feel more comfortable laying down to eat when at this life stage.

Health

These are some of the health issues that your German Shepherd may be experiencing if he suddenly starts to eat his food whilst lying down:

  1. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs, and approximately 25% of the canine population will be affected. It can lead to debilitating pain, discomfort, and mobility problems. It’s a progressive condition but can be managed with exercise modification, anti-inflammatories, and pain killers.
  2. If your dog starts to both eat and drink whilst laying down suddenly, he may be having trouble swallowing. Some degenerative diseases, such as myasthenia gravis, can make swallowing more difficult and causes weakness and fatigue. There are also other muscle disorders (myopathies) in dogs that could cause difficulties in swallowing.
  3. Some dog breeds like German Shepherds, Labradors, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. This can lead to painful arthritis and make standing to eat or even standing too long in one position uncomfortable for them.
  4. If your German Shepherd is overweight or obese, he might find it easier to lie down whilst eating, especially if he has trouble breathing.
  5. Your German Shepherd may be suffering from an upset stomach and may find it easier to lie down whilst eating. German Shepherds are one of the breeds that are prone to suffering from a sensitive stomach.
  6. Your German Shepherd may be suffering from some problem that makes it uncomfortable when bending his neck to eat. He may be experiencing neck or back pain or weakness, which may be a sign that it is hard for him to reach his food bowl.

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Is it Normal for a German Shepherd to Eat Lying Down?

I have never been too concerned that my German Shepherd often eats whilst lying down as it is something that she has always done since being a pup. She is quite tall for a female dog, and I always felt that perhaps she feels more comfortable eating whilst laying down due to her long legs. But is it normal for a dog to eat lying down?

It is quite normal for a dog to eat lying down, although it can be rare. It is natural canine behavior as dogs would lay down whilst eating in the wild, keeping alert for predators. If your dog usually eats lying down, let him continue. However, if he has suddenly started lying down to eat, you may need to rule out any medical causes.

Why do German Shepherds lay down to eat? German Shepherd laying down whilst eating from bowl

My German Shepherd Willow lying down whilst eating her cold-pressed food.

A dog that suddenly starts lying down whilst eating would benefit from a check-up at the vets to determine why he has changed his eating position.

If you find out your dog is suffering from a health problem, your vet may recommend eating from an elevated dog bowl. However, in breeds prone to bloat (GDV) and sensitive stomachs, like the German Shepherd, the use of an elevated feeder is somewhat controversial. We’ll cover this topic later in the article, but first, you must be aware of bloat.

What is Bloat in German Shepherds?

Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat? X-ray of dog with bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus, GDV)
X-ray of a dog with bloat – the red double bubble pattern indicates stomach torsion.

Bloat in German Shepherds occurs when the stomach twists and fills with gas, or the stomach fills with gas first, causing pressure to build. The stomach then becomes distended. This causes breathing problems and cuts off return blood flow to the heart, causing tissues to die and a ruptured stomach.

Bloat in German Shepherds can be life-threatening and must be treated as a medical emergency as your dog can die within a matter of hours without treatment. Bloat is also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and German Shepherd stomach twist.

“Bloat still kills about 30 percent of the dogs it affects, even after extremely intensive treatment.”

American Kennel Club

Vets do not completely understand bloat, and it is not known what causes it.

It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs, such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Poodles, and St Bernards, are particularly at risk, although any dog breed can get bloat. These are the symptoms you need to be aware of:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Stomach pain
  • Retching
  • Salivation
  • Restlessness

Although you should be aware of bloat, try not to worry as there are many preventative steps you can take to ensure your dog never has to deal with bloat in the first place. Knowing the signs and catching GDV early makes it extremely likely your dog will come out perfectly healthy.

Risk factors include eating too soon before and after exercise, a disorganized feeding routine, and eating too quickly. You can learn more about German Shepherds and bloat in this article, Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat?

Are Elevated Dog Bowls Good for German Shepherds?

There are differences of opinion on whether elevated dog bowls are good for dogs. Some owners approve of them, and others don’t. So what’s the bottom line? Are elevated dog bowls good for German Shepherds?

Elevated dog bowls are good for German Shepherds as they help relieve neck and back strain, allowing them to eat more comfortably. They are perfect for arthritic, elderly, taller dogs, or those with swallowing or digestive issues. It is unknown whether they prevent or cause bloat.

Those in favor of elevated dog bowls have often been recommended to use them by their veterinarian, particularly in dogs with osteoarthritis, which is sadly now 25% of the canine population. However, the controversy amongst dog owners is whether elevated dog bowls (raised feeders) cause or prevent bloat (GDV) in dogs.

As German Shepherds are prone to bloat, their eating posture is important. So, let’s take a look at the evidence:

“There are only two studies that study the effect of raised feeders on the risk of Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV) and their findings conflict. The safest option in the absence of further evidence is to advise that owners of ‘at risk’ dogs feed from a feeder on the floor. This may not reduce the risk of GDV, but there is no evidence to suggest that it will increase the risk.”

Veterinary Evidence

Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove whether elevated dog bowls cause or prevent bloat in dogs.

Are German Shepherds Prone to Bloat? German Shepherd eating from elevated feeder.

My German Shepherd Willow eating her food from an elevated dog bowl. She is a tall dog and always preferred a raised feeder, more so now that she has spinal arthritis.

When deciding whether to use a raised feeder for your German Shepherd, you should consider your dog’s health and needs, along with any advice from your vet.

If you decide your German Shepherd will benefit from an elevated dog bowl, there are a ton to choose from to suit your budget. Check out the Dogit Elevated Dog Bowl from Amazon. It’s a pretty cool 2-in1 design with a choice of four colors. It has anti-slip feet has a vet-recommended stainless steel bowl.

It’s not advisable to use a raised feeder if your dog tends to gulp their food. In this case, an interactive or slow feeder could be your best option. I like the JASGOOD Slow Dog Bowl from Amazon as it’s better for large breeds and even has a section in the center for water. Or for a crazy purple color, check out the Outward Hound Fun Feeder, which gets over 50,000 positive reviews on Amazon!

It is also recommended you feed your dog cold-pressed dog food as opposed to a regular dry kibble. Traditional kibble is known to swell and bloat in your dog’s stomach, whereas cold-pressed does not swell but slowly breaks down, making it easier to digest.

To find out which cold-pressed dog food I feed my German Shepherd, you can find my full review here. You can also check out Only Natural Cold-Pressed Dog Food from Amazon if you’re new to cold-pressed food.

Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down to Drink Water?

German Shepherd laying down drinking water. Why Does My Dog Lay Down to Drink Water?
My German Shepherd Willow laying down to drink water

My German Shepherd will sometimes lay down to drink from her bowl of water. She usually does this after a long walk, especially in the summer months when she is warm, so I guess she does this due to tiredness. Most other times, she drinks from a normal standing position.

If your dog suddenly starts having trouble regularly drinking from a standing position, it may be that he’s having trouble swallowing and may need a check-up at the vets to see if he has developed any health issues.

Make sure your German Shepherd has access to water at all times to prevent dehydration. The easiest way to check for dehydration is to check for loss of skin elasticity.

To do this, gently pinch some of your dog’s skin near the shoulder blades. As you release the skin, please take note that in well-hydrated dogs, the skin will instantly spring back to its original position, whereas the skin of dehydrated dogs will take longer to fall back into place.

You can also check your dog’s gums, and if they are dry and sticky, your dog may be dehydrated. Other signs are heavy panting, sunken eyes, or a dry nose. It’s important to change your dog’s water regularly throughout the day, or you can get a dog water fountain such as the Petsafe Drinkwell (check price on Amazon) that entices your German Shepherd to drink more – and saves you from having to keep changing his water.

Why Do German Shepherds Sit Down to Eat?

So now you know the reasons why your German Shepherd lays down to eat; what does it mean if he sits down to eat?

German Shepherds sit down to eat as it is more comfortable and reduces strain on the back or neck. Sitting down to eat is also a learned behavior as dogs no longer need to protect their food from predators and can, therefore, eat more relaxed. Other reasons are old age, health, and being trained to sit.

  1. Learned behavior: We have already learned that wild dogs would lay down to eat their food, whether they had scavenged it or killed their prey. So a domesticated dog sitting down to eat is similar to a dog standing in that they no longer need to protect their food from other scavengers and, therefore, eat more relaxed. Over thousands of years, the domesticated dog has evolved to eat in this position.
  2. Comfort: Some dogs may find it more comfortable to sit whilst eating especially taller dogs, as this can help to reduce stress on their neck or back. You may believe that your dog is tired or lazy. However, it may just be their personal preference; after all, you and I sit down to eat to enjoy a good meal!
  3. Training: You and I may be to blame for this canine behavior, especially if we have trained our dogs to sit as a reward for food, e.g., for good behavior or during training. Some dogs may have got confused as a puppy and think they have to sit when fed a meal. Some dog owners train their dogs to sit before being allowed to feed, hence the confusion!
  4. Health or old age: Your dog may have developed health issues, e.g., arthritis or hip dysplasia, or old age may have set in.

Why Do German Shepherds Eat Food Away From Their Bowl?

Does your German Shepherd take some food from their bowl, walk away just a short distance or even head off into a corner or hiding place to eat it? If so, this is just a case of pack mentality, according to the experts.

When wild dogs killed their prey, the least dominant dogs would drag pieces of food away and retreat to a safer place. They did this to avoid having to fight the leader or a more dominant canine for the food.

Although the domesticated dog no longer has this competition or threat, this behavior of eating food away from the bowl is your dog’s evolutionary instinct taking over. Even centuries of domesticity haven’t completely been bred out of them, and some breeds will still have this instinct more than others.

Usually, the domestic dog doesn’t take the food all that far away as they want to keep an eye on the rest of the food in the bowl. If your dog takes their food into another room to be with you, it may be that they feel lonely and don’t like eating alone.

If you have more than one dog, instinct may be more common. Some have no problem sharing food bowls, while others like to grab a portion of food and eat it away from the feeding area.

Final Thoughts

As long as there are no medical concerns, allowing your German Shepherd to lay down or sit whilst eating is no cause for concern. All dogs, like humans, have their unique personalities and will do whatever they feel comfortable with.

However, if your dog suddenly starts to lay down to eat or drink and has never done this before, it may be for medical reasons rather than for comfort, and a trip to the vet is advised.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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