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


My German Shepherd will often lay down to eat from her bowl. However, this is not something 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 explore in detail 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 elevated food bowls should be used, 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

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 to keep a lookout in case anything approached.

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

In contrast, domestic dogs generally eat from their bowls in a standing position, with their heads and neck bend 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 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 arthritis which causes your dog to suffer from joint pain and stiffness. Your German Shepherd may simply 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 they suddenly start to eat their food whilst lying down:

  1. Your German Shepherd may be suffering from some sort of problem that makes it uncomfortable when bending their neck to eat. They may be experiencing neck or back pain or weakness and this may be a sign that it is hard for them to reach their food bowl.
  2. If your dog starts to suddenly both eat and drink whilst laying down, they may be having trouble swallowing. There are some degenerative diseases, for example, myasthenia gravis that can make swallowing more difficult and which 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 then they might find it easier to lie down whilst eating, especially if they have trouble breathing.
  5. Your German Shepherd may be suffering from an upset stomach and may find it easier to lay down whilst eating. German Shepherds are one of the breeds that are prone to suffering from a sensitive stomach.

My 5 Favorite German Shepherd Products to Make Life Easier:

  1. Walk Your Dog With Love. I love this no-pull harness as there’s just no way your dog can pull. Easy to fit and inexpensive.
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  5. Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed. Scientifically proven to prevent and reduce joint pain in big dogs. The 10-year guarantee is also pretty cool.

My full list of recommendations can be found here.

Is it Okay for a Dog to Eat Laying 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 size.

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 dog food.

If you have experienced the same with your dog, there is nothing to be worried about. If your dog wants to eat lying down, let them continue as there is nothing wrong with it.

However, if your dog has never displayed this behavior and has suddenly started lying down to eat, maybe they would benefit from a thorough physical examination at the vets to find out why they have changed their eating position.

If you find out your dog is suffering from a health problem, your vet may recommend they eat from an elevated dog bowl, however, in some breeds that are prone to bloat and have sensitive stomachs, like the German Shepherd, the use of an elevated feeder is somewhat controversial (see below).

What is Bloat in German Shepherds?

Bloat in dogs 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):

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

American Kennel Club

GDV is not completely understood by vets and it is not known what causes it. It occurs when the stomach twists and fills with gas or it may occur the other way around – the stomach fills with gas which causes pressure to build.

Eventually, the dog’s stomach becomes distended with gas which causes breathing problems. The excess pressure can also cut off return blood flow to the heart and can cause tissues to die leading to stomach rupture.

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

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

You shouldn’t be worried, though – 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 it early on makes it extremely likely they’ll come out perfectly healthy.

Are Elevated Dog Bowls Good for German Shepherds?

This is quite a controversial question amongst dog owners and I can see why as there does appear to be conflicting information. Some say elevated dog bowls (raised feeders) cause bloat in dogs, whilst others say that using an elevated feeder prevents it.

If your dog is prone to bloat like the German Shepherd then their eating posture is important. Let’s take a look at the evidence from Veterinary Evidence and see what they say:

“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 say whether elevated dog bowls cause bloat in dogs.

Those in favor of elevated dog bowls have often been recommended to use them by their veterinarian especially if their dog has neck or back problems. Vets may also recommend them to assist elderly arthritic dogs to comfortably eat and reduce strain on their joints.

Dogs with swallowing difficulties may also benefit because it is easier for them to swallow standing up rather than with their heads down. Tall dogs may also find it more comfortable.

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

My German Shepherd Willow” eating from an elevated dog bowl.

I think you will need to make your decision depending on your German Shepherd’s specific circumstances along with any advice from your vet. However, I found that the experts at Pet MD do not recommend dogs feeding from an elevated food bowl as they believe that it helps to reduce the risk of bloat.

If you decide your German Shepherd will benefit from an elevated dog bowl, there are a ton to choose from to suit your budget. A good place to start for some ideas is on the Amazon dog raised bowl best sellers page.

It’s also 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. You can find a wide variety on Amazon here but I like this one as it’s better for large breeds and even has a section in the center for water.

It is also recommended you feed your dog a Cold-Pressed dog food as opposed to a regular dry kibble. Traditional kibble is known to swell and bloat in the 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.

Why Does My Dog 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, and 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 drinking regularly from a standing position, it may be that they are having trouble swallowing and may need a check-up at the vets to see if they have 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 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 panting, sunken eyes, or a dry nose. It’s important to regularly change your dog’s water throughout the day or you can get a dog water fountain such as the Petsafe Drinkwell that entices your German Shepherd to drink more.

Why Do Dogs Sit Down to Eat?

So now we know the reasons why your German Shepherd may lay down to eat, so why do dogs sit down to eat?

  1. Natural 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 can, 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 they are 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 Dogs 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 just your dog’s evolutionary instinct taking over. Even centuries of domesticity hasn’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 be able 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, the instinct may be more common. Some have no problem sharing food bowls whilst others like to grab a piece 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 personality 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 5-year-old female German Shepherd named "Willow" and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with my dog and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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