German Shepherd

katy towle 26 July 2021

An incredibly popular dog who is renowned for its bravery and versatility, the German Shepherd is well known around the world.  Their black and tan coat and deep brown eyes are quickly recognisable.

This dog is colloquially known as the ‘Alsatian’ and has worked for the police force, the military and as a search and rescue dog. Intelligent and eager to please, they make a brilliant worker. Sadly, the breed is plagued with medical issues and many older German Shepherds will suffer with joint pain and mobility problems.

Breed history

Though the German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world, they have only been in existence for about 150 years. As is clear from the use of the word ‘Shepherd’ in their name, they were once employed by farmers to guide and protect their livestock.

It’s hard to mention the history of the German Shepherd without hitting upon Max von Stephanitz. He worked hard to establish the breed from a selection of Shepherd type breeds that he found to possess several desirable characteristics. A lot of inbreeding took place in order to establish the breed and this is probably part of the reason for the many genetic health issues from which they suffer.

General appearance

A well-muscled and large dog, the German Shepherd can reach heights of 65cm and weights of 45kg. Males tend to be noticeably bigger than females. Sadly, there was a tendency for breeding these dogs with sloping hips which has led to a lot of orthopaedic issues. In recent years, there has been a call to reverse this trend.

Their coat is a double coat that is thick and offers ample protection from the harsh weather conditions they would have experienced during German winters outside.

Temperament

There’s a reason why so many people are loyal to the German Shepherd breed. They have a wonderful temperament when adequately trained and socialised. Clever, quick to learn and faithful to their owner, they are a real joy to be around.

While their intelligence can be a bonus, it is also a double-edged sword. It isn’t always easy to keep the German Shepherd occupied and many will become bored and frustrated if not provided with plenty to keep them busy. They love to be challenged and to engage their brain.


Health considerations 

It is the sad truth that the German Shepherd is one of the most ‘unhealthy’ pedigrees that there is. This is despite the fact that they are not a brachycephalic or dwarf breed (both types which are known for their health problems).  The German Shepherd can suffer from a huge variety of medical issues, some of which can be very serious:

  • Hip & Elbow Dysplasia. It is important to buy from a reputable breeder who hip and elbow scores their breeding stock and only breeds dog with acceptable scores. These orthopaedic conditions will lead to pain and arthritis and can dramatically affect a dog’s quality of life, especially in their senior years. Feeding a joint supportive diet such as Pooch & Mutt Joint Care is important for those with joint disease.
  • Epilepsy. When a dog has seizures for no apparent reason, they can be said to be epileptic. It can take various tests (such as blood tests, MRI scan and CSF taps) to confirm the diagnosis. Most German Shepherds can be well managed with medicine which is taken each day. 
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. When the pancreas doesn’t produce enzymes as it should, dogs struggle to digest food and will lose weight and develop sloppy stools.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) are two intestinal conditions that can lead to chronic diarrhoea and a failure to thrive. They aren’t easy to diagnose and dogs may need extensive blood testing, abdominal scans and even biopsies before a definitive diagnosis is reached. 
  • Haemangiosarcoma & Osteosarcoma. Cancers of the blood vessel walls (haemangiosarcoma) and of the bone (osteosarcoma) are just two of the many cancer types that this breed is predisposed to. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy. This is a condition seen almost exclusively in German Shepherds which leads to eventual paralysis of the hind limbs. While not in pain, dogs will suffer as they struggle to get about and become incontinent.
  • Atopic Dermatitis. Allergic skin disease is a frustrating condition to deal with and can cause chronic itching, fur loss and skin infections. It isn’t always easy to determine the trigger and considerations can include certain foods, house dust mites, moulds and pollen. Most dogs are managed with a combinations of anti-itch medicine, medicated shampoo and antibiotics. Offering Pooch & Mutt’s Salmon Oil may be useful for many atopic dermatitis sufferers.

Trainability 

A wonderful dog to train, in the right hands, the German Shepherd will go far. A combination of loyalty to their owner, a respectful nature and an intelligence that is rare among dogs, the German Shepherd excels in many disciplines.

They do require a firm and consistent approach and can develop behavioural issues without adequate training.

Grooming

The thick coat of the German Shepherd should be brushed every couple of days to help spread their natural oils along their fur.


Exercise

This active dog requires exercise in spades. They won’t be content with the same boring walk each day and thrive when given lots of different things to do. We should aim for a minimum of two hours exercise each day. Keep it varied by playing frisbee or catch, going for a swim or a hike or even making a makeshift agility course in your back garden.


Feeding considerations

It is important to focus on the health of the German Shepherd and to tailor their diet to their medical needs. For example, those with hip dysplasia will benefit greatly from a diet that contains joint supplements and that aims to keep them trim. Supplements containing Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Collage (such as the Pooch & Mutt Joint Supplements) are a sensible choice for most.

You'll find a handy feeding calculator on every product page here at Pooch & Mutt to help you identify how much of our health led recipes are right for the age, size and weight of your dog.

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