If you own or have owned, a German Shepherd, then you’re probably not surprised to learn that they are the second most popular breed of dog in the United States. With their protective natures, lively intelligence, and innate loyalty, there’s a reason why so many of us have, and love, German Shepherds. And, they are gorgeous dogs, with their distinctive brown coloring and long, soft hair. You love your German Shepherd, and likely consider him or her to be part of your family and a close companion. So, you may be wondering how you can support your dog’s health, how long your dog is likely to live, and what kinds of German Shepherd health issues you need to keep an eye out for.
How Long Do German Shepherds Live?
This is a somewhat complicated question that is confused by the conflicting information about the German Shepherd life span out on the web. In addition, you must consider if your German Shepherd is an American-bred German Shepherd or a German-bred German Shepherd.
While some websites will list German Shepherd life expectancy as 10-14 years, this unfortunately is generally considered to be incorrect. The reputable American Kennel Club (AKC) registers the breed here in the United States and has a different take on the situation. They list German Shepherd life expectancy at 7-10 years of age.
There is a difference in breeding goals between the United States and Germany. Here in the US, many German Shepherds are bred for aesthetic qualities more suited for show animals. This includes a sloped back, which may aggravate and encourage the development of back and joint issues in a breed already prone to them. In Germany, however, they focus on breeding healthy, working dogs, and German Shepherds must pass many tests to prove they are mentally and physically healthy before breeding can occur. So, this is why there is a difference in life expectancy for German Shepherds.
Common German Shepherd Health Issues
Here are some of the common German Shepherd health issues. While none of these is a guarantee in the slightest, forewarned is forearmed. If you know what the potential problem areas are, you can be on the lookout for any symptoms arising. Then, because you know what to look out for, you can get your dog the care he needs sooner rather than later. Also, the knowledge of potential German Shepherd health problems will allow you to take preventative measures that will support your dog being healthy and happy for a long time.
1. Hip dysplasia
The hip is a ball and socket joint. Hip dysplasia is a condition where the ball and socket joint of the hip don’t fit because they developed improperly. So, instead of a smooth glide, the hip joint rubs and grinds against itself. Over time, this will wear out the hip joint and lead to a loss of function. While genetics is most often the root cause of hip dysplasia, how quickly a dog grows can also influence this condition. Other factors that affect the development of hip dysplasia are what kinds of exercise the dog does, along with its nutrition and weight.
Make sure German Shepherd puppies are being fed puppy food developed for large dog breeds. These foods can help stop excessive growth and give these puppies’ joints time to grow correctly.
Too much exercise is as dangerous as too little for German Shepherds. Too much activity, especially on hard surfaces, can accelerate joint deterioration. However, too little exercise can lead to obesity which puts extra pressure on your dog’s joints.
German Shepherds may develop osteoarthritis. While common in many dogs, larger breeds like German Shepherds may be more prone to developing this condition. Also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), this is a progressively worsening condition caused by inflammation of the joint due to the deterioration, or weakening, of the cartilage. Cartilage is what pads the joint bones, allowing them to move smoothly, and painlessly against each other. The loss of cartilage leads to pain, inflammation, a decrease in range of motion, and painful bone spurs. This disease most commonly affects the limbs and lower spine.
Deep chested dogs like German Shepherds are prone to Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV), or bloat. This is a life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with gas and rotates, causing severe complications. Signs of GDV are:
Seek medical attention immediately if your dog has these symptoms.
How to Improve Your German Shepherd’s Health and Lifespan
1. Responsible breeding
Choose a reputable breeder when adopting a German Shepherd. It’s an unfortunate reality that not all dog owners are breeding intending to improve the breed and produce healthy dogs. German Shepherds not bred with care are far more likely to be on the wrong side of genetics when it comes to their legendary back and joint problems.
Here are some tips for evaluating a potential breeder:
- It’s a good idea to visit the puppies on site so you can see how the operation looks, sounds, and smells.
- The breeder should be able to answer all your questions.
- The breeder should be evaluating you as well and trying to determine if you’re going to provide a good home for one of their dogs.
- A good breeder’s puppies will never be for sale at a pet store.
- They have done health testing on the parent dogs.
- If you can’t keep the dog, the breeder should agree to take it back.
While commercial dog food may technically provide all the nutrients a dog needs, they are often made with low-quality ingredients. Feeding your German Shepherd high-quality food, such as from a vet’s office, is one of the best ways you can support your dog’s overall health. Look for a food that:
- Doesn’t contain any corn, animal by-products, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Brace yourself before reading your dog’s current food ingredient label-it’s not going to be pretty.
- Meat should be the first ingredient. Ideally, it’s “meat”, not “meat meal”. Meat meal can be further down on the ingredient list.
- Has vitamins and minerals that come from real fruit and vegetable sources, not created in a lab and then added to the food.
Support your German Shepherd’s health by feeding her small meals throughout the day. This will prevent the bloating that German Shepherds are prone to.
3. Exercise and weight control
Just like humans, dogs need exercise to maintain and support good health. Exercise increases circulation, oxygen intake and builds strong muscles. Exercise will also keep your dog limber, which is good for the health of her back and hips. Plus it’s fun, and your intelligent German Shepherd needs fun as much as she needs to get her blood flowing. Exercise will use up excess energy and will tucker your dog out, leaving less energy for mischief.
There is a serious reason for regularly exercising your German Shepherd, in addition to it being fun and using energy that might otherwise go towards antics. It is incredibly important to maintain your German Shepherd’s weight. This is a serious health issue for any dog, but with German Shepherds’ propensity towards joint issues, it makes it of the utmost importance.
One of the first things you may have heard about German Shepherds from other owners is likely that German Shepherds shed. A lot. A common joke among German Shepherd breeders is to advise their customers to go buy a better vacuum before they take their puppy home. Most breeders recommend a deshedding tool, such as the Furminator brand, because German Shepherds have a double coat. A de-shedding tool can reach the undercoat, and remove the extra hair from that layer. Weekly to daily brushing is recommended to cut down on shedding and keep your dog’s coat healthy and happy. It’s important to follow the directions for a deshedding tool because the sharp teeth can hurt your dog’s skin if used incorrectly.
Groomers also recommend only bathing German Shepherds once or twice a year, or as needed, if your pup got into something extremely dirty. Bathing too frequently can dry out your dog’s coat and skin, leading to dry and potentially aggravated skin. German Shepherds tend towards skin issues, too, so better to avoid too-frequent baths. Your German Shepherd will thank you!
5. Vet care
Like with all dogs, regular veterinary care is a must. But it’s even more important for your German Shepherd because of the potential for hereditary joint issues. Take your dog to the vet as often as they suggest.
Talk to your vet about natural health supplements for your dog, like fish oil, hemp seed oil, and glucosamine and chondroitin. These supplements may support your dog’s overall health, as well as her back and joints. There are many other beneficial supplements for dogs out there and your vet will be able to recommend some German Shepherd-specific ones for you.