German Shepherd Guide: A Comprehensive Look at the Breed’s Health

german shepherd dog laying on grass

German Shepherd Breed Introduction

German shepherds have a unique black and tan appearance that is unmistakable to viewers. They have an angled, sturdy body that lends well to their athleticism. A German shepherd lifespan is full of hard work. German shepherds serve well as a family pet and are key players in many dangerous industries. Most commonly, German shepherds are thought of as police dogs.

This is considered a purebred breed; however, German shepherds originated from various German sheepdogs. These dogs were responsible for herding in the mid-1800s and differed in build depending on which region of Germany in which they resided.

The two main types of German sheepdogs that created this breed are the Thuringia sheepdogs and the Wurttemburg sheepdogs. Thuringia and Wurttemburg are two regions in Germany, each producing sheepdogs with unique features. Thuringian sheepdogs were small and stocky with curled tails, sharp temperaments, and wiry coats. Alternatively, Wurttemburg sheepdogs were a large breed with heavy bones. By combining the two breeds, the modern-day look of a sharp, wolf-like appearance was born.

One of the most unique features of German shepherd puppies is that they are highly active and athletic. German shepherd puppies are strong and love to play. The amount of daily exercise for German shepherds is at least two hours. Be prepared for activities throughout the day. It is not recommended to give them a straight two hours of exercise. Instead, frequent walks and playtime in the yard are essential.

You will have a full-time companion throughout a German shepherd lifespan. German shepherds will either remain close to you while exercising or, at least, keep you in their line of sight in any activity. As part of their herding behavior, adult German shepherds tend to walk ahead of you while periodically looking behind to ensure that you follow along properly.

The exercise routines of German shepherd puppies differ, though. German shepherd puppies need to build up to their adult energy levels for longer exercise sessions. That said, German shepherd puppies, compared to their adult counterparts, are better at self-regulating. This means you can give German shepherd puppies more free play time versus keeping them entertained yourself.

Because of their high energy, loyalty, and protective nature, this breed is also an excellent choice for families. German shepherds still tend to herd other animals or their people. German shepherd puppies can cohabitate well with other dogs if given ample time to develop a friendly relationship. The more they are socialized as German shepherd puppies, the more successful they will be at forming adult relationships.

Another feature you will need to be ready for is the vocal nature throughout a German shepherd lifespan. This hails from their herding history as they use their barks to alert their owners to danger. Today, they still do this, and they also like to give you a piece of their mind.

Regarding its status as a working dog, one unique but little-known fact about this breed is that it was the world’s first guide dog for blind individuals. According to the International Guide Dog Federation, the German Red Cross Ambulance Association charged the German Shepherd Dog Association with rendering services for blinded veterans in 1923. They opened an official guide dog training school in Potsdam, Germany, that same year. By the 1930s, the Association had approximately 4,000 qualified guide dogs. The first of these dogs was a German shepherd named “Buddy,” who worked with Morris Frank, a blind individual who promoted the use of guide dogs for the blind.

This breed worked in several different industries throughout its history. German shepherds’ use in these various jobs is thanks to their trainability and adaptability. German shepherds are often considered one of the world’s most intelligent dog breeds.

German shepherds are an inquisitive breed. The olfactory sense of German shepherd puppies is one of the greatest of any dog breed. German shepherds use their noses to explore every inch of their environment. You will also notice them using their snout as an extra appendage. Professionals refer to this as “mouthing behavior,” where German shepherd puppies will chew on various objects and people to explore their environment. You are more likely to see this with German shepherd puppies. You can curb the behavior by providing alternative outlets, such as chew toys.

German Shepherd Breed History

This breed comes from two different lines of working breeds in Germany. One chance encounter in the late 1800s would establish the official breed. The original was a dog named Hektor Linksrhein.

Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz spent time in the German countryside working in a cavalry. He greatly admired the herding dogs in the area and set out on a mission to develop a formal version of the breed. Von Stephanitz attended a dog show in 1899, where he spotted Hektor. He was fascinated by his appearance and paid 200 German marks to adopt Hektor on the spot.

Von Stephanitz renamed him as Horand von Grafrath. About one month later, von Stephanitz founded the world’s first German shepherd club. With his inauguration number, SZ1, Horand officially became the world’s first recognized German shepherd.

While originally a herding breed, the job of a German shepherd certainly varied over the years. Numerous industries employed German shepherds due to their physical fitness, loyal personality, high intelligence, and excellent smell. German shepherds do still work as herding dogs for farmers in Germany.

Modern-day German shepherds are often employed as police dogs, also called K-9 units. This terminology is a shortened version of their scientific name, canine. German shepherds have talents for tracking, taking down criminals, and detecting explosives, drugs, and other dangerous substances. German shepherds have also worked in the military. Like German shepherds’ job in police work, the military tasks German shepherds to seek out traps, enemies, and other dangers.

Though they are a part of the herding group, German shepherds were not always classified as such. German shepherd puppies breed classification used to fall within the overarching working group. Until 1983, modern-day herding group breeds were all put under the umbrella of the working group. However, it is noted that herding group breeds share an instinctual drive to control what other animals, and sometimes even humans, do.

There has not been a lot of controversy surrounding German shepherds over the years, unlike with some other dog breeds. German shepherds are highly protective of their owners and families but are not an aggressive breed. That said, in recent years, public outcry has grown over the increasingly severe slope of the breed’s back. This is especially prevalent in show German shepherds while working German shepherds tend to have straight backs.

This controversy was highlighted in the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed.” Within this documentary, critics described the breed as looking like “half dog, half frog.” Veterinarians have also remarked that the appearance is abnormal.

However, judges at these shows are being retrained to penalize these issues. If someone observes a show-dog walking, they may notice an extreme slope in the breed’s back. This can cause a problem in the dog’s gait. That said, scientists argue that more research is necessary to conclude that the back arch correlates with musculoskeletal disorders in German shepherds. They tend to experience numerous joint and muscle disorders throughout a German shepherd lifespan.

close up of german shepherd in the grass

German Shepherd Breed Intelligence

According to research by a neuropsychologist, Stanley Coren, German shepherd puppies are the third most intelligent dog breed in the world. Coren measured German shepherd intelligence in three ways: adaptive intelligence, working and obedience intelligence, and instinctive intelligence. Adaptive intelligence refers to a German shepherd’s ability to problem-solve independently, such as in the various situations German shepherds may encounter in the line of duty. For example, this may include analyzing a situation and detecting danger.

German shepherd puppies can comprehend simple tasks after five repetitions. German shepherds can also understand your first command 95% of the time. Coren found that German shepherd puppies can learn new tasks quickly and interpret commands better than other breeds. Learning new tasks and commands is where a German shepherd’s working and obedience intelligence comes into play: how well German shepherds learn new behaviors from humans. Positive reinforcement on German shepherd puppies works well.

The key to German shepherd puppies intelligence likely comes from their herding background. This is a reference to instinctive intelligence: the breed’s original purpose. A study of neurological differences among various dog breeds indicates a correlation between its breed and brain structure.

National Geographic interviewed Erin E. Hecht, the lead author of this study, to get more detailed information. Hecht explains that dog breeds in certain categories, such as those that typically employ German shepherds, have a more developed prefrontal cortex responsible for cognitive processing and learning. Thus, German shepherd puppies have biology to thank for their extreme intelligence.

German Shepherd Psychological Health

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

German shepherd puppies are not specifically prone to any cognitive health conditions. However, as a German shepherds ages, its risk of developing canine cognitive dysfunction, also called CCD or dog dementia, increases. A German shepherd lifespan is between seven and ten years.

Later in a German shepherd lifespan, it is good to look for signs of CCD. Some of these are similar to symptoms of dementia in humans. You can observe signs of CCD in later German shepherd lifespan using the veterinary acronym DISHAAL. This stands for disorientation, interactions, sleep and wake cycle changes, household soiling, activity changes, anxiety, and learning or memory changes. Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

Regarding German shepherds, specifically, many of these symptoms are quite noticeable. Since German shepherds are an intelligent breed that is often well-trained, any negative behaviors should stand out. A German shepherd lifespan is full of activity. So, decreased desire for playtime should also trigger you to call your veterinarian.

If German shepherds are otherwise healthy, then a German shepherd lifespan will not be significantly altered by this disease. This is especially true if the disease is treated early on. However, severe cases can decrease a German shepherd lifespan in some instances. Some owners will need to euthanize their German shepherds about two years after disease onset.

CCD is not a reversible condition. However, veterinarians recommend various treatments to help slow the progression of CCD late on in a German shepherd lifespan. First, they may prescribe medication to treat various components of the disease. Some medications treat physical health concerns. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an antidepressant or antianxiety medication to relax them.

Diet may also play a role in the onset or progression of CCD later in a German shepherd lifespan. Consult with a veterinarian before making any changes to your German shepherd’s diet. Most recommend a diet that focuses on antioxidants, fatty acids, and fats, specifically medium-chain triglycerides. These components help provide energy to your German shepherd’s brain, allowing for better cognitive function.

One other key component of CCD treatment is behavior modification. Learning behavior is important throughout a German shepherd lifespan. For older German shepherds, it is essential to offer chances for mental stimulation continually. Older German shepherds may not be as physically active, but you can still engage them in play with toys or light exercise.

Behavior modification refers to you as an owner as well. For example, keep a routine as much as possible. This reduces anxiety and confusion in a dog that experiences disorientation in everyday life. You can teach your dog a settle command and modify the environment to reduce the chance of overstimulation as well. Additionally, create an indoor bathroom area for your dog and teach them to use it. This will relieve both of your stress if they begin to struggle with incontinence.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Though they may not necessarily link to cognitive function, there are some neurological disorders to which German shepherds are prone. Two of these include degenerative myelopathy and epilepsy.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) in German shepherds affects the spinal cord. A significant risk factor for this disease, which is present in many German shepherds, is the SOD-1 genetic mutation. Though this mutation is present from birth, the DM is typically present in older dogs, not German shepherd puppies.

Symptoms of DM include paw knuckling or turning, hip-swaying, feet scraping, falling over easily, and difficulty getting up from a laid down position. Treatment for DM mainly consists of relieving pain and discomfort. Though it is a neurological condition, diet and exercise are still crucial in this case. Obesity creates difficulty in movement for German shepherds with DM.

two german shepherds standing in the snow


Epilepsy is a condition that you would likely notice in German shepherd puppies if it were to develop. It usually develops between six months and three years of age. There are three kinds of seizures German shepherd puppies could experience. The first is reactive seizures, resulting from metabolic issues, such as organ failure, toxins, or low blood sugar. Secondary seizures result from traumatic brain conditions, such as tumors, stroke, or other head trauma. The third type is idiopathic epilepsy. This is a genetic condition that German shepherd puppies inherit from their parents. This is a lifelong condition that is usually treatable with medication. This condition can reduce a German shepherd lifespan by several years. However, sixty to seventy percent of dogs achieve proper seizure control when the condition is medically monitored.


General Stress

German shepherd puppies are not a particularly stressed breed of dog. However, they can experience stress in their everyday life. Being aware of the signs of stress in German shepherds is key to reducing the stress and promoting a long German shepherd lifespan.

Some of the key signs include pacing, shaking, excessive vocalizing, prolonged or intense yawning, excessive drooling and licking, physical changes in eyes and ears, body posture changes, excessive shedding, panting, changes in bodily functions, and hiding or escaping behavior.

Of course, owning German shepherd puppies, you have probably already noticed several of these signs in a healthy, calm dog. For example, German shepherds shed a lot. So, it is not unusual that they would leave their hair everywhere. However, they are on the lower end of the spectrum regarding drooling and grooming.

Prevention of stress begins in puppyhood for German shepherds. Studies have shown early experiences for German shepherd puppies correlate to how they cope with stressful situations in adulthood. Some of these characteristics are outside your control, such as a German shepherd puppy’s sex or season of birth. However, other factors are controllable. For example, good experiences with their mother and in adoptive homes lend to better coping skills for German shepherd puppies later in life.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

One condition that may affect older German shepherds is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition is also called PTSD. This condition occurs in a small percentage of working dogs. As they are often employed in industries associated with this condition, it is possible that German shepherds could experience PTSD.

PTSD in German shepherds, also called canine PTSD or C-PTSD, displays similar to how it does in humans. Researchers first used this term in 2010, and, at the time, about five to ten percent of military or police work dogs experienced the condition. Now, the number is lower at around five percent of working dogs, including German shepherds. Military and police work trauma are not the only causes of C-PTSD in German shepherds. When you adopt a dog, they may have experienced other traumas in their German shepherd lifespan. These experiences could include natural disasters, abuse, animal attacks, and homelessness. Again, it is less common to see this condition in German shepherd puppies than older German shepherds. But, even German shepherd puppies can experience some of these traumas.

C-PTSD is not a curable condition, but it is manageable with the proper treatment. If left untreated, it is possible that C-PTSD could cause a decrease in a German shepherd lifespan. Not only does it decrease the quality of life, but it also correlates to various physical health issues as well. Some are easily noticeable, such as skin disorders, while others relate to internal organs. Symptoms include hypervigilance, relationship changes, failure to accomplish work tasks, hiding or escaping behavior, and other general fear or stress signals.

Stress Treatment

There are three main ways to treat German shepherd puppies with stress or C-PTSD. The first two treatments for C-PTSD are veterinarian-led. These are medication and a behavioral modification program that involves systematic desensitization. These two treatments are typically utilized together. Your veterinarian will decrease the dosage of antianxiety medication as your German shepherd’s C-PTSD condition improves.

Systematic desensitization involves exposure to a stimulus that would remind them of the original trauma. For instance, the trigger may be a specific noise. A behavior specialist or veterinarian would play the noise near German shepherd puppies. This is a low-level reminder that does not retraumatize German shepherd puppies. Instead, it improves their emotional strength and allows them to learn how to cope with stressful situations independently.

The third treatment for C-PTSD is related to diet. A veterinarian can offer information on this, but you can also incorporate this into home treatment yourself. Though there is no specific diet for C-PTSD, several diet components reduce the stress level in German shepherd puppies.

High protein, low carbohydrate diets are great for managing stress throughout a German shepherd lifespan. This type of diet keeps German shepherd puppies physically healthy, allowing them to be active and maintain good mental health. Fats are a good part of the diet, but you should consult your veterinarian to determine the right amount. Diet supplements are a great addition as well. Antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. In turn, inflammation reduction correlates to better immune health and less stress.

german shepherd puppy laying in grass


Separation Anxiety

Chronic anxiety can develop in some German shepherd puppies. However, one type of anxiety commonly seen in several dog breeds is separation anxiety. This is an anxiety related specifically to being alone. About seventeen percent of domesticated dogs experience separation anxiety. This is more prevalent in breeds that are more loyal and attached to their owners, such as German shepherds.

German shepherds are prone to separation anxiety, especially German shepherd puppies. Separation anxiety in German shepherd puppies will only worsen unless you begin to treat it early. Though it does not directly affect your German shepherd lifespan, separation anxiety can cause numerous health complications.

This condition can also arise from a traumatic experience, similar to events mentioned previously that contribute to C-PTSD development. That said, it does not need to be an overly traumatic experience, like that of a military or police dog, to trigger separation anxiety development. Significant household changes, such as a change in schedule, ownership, or other residents, could cause separation anxiety in your German shepherd. The condition could develop at any point in a German shepherd lifespan.

German shepherd puppies could experience separation anxiety even if they do not normally exhibit anxiety symptoms. It can be triggered after you leave or if they simply notice you preparing to leave the house. German shepherd puppies may also display a behavior known as hyper attachment. In this case, they will experience severe anxiety symptoms even if you are in the house. German shepherd puppies with hyper attachment follow their owners within close proximity or maintain constant physical contact when possible. German shepherds will be in distress even if you shut them out of the room you are in.

Signs that German shepherd puppies have separation anxiety include house soiling, coprophagia, which is the consumption of the dog’s own excrement, excessive vocalization, object destruction, escaping from confined areas (such as playpens or crates), and pacing.

It is important to remember that German shepherd puppies are active, vocal creatures. Thus, it may not be a case of separation anxiety if German shepherd puppies destroy objects or constantly whine while you are gone. Instead, German shepherd puppies may just be bored. One study demonstrated a significant indicator of separation anxiety in German shepherd puppies was a lack of daily exercise. Make sure German shepherds have plenty of room to roam and many toys to keep them occupied while you are gone.

Separation anxiety treatment should begin with German shepherd puppies. Treatment plans are often classified by the level of separation anxiety German shepherd puppies experience. You can resolve mild separation anxiety before it worsens, and treatment changes affect German shepherd puppies. Experts refer to this as counterconditioning. This requires you to help German shepherd puppies associate being alone with something positive, such as a slow-feeding snack or a special toy.

Moderate to severe separation anxiety in German shepherds requires a bit more effort to resolve. Rather than developing in German shepherd puppies, this condition likely develops over a longer period in the German shepherd lifespan. Treatment requires more complex desensitization and counterconditioning. It is highly recommended to seek the guidance of an animal behavioral specialist or veterinarian for this process.

Like with stress disorders, diet plays a role in separation anxiety in German shepherd puppies. The same recommendations apply here. Low carbohydrate, high protein diets are wonderful for maintaining good physical and mental health. Too much fat in the diet can also create inflammation, which leads to physical illness and anxiety due to not feeling well. Antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids aid in combating inflammation as well. Not only does this make them feel better, but it improves your German shepherd lifespan as well. Your veterinarian may also recommend certain dietary supplements or anti-anxiety medication as well.

Lastly, changing the physical environment is important to maintain German shepherd puppies’ well-being. If they are prone to destruction or escape because of their anxiety, ensure there are no objects accessible that they could harm themselves with. Think of it as baby-proofing the home. You can also provide comfort items, such as an article of clothing with your scent or a compression shirt. This has an effect similar to weighted blankets for people with anxiety. Crate training is useful as well. Some German shepherd puppies feel better when they have a crate accessible as a safe space when they are home alone during the day.

German Shepherd Physical Health


There are a total of four different types of allergies that a German shepherd can be prone to. These allergies tend to develop a few years into life, not as puppies. German shepherd puppies can develop these allergies, though. Like humans, allergies can come and go throughout a German shepherd lifespan.

Canine Atopic Dermatitis

The first is an environmental allergy known as canine atopic dermatitis. The German shepherd lifespan is riddled with this allergy because of a specific gene in German shepherds known as the PKP2 gene.

Canine atopic dermatitis can be triggered by various indoor and outdoor allergens, which are the actual substances that cause the allergic reaction. Some examples of these include pollen, dust, dander, mites, and various types of fungus. Canine atopic dermatitis can either affect German shepherds year-round or seasonally, and it is a lifelong condition. That said, this does not decrease the German shepherd lifespan. Symptoms include itching, hair loss, skin conditions or infections, redness, and rashes.

Contact Hypersensitivity

The second type of allergy is called contact hypersensitivity. This refers to a sensitivity to various chemical agents or other substances your dog may touch. For example, cleaning supplies, carpet fibers, toys, and different skin products can all cause symptoms. Symptoms of contact hypersensitivity are redness, irritation, and skin infections in the area of contact.

Flea and Insect Bite Hypersensitivity

Flea and insect bite hypersensitivity is the third type. This occurs as a reaction to the saliva of a household flea or other insect. Flea and tick prevention is the best way to ensure a comfortable German shepherd lifespan. There are various products out there to help with this. If German shepherd puppies have already contracted fleas, you will need to treat the dog, your home, and your yard. This process could take several days. Symptoms of flea or insect bite allergies include intense itching and skin infections.

german shepherd puppy laying on couch

Food Allergy

The last type of allergy you may see in your German shepherd lifespan is a food allergy. This could develop as they age. So, what was once a favorite food for German shepherd puppies could become something that triggers illness when they get older. This condition is also called cutaneous adverse food reaction. This type of allergy in a German shepherd could also mimic skin allergies or canine atopic dermatitis. Symptoms include upset stomach, diarrhea, and the appearance of various skin conditions. Most German shepherds react to one or two primary allergens, but it is possible for there to be more than two food allergies.

The best thing you can do to treat allergies throughout your German shepherd lifespan is to avoid the allergen. Of course, this is not always possible. For symptoms that affect the skin, hypoallergenic shampoos can be helpful. These products may relieve symptoms and protect against future flare-ups.

Your veterinarian may prescribe an allergy relief medication to alleviate symptoms. Severe allergic reactions may warrant a trip to the emergency veterinary hospital. Consult with a professional if you believe your German shepherd puppies have an allergy of any type.

Food allergies are much easier to avoid throughout a German shepherd lifespan, though getting there may be a bit more tedious. In some cases, allergy testing may not reveal the exact cause of the food allergy. This means you may need to resort to a trial-and-error home study. Most veterinarians recommend cutting out one main protein at a time to determine if allergy symptoms correlate with any specific proteins.

Following the previously mentioned anti-inflammatory diet is also a good suggestion. Fatty acid supplements in a German shepherd diet are helpful as well. Unfortunately, diet does not prevent other types of allergies.

Other Allergy Treatment

Medically-based treatments may also be available depending on the type of allergy German shepherd puppies have. Beyond allergy relief medication, your veterinarian may provide anti-inflammatory therapy. This involves using corticosteroids or antihistamines that block or reduce the allergic reaction.

They may also offer a treatment called desensitization therapy. This is similar to desensitization treatment for stress and anxiety but physically. They inject small amounts of the antigen, or allergen substance, on an ongoing basis. This is typically provided weekly, and the therapy helps build immunity to the allergen throughout a German shepherd lifespan. It can be a lifelong ongoing procedure, but it does not always have to be. Using this therapy, about fifty percent of dogs see significant improvement in clinical symptoms. Twenty-five percent experience a decrease in frequency or dosage of corticosteroid use.

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Two main gut health disorders affect German shepherd puppies. These are gastric dilatation-volvulus and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus

The first is gastric dilatation-volvulus, also known as GDV or bloat. This occurs when air accumulates in the stomach of German shepherd puppies and the stomach twists. It is unknown which of these occurs first.

German shepherd puppies are more prone to this condition than other dog breeds because of their physical build. GDV affects dogs that have deep, narrow chests. It can affect dogs of any age, ranging from German shepherd puppies to older dogs. It can also occur several times throughout a German shepherd lifespan.

Symptoms of GDV include abdomen enlargement, retching or vomiting, excessive salivating, restlessness, and signs of pain, such as whining if pressure is put on the stomach. Regarding German shepherd puppies, restlessness may not seem too uncommon. But German shepherds are not usually known for excessive drooling, so that should be a red flag.

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If your older dog or German shepherd puppies exhibits these symptoms, you should contact a veterinarian immediately. This condition can become deadly if left untreated. Surgical intervention on German shepherd puppies is the only option once the condition sets in.

First, technicians deflate the stomach and return it to its normal position. They examine the stomach wall for any signs of damage. If there is damage, they remove that piece of the stomach. Second, they attach the stomach to the abdominal wall. This is because approximately ninety percent of dogs that experience this condition will experience it again if it is not prevented.

The type of food German shepherd puppies eat does not correlate with the development of GDV. However, the way in which he or she eats does have an effect. To reduce the risk of GDV, utilize slow feeder bowls at mealtime. These are bowls designed with structures that force your dog to eat around them, thereby slowing the rate at which they eat. Additionally, studies show that dogs who eat one meal per day rather than two are less prone to developing GDV.

Other factors to consider are sex and anxiety. Males are two times more likely to develop GDV than females. German shepherd puppies with anxiety tend to eat faster, which increases their risk. Separating your dogs at mealtime, if you have more than one, is a good idea. Also, utilize the previously mentioned suggestions for reducing anxiety in the home.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a condition that affects the pancreas of a German shepherd. This breed makes up about two-thirds of dogs diagnosed with the disorder. This organ is responsible for aiding in food digestion and blood sugar regulation. This disorder is a condition in which the pancreas does not produce a sufficient number of digestive enzymes.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a lifelong condition, but symptoms are usually noticed in German shepherd puppies. They usually appear between the ages of six months and six years of age. This is especially true if the lead cause is an autoimmune disorder known as pancreatic acinar atrophy, or PAA. This disorder causes the immune system of German shepherd puppies to attack their own pancreas.

The earlier you can begin treatment, the better. Left untreated, this condition can also lead to death. This happens because German shepherd puppies will not get enough nutrition, and over the course of a few months, can die of malnutrition or even starvation.

Symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in German shepherd puppies include excessive eating, weight loss, coprophagia, pic,( a disorder which causes the patient to eat inedible objects), diarrhea, odd appearances of feces, excess gas, skin flaking, and a rough coat.

To treat this disorder, you must replace the missing digestive enzymes. You can accomplish this in several different ways. First, diet supplements such as powders or tablets are available, though powders are typically more effective. It is a good idea to let the powder sit on food for German shepherd puppies for a bit to allow for pre-digestion. You should also mix it into the food thoroughly. Otherwise, the powder could irritate the dog’s mouth. You can also feed your German shepherd puppies raw pancreas meat, which you can usually get from butchers.

Throughout the German shepherd lifespan, your veterinarian may also prescribe vitamin supplements. German shepherd puppies with this condition tend to be deficient in vitamins such as B12 and folate. They may also prescribe an antibiotic periodically during a German shepherd lifespan as this condition can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.

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German shepherds, despite working in the past as guide dogs for the blind, actually have relatively poor vision. Some conditions they are commonly prone to include chronic superficial keratitis, cataracts, and myopia. Dietary changes do not make a difference with these conditions. The good news, though, is these conditions are not life-threatening and do not pose a risk to the German shepherd lifespan.

In most cases, vision problems set in later in life. However, it is possible for German shepherd puppies to experience vision problems from birth. This is because some of these conditions are hereditary and could be passed to German shepherd puppies from their parents. That said, your German shepherd lifespan will probably not include vision loss until the later years.

Chronic Superficial Keratitis

The most common vision condition in a German shepherd lifespan is chronic superficial keratitis, otherwise known as pannus. This condition is mostly seen in middle-aged German shepherds, not German shepherd puppies, and German shepherds are the most commonly affected breed.

Pannus affects the German shepherd’s cornea. The first sign you notice in a German shepherd’s eye is a pink mass on the outer side of the cornea. This mass is not painful to your German shepherd. Their third eyelid may also appear inflamed. As the condition progresses, the lesion will darken and flatten. Scarring then spreads over your German shepherd’s cornea and mucoid discharge may also occur.

As the condition progresses, your dog will find it more difficult to see through the pigmentation. They may go blind if the condition is not treated. Treatment typically involves the use of corticosteroids or immunomodulating substances, such as cyclosporine. In some cases, your veterinarian may opt for a steroid injection. They may also prescribe antibiotics if a secondary infection results from the lesion.

Pannus is a lifelong, incurable condition. In some cases, aggressive surgical treatment is required to remove any scar tissue buildup. Additionally, your dog will be extra sensitive to ultraviolet rays if they have this condition. If your dog allows it, your veterinarian may suggest dog sunglasses while they are outdoors.


A cataract in a German shepherd occurs when the inner lens of the eye becomes opaque or cloudy. This condition can be hereditary from parents to German shepherd puppies. This is due to a recessive, autosomal gene. However, the condition can develop as a result of diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes. In most cases, cataracts do not develop until later on in a German shepherd lifespan.

Blindness in German shepherd puppies only occurs if the cataract covers the entire lens. For instance, sixty percent coverage only yields a partial visual impairment. It is not until coverage is at one hundred percent that they are effectively blind in that eye.

Although diet does not directly correlate to cataract treatment, diet and exercise do correlate to diabetes in a German shepherd just like they do in humans. Maintain a healthy diet and allow them plenty of room to play and exercise.

The most common treatment for cataracts is surgery. Surgical complications are low, and, throughout your German shepherd lifespan, they will be able to heal relatively quickly from surgery. Most are able to play and return to regular activity within days of the cataract surgery. In addition, your veterinarian may prescribe topical aldose reductase inhibitors, or ARI’s. These can get expensive, though, and must be administered every eight to twelve hours.

german shepherd standing in flower field


The third common vision problem among German shepherds is myopia, or nearsightedness. In fact, one study revealed that fifty-three percent of German shepherd dogs are myopic. This condition is typically not treated in German shepherds as most treatments for myopia are related to surgery or corrective lenses. It is usually a minor condition that does not lead to blindness. It is something to be aware of, though, for people involved in screening for working roles. While fifty-three percent of this breed experiences myopia, only nineteen percent of those that worked as guide dogs did.

Vision Loss Management

Managing vision loss in a German shepherd is quite simple. The key point to remember is to make sure German shepherds feel safe in their environment throughout their entire German shepherd lifespan. For example, notice the signs of stress and anxiety as their vision decreases and accommodate them appropriately. Also, refrain from rearranging your home’s layout if possible as this could cause a significant amount of stress for a blind dog. Keep items out of the walkway so that German shepherd puppies do not injure themselves.

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In some respects, a German shepherd’s sense of hearing is vastly superior to that of its human companion. For example, while a human’s hearing cannot go above twenty thousand hertz, a dog’s hearing can reach frequencies of up to forty-seven thousand to sixty-five thousand hertz. Dogs can detect much softer sounds in terms of decibels as well. They are wired to detect prey animals, which is especially true in breeds designed for similar purposes. Being a herding and danger detection dog, this breed has excellent hearing.

Congenital Deafness

However, it is not without risk. In fact, German shepherd puppies are prone to congenital deafness. This is a condition present from birth, meaning that German shepherd puppies may be born deaf. Congenital conditions are typically hereditary. German shepherd puppies likely inherit genetic markers from their parents which cause them to be born without a sense of hearing. However, research into congenital deafness has not yielded any definitive results.

There are some signs that your German shepherd puppies lost their hearing, or never had it in the first place. For instance, they may be unresponsive to noises in their environment, or they may stop responding to their name or commands that you give them. Congenital deafness in German shepherd puppies is more noticeable than deafness in older German shepherds.

Other Deafness

Besides congenital deafness, German shepherds are also prone to deafness later in life. They exhibit the same symptoms that deaf German shepherd puppies do. Causes for deafness later in a German shepherd lifespan vary. While deafness itself does not affect the length of a German shepherd lifespan, the underlying causes may.

Some other causes of deafness include conduction or sound wave issues, nerve damage, toxins, and medications. There are also risk factors, including long-term ear inflammation and certain genetic markers. For example, a white coat increases the chances of deafness in a German shepherd lifespan. This is because the genetics involved in producing white coats are also correlated to hearing loss.

Treatment for deafness depends on the age of onset and the cause of the deafness. German shepherd puppies who were born deaf cannot be cured. On the other hand, if they experience hearing loss due to inflammation, they may regain hearing once the inflammation clears up.

The key to safety with deaf German shepherd puppies is lifestyle management. You must provide a safe environment for them since deaf German shepherds are unable to hear any approaching danger. For example, you should not let deaf German shepherd puppies play in an unfenced yard. They could wander onto the street and be unable to hear an approaching vehicle or stranger. You must also remember that German shepherds with hearing loss can startle easily. This could lead to stress, so approach German shepherds with hearing loss gently.

german shepherd puppy running through grass

Ear Infection

German shepherd puppies are also highly prone to ear infections. This is especially true if your German shepherd puppies have ear mites. That said, an ear infection is also common throughout a German shepherd lifespan as well. This high risk of ear infection is due to the shape of the German shepherd’s ear. Unlike a human’s, a dog’s ear is more of an “L” shape. Because of this, fluid tends to collect more, allowing yeast and bacterial growth in the ear.

Besides ear mites, other causes of ear infections in a German shepherd lifespan include moisture, wax and dirt buildup, foreign bodies, injury, excessive grooming, endocrine disorders, autoimmune disorders, and allergies. Ear infections are prevalent in fifty percent of dogs with skin allergies and eighty percent of dogs with food allergies. Diet does not improve hearing in German shepherd puppies, but avoiding allergens can prevent painful infections.

Your veterinarian will clean your German shepherd’s ears using a medicated cleanser. They will likely send you home with topical medication and cleanser as well. With more serious ear infections, veterinarians will also prescribe anti-inflammatory or antibiotic medication. Typically, ear infections resolve with minor treatment in one to two weeks. However, more serious infections can take months to clear up.

Be sure to prevent ear infections when possible. If German shepherd puppies go for a swim, dry their ears afterward. Clean the ears of German shepherd puppies on a routine basis, but do not go too far into the ear canal as this could cause injury. In general, it is best to stick with cleaning the outer ear. Avoid pushing any wax or debris into the canal as well. Cotton balls and over-the-counter medicated solutions are great for this.

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German shepherds are known to be a breed with a weak immune system. The most commonly affected area of German shepherd puppies is their skin. German shepherds are prone to several autoimmune skin disorders. These include pemphigus erythematosus, systemic lupus erythematosus, and discoid lupus erythematosus.

However, it is not just the skin that is affected by poor immune health. One study concluded that German shepherds are at an increased risk of a number of autoimmune disorders compared to other breeds. Some of the disorders mentioned in the study include circumanal fistulae, allergies, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

Pancreatic Acinar Atrophy

As mentioned previously, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency arises from another autoimmune disorder known as pancreatic acinar atrophy. Typically, German shepherd puppies are not affected by this disease. However, it can appear early in a German shepherd lifespan. Genetics are heavily involved in this disorder, indicating that German shepherd puppies inherit the risk from their parents.

This autoimmune disorder causes a German shepherd’s immune system to attack its own pancreatic acinar cells. These cells are responsible for producing the pancreatic enzymes mentioned previously that aid in digestion. Improper digestion can lead to food rot in the gut and other immune health concerns.

German shepherds with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency specifically caused by this autoimmune disorder benefit from pancreatic enzyme supplementation. Again, this can be accomplished through powder and tablet supplements as well as feeding your German shepherd puppies raw pancreas meat that comes from other animals.


German shepherds are also highly susceptible to a type of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. Though not an immune disorder itself, this type of cancer is immune-mediated, meaning it results from activity within the immune system.

Hemangiosarcoma is a tumorous cancer that typically develops internally. Unfortunately, there are not many symptoms that appear until the condition becomes severe. Some of these symptoms include lethargy, weakness, pale mucous membranes in the eyes and mouth, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, abdominal swelling, depression, nosebleeds, and lack of appetite.

This type of cancer is not preventable. If detected early on, it can be treated through surgery or chemotherapy. However, treatment depends on several factors. These include tumor size and location and a determination of whether the cancer cells have spread. These tumors attack blood vessels. Most often, this means internal bleeding into the abdominal cavity, but it can also mean bleeding into the thoracic, or chest, cavity as well.

Surgery would include removal of the tumor and cancerous tissue. Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells but could damage other soft tissues as well. In many cases, care for hemangiosarcoma is palliative. This cancer could reduce a German shepherd lifespan significantly since it is such an aggressive form.

Despite German shepherds having a poor immune system naturally, there are ways to boost it throughout a German shepherd lifespan. Diet is a key factor in increasing the length of a German shepherd lifespan. This is especially true for German shepherds experiencing pancreatic acinar atrophy and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

three german shepherd dogs with stick in mouth

Immune Health Nutrition

For optimal German shepherd immune health, a meat-based diet is recommended. If possible, you should avoid feeding your German shepherd puppies grains and starches as they are acidic and inflammatory. Instead, they should receive a diet including fresh vegetables and meat.

Additionally, certain vitamins and minerals are beneficial for immune health in German shepherd puppies. These include vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, vitamin B9, or folic acid, copper, zinc, and selenium.

You can also ask your veterinarian about probiotic supplements. These supplements are also essential for German shepherd immune health. They help to produce good bacteria which strengthen the immune system throughout a German shepherd lifespan. They also prevent harmful bacteria from growing so that your dog is not at risk of certain other diseases or infections.

These vitamins and supplements come in several different forms, such as powders, tablets, and chewables. You may need to experiment with different options until you find one that works for you. It is best to start German shepherd puppies on these supplements early on, so you can prevent immune health concerns before they arise.

Immune health is not solely focused on diet, though. Play and exercise are very important. This prevents fat buildup, and excess fat is a major contributor to inflammation and immune disease. Luckily, a key feature of German shepherd puppies and older dogs is that they are very active. So, German shepherds are already driven to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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A German shepherd lifespan is prone to numerous joint issues. Typically, you will not see these problems in German shepherd puppies. You will likely start to see these issues later in a German shepherd lifespan. However, it is possible to see symptoms early in a German shepherd lifespan. In fact, some German shepherd puppies will develop arthritis symptoms as early as six months old.

Some of the conditions they are prone to are genetic. German shepherd puppies are often born with hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Usually, this develops into arthritis later in a German shepherd lifespan.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the German shepherd’s hip joint. The malformation leads to deterioration of the cartilage in the hip joint. This tends to cause chronic inflammation throughout a German shepherd lifespan.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is similar in that it is a malformation of the elbow joint in German shepherd puppies. Like with hip dysplasia, this causes deterioration of the cartilage, and it can also lead to bone chipping as well. Both of these conditions create inflammation and can be painful throughout a German shepherd lifespan.


Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, results from one or both of these conditions. Nearly all German shepherd puppies born with hip or elbow dysplasia will develop osteoarthritis at some point in their German shepherd lifespan.

Symptoms of these conditions include joint inflammation, lameness, popping or cracking noises coming from the joints, excessive licking of the joint area, muscle atrophy, slow movement, appetite or weight changes, unwillingness to play or exercise, house soiling, whining or whimpering, panting, aggression, and depression. Because of these conditions being genetic, you may notice these symptoms at any point throughout a German shepherd lifespan, not just as German shepherd puppies.

You likely will not be able to prevent this condition for the entire German shepherd lifespan. However, you can lessen its impact by ensuring that they get a healthy diet and enough low-impact exercise.

Joint Health Treatment

Treatment for dysplasia or arthritis later in a German shepherd lifespan include exercise or play restriction, weight reduction, physical therapy, joint fluid modifiers, and medications. Two of the main medications used by veterinarians for older German shepherds are joint supplements and anti-inflammatory medications.

Key ingredients of effective joint supplements include glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel extract. Glucosamine suppresses inflammation and can also help to boost damaged joint cartilage. It can also reduce future cartilage deterioration. Chondroitin also stimulates cartilage repair. It is helpful in improving joint function, reducing pain, and reducing arthritis progression. It comes from many natural sources that could be a part of your German shepherd’s diet, such as fish, cattle, pigs, and birds. Green-lipped mussels are native to New Zealand, but their extract is available in a variety of supplements. This extract contains amino acids, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and various vitamins and minerals.

If the condition is more severe, though, more intensive treatment may be required throughout a German shepherd lifespan. For example, in the case of hip dysplasia, a variety of surgeries are options for owners. Some German shepherd puppies may even need to undergo this treatment in more serious cases. Some of the available surgeries for these conditions are double or triple pelvic osteotomy, femoral head ostectomy, and total hip replacement.

Pelvic osteotomy is typically performed early in a German shepherd lifespan, usually in German shepherd puppies less than ten months old. This involves improvement of the hip joint by cutting the bone, which allows surgeons to rotate the segments into better positions.

Femoral head ostectomy can be completed throughout a German shepherd lifespan. In this surgery, the ball, or head, of the joint is removed. The body then adapts to create a false joint. This does not improve hip function, but it does reduce pain and discomfort throughout the German shepherd lifespan.

The most intensive surgical solution for hip dysplasia is a total hip replacement. In this procedure, all of the hip joint is removed and recreated using plastic and metal implants. The implants are better formed to what a hip joint should look like. While it is not perfect, this surgery restores most of the natural hip function. It also eliminates a majority of the pain and discomfort associated with hip dysplasia.

It is important to note that these conditions do not directly correlate to a German shepherd lifespan. That being said, many owners do end up euthanizing later on in the German shepherd lifespan. This is because the conditions become unmanageable, and the pain can be quite severe.

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Skin and Coat

As was stated previously, skin conditions tend to arise throughout a German shepherd lifespan. Even German shepherd puppies could experience the effect of these autoimmune disorders. Again, the three most common skin disorders in a German shepherd lifespan include pemphigus erythematosus, systemic lupus erythematosus, and discoid lupus erythematosus.

Pemphigus Erythematosus

Pemphigus erythematosus falls under a group of skin conditions known as pemphigus complex. German shepherds can get any of the skin conditions in this group, but they are especially prone to pemphigus erythematosus. These conditions are marked by blistering and tend to affect the eyelids, nostrils, lips, and anus the most. Pemphigus erythematosus is characterized by crusting, redness, scales, and hair loss in the affected area. Ultraviolet light exposure worsens this condition, so you can prevent it somewhat by limiting direct exposure to sunlight throughout a German shepherd lifespan.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Systemic lupus erythematosus, also just called lupus, can cause fever, stiffness, lameness, dermatitis, and various blood disorders. Symptoms can either be chronic throughout a German shepherd lifespan or they can be acute. Symptoms can also fluctuate throughout a German shepherd lifespan. It is important to note with this disorder that you must discuss vaccinations with your veterinarian before they are administered. Some can have negative effects in German shepherds with this disorder.

Discoid Lupus Erythematosus

Discoid lupus erythematosus, also called Collie nose, affects the nose the most. Throughout the German shepherd lifespan, they may lose pigmentation and the texture of the nose could even change to appear smoother, flatter, and shinier. Sores may also appear in the afflicted area. Some German shepherds are bothered by it while others are not fazed at all. This condition is one of the more benign skin disorders that can crop up in a German shepherd lifespan.

Skin Condition Treatment

Most of these skin disorders are treated with a therapy called immunosuppression. This involves the use of medications throughout a German shepherd lifespan that alter the reaction of the immune system. Steroids are a common method for immunosuppression, but other medications may be used as well. For example, if bacterial infections are present due to skin conditions, then your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or medicated baths. These treatments will likely be ongoing throughout your German shepherd lifespan.

These specific skin conditions are incurable. They will be present throughout a German shepherd lifespan, even as German shepherd puppies. Depending on the severity of the condition, they may decrease the German shepherd lifespan, but you would need to discuss the specifics of each condition with your veterinarian.

Coat Type and Grooming

Regarding their coat, a German shepherd puppies have a double coat. This means that they have a top layer and an underlayer, or undercoat. What this means for you as an owner is that you will be dealing with a lot of shedding throughout the home. German shepherd puppies tend to not shed as much as adult German shepherds, but you will still need to be prepared for a lot of loose hair.

Grooming is very important throughout a German shepherd lifespan. Experts recommend grooming a German shepherd at least every other day. This includes regular brushing and using a de-shedding tool, so you can remove loose hair from your German shepherd’s undercoat.

German shepherds will have a thicker coat in the winter, and they will not shed as often. However, over the summer, they tend to lose a lot of loose hair. This cycle continues throughout a German shepherd lifespan. As an owner, you will want to get into the habit of making these grooming sessions a summertime activity.

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Though German shepherds certainly enjoy their time running around outside, excessive bathing is discouraged by experts. Because German shepherds are already prone to skin conditions, you do not want to overexpose their skin to various hygiene products, regardless of how skin-sensitive they may be. Additionally, excessive bathing reduces natural oils contained in a German shepherd’s fur that are necessary to keep their skin moisturized. Early on in a German shepherd lifespan, though, they could benefit greatly from bathing sessions. German shepherd puppies learn a lot about socialization and discipline from bath time.

Like with other categories of health, a high protein diet is crucial to maintaining good skin and coat health. You may also notice throughout your German shepherd lifespan that higher protein diets will also correlate to less shedding overall. You should still groom German shepherd puppies even if they do not shed as much as adults. It may not be physically necessary as German shepherd puppies, but it will help them get used to the experience.

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