Keeping your German Shepherd Healthy


Bright Eyes

White Teeth

Shiny Coat

And Lots of Energy

German Shepherds are a very popular breed. Unfortunately this has lead to large numbers of breedings looking for very specific traits. A German Shepherd bred for Schutzhund has to have the required characteristics to compete in three different disciplines in a competitive sport. A dog bred for show, must have the correct look, color and presence. Some dogs have been bred for size, color, or even profit. This has meant that many breeders have overlooked minor health issues.

There has been a movement towards reducing hip dysplasia and more serious life-threatening health issues such as mega-oesophagus, but many German Shepherds still have milder health issues which may lower their potential for work. This is a collection of some of the problems I have had experience with and have sometimes found alternative treatments to help conquer. A change in management, food or supplements can sometimes help.
Note: This is not a substitute for veterinary advice!

Health problems in the German Shepherd Dog:

Many dogs and humans currently seem to be suffering with allergies. These often manifest in dogs as itching, dry or red skin, and may be a factor in recurring ear infections or hot spots. Allergy tests can be done at a veterinary clinic to pinpoint food or environment related causes. An elimination diet may also be useful in diagnosing the cause. In the case of mild itching and scratching, moving to a raw or BARF diet can help and sometimes cure completely. With more severe problems, where the dog is clearly uncomfortable and has open sores or large red areas you should see your veterinarian.

Supplements which have helped many dogs include the addition of Salmon Oil capsules which can be added to the food up to a dose of 1000mg per 10lbs body weight. Borage Oil can also help, the dose for this is typically 1000mg per 50lbs body weight. An explanation of these oils and how they help can be found in an article at A good probiotic/enzyme blend can also help alleviate some symptoms of allergies. Some people have found dried nettle leaf helps given at a rate of 1tsp per 50lbs. Yucca can also help in the short term to reduce   Hair loss from scratching inflammation and halt severe itching episodes.
The Whole Dog Journal contains very good articles on these and other alternative remedies. Obviously you should not try all these supplements at once, start with adding salmon oil for a few weeks and see if scratching decreases. You may also want to find a veterinarian who practises alternative treatments.

Shampoos which can help with the itching include oatmeal and tea tree preparations. One of these is Purepet Shampoo which can be bought online and at various pet stores. A tea tree rinse after shampooing can also help. This is made by adding ½tsp Tea tree oil to one pint of water. This rinse is poured over the dog and left on.

There are other causes of scratching, particularly the ears. Ear infections and mange mites can also cause the ears to become itchy and inflamed. These are usually easily treated by topical preparations available from your vet. It is always a good idea to have your vet check your itchy dog, and run a blood test and any other diagnostics before you assume the itching is due to a specific cause.
Hot Spots
Hot Spots can be caused by bites by insects such as fleas, mosquitos etc or spiders, or by the dog scratching or biting a part of his body. They are particularly common in hot and humid places. They begin as a red inflammation, then quickly get larger and often yellowy or crusty. The quicker you can apply treatment, the better. Cut the hair away all around the spot so you can see at least half an inch of normal skin. The best treatment I have found is Witch Hazel, Aloe and Tea Tree. I mix 4oz of Thayer's Witch Hazel with Aloe with 10 drops of pure tea tree oil in a small spray bottle, and squirt that on to the hot spot twice a day. This mixture is excellent for drying up hot spots and wounds. If the hot spot is over a joint, it may be that the dog is experiencing some discomfort there,
Hot spot trimmed and drying  a trip to a chiropractor to remove the root cause can prevent recurrence. Hot Spots can also be caused by collars, so be sure to check the dog's neck regularly and cleanse and thoroughly dry any rubbed areas. With my Golden Retriever, I found Sulfodene very useful if applied quickly, but his hot spots would spread very quickly and often required a course of the antibiotic, Cephalexin to clear them up.
Inter-digital Cysts
The German Shepherd breed is apparently prone to these thickenings found between the toes. They can be quite sore and make the dog mildly lame. There is often no redness, just a hard thickening of the skin. If you                 Inter-digital Cyst
squeeze the hardening gently, the dog will pull away showing some discomfort. Sometimes, if the cysts appear on more than one foot, the cause is a fungal infection, and Tinactin sprayed on twice a day will clear them up within a couple of weeks. These cysts often go hand-in-hand with allergies and other immune system problems. Cysts which are found on one foot can be caused by a foreign body like a grass seed. It is a good idea to check with your vet and maybe take x-rays before trying a home treatment. Panalog is also reputed to be a good treatment for this condition when there are no foreign bodies and no underlying bone problems. Click here for information.
Ear Infections
Some GSDs are very prone to ear infections, usually one particular ear. Again, the best prevention is keeping a close eye on the dog, and treating as soon as any symptoms appear. Black goo in the ear, scratching, and the ear appearing to be set on the side of the head are indications. Keeping the ears clean, and removing grains from the diet can help, be gentle when cleaning the ear, and try not to clean too often as irritation might be a catalyst for infection. The mix that I use for hotspots also works well to clean ears and for mild infections. I mix 4oz of Thayer's Witch Hazel with Aloe with 10 drops of pure tea tree oil in a small spray bottle, and pour it into the ear twice a day for 2-5 days. This will usually clear mild infections, but if there is no improvement in a couple of days, a trip to the vet may be in order.
Not a condition in itself but a symptom of illness or stomach upset, diarrhea is more common in some dogs than others. Some dogs are sensitive to very fatty meats, or a change in diet from cooked to raw and vice-versa. The most effective way to stop diarrhea is to withold food for 24 hours, and then offer half a can of pure pumpkin with 2tbsp of yoghurt (for a 50lb dog), an additional enzyme/probiotic might also help. I love B-Naturals Digestion Blend for dogs with sensitive stomachs and my female who can't eat yoghurt.
Many German Shepherd pups experience pano during their rapid growth in the first year or so. My experiences have been between 4 and 11 months of age, with between a week and two months duration. Pano is considered to be self limiting, so while it is distressing for an owner to see, a sore pup will rest more and recover quicker. Make sure your pup has a comfortable bed, and limit his exercise. If your pup looks a little chubby at this point, cut down his food a little, this may help to slow his growth and limit the time he is sore. A glucosamine chondroitin supplement may also help. I currently use B-Naturals Flexile Plus for all my dogs.
German Shepherds seem to be prone to disorders associated with the immune system. One possible cause of Hypothyroidism is thought to be autoimmune disease. This is also thought to be hereditary. It often shows up between the ages of 2 and 5 and has many disparate symptoms. If your dog shows a strange change in behavior, gains weight or has skin and hair problems, it may be a good idea to have a simple test done to see if thyroid dysfunction may be a cause. The medication is inexpensive and effective but the dog must be monitored with regular blood tests to ensure the dosage is correct. There are many useful sites on the internet with information about this problem. Here is a selection of my favorites:
Canis Major - Information and treatment details
Thyroid Info - More possible symptoms and diagnosis
Hypothyroidism Fears, Facts, Thoughts & Controversies
Sirius Dog - More technical article



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