Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Written by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert Melanie Musson

UPDATED: Jun 28, 2021

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German Shepherds are amazing dogs, right? All that loyalty and intelligence…what’s not to love?

Well, we can think of one thing…

The health problems German Shepherds are prone to. These are SERIOUS medical issues that are EXPENSIVE to treat.

So what’s a German Shepherd lover to do?

Table of Contents:

  1. Common Health Problems
  2. German Shepard Pet Insurance
  3. Overview of Breed
  4. Breed Origins
  5. Physical Characteristics
  6. Personality
  7. Training
  8. Grooming
  9. Exercise & Energy
  10. Feeding a German Shepard

German Shepherd Common Health Concerns

Hip dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited issue that stems from an abnormal looseness in the ball and socket joint of the dog’s hip.

When the femoral head doesn’t fit snugly into the socket or acetabulum, the components rub irregularly on each other and can eventually cause a deformation of the bone, resulting in pain and arthritis.

Large dog breeds, including German Shepherds, are typically more prone to this condition than smaller dogs. Depending on the severity of the condition and the age of your dog, treatment options can range from exercise and weight reduction to hip replacement surgery.

Gastric torsion

Bloat in dogs is commonly known as Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus or more simply as ‘GDV’. Volvulus refers to the twisting motion of the bloated stomach causing the air to be trapped with no release.

This life-threatening condition occurs mainly in large breeds such as the German Shepherd. GDV occurs when the stomach becomes distended within the abdomen, which also compromises the peripheral organs.

Elbow Dysplasia

Medium and large breeds are particularly prone to elbow dysplasia, which occurs when the bones that form the elbow joint are not positioned properly. German Shepherds who suffer from elbow dysplasia usually show lameness of the forelimbs, thickening of the elbow and pain.

Treatment of elbow dysplasia consists of pain and anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and surgical correction.

Osteochondritis Dissecans

When the developing cartilage of young animals is maturing, some areas of the cartilage become thickened, weak and prone to injury. As a result of the abnormal growth, cartilage flaps form in the joints, eventually becoming separated and lifted from the bone. This causes inflammation and pain.


Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in blurry vision. Smaller cataracts are not likely to affect a dog’s vision, but they must be regularly monitored to prevent blindness.

Old age, other diseases, and eye trauma can cause cataracts, although they most commonly stem from inherited conditions. Surgery can often restore vision loss due to cataracts.

Sub-aortic Stenosis

A congenital narrowing of the area underneath one of the heart’s valves, which leads to the obstruction of the blood flow through the heart.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dogs with this disease have an enlarged heart that cannot pump blood efficiently. This leads to an accumulation of fluids in the dog’s lungs and an overload of the heart.

If left untreated, it can result in congestive heart failure. Heart surgery may be required in the most severe cases, while less advanced cases of dilated cardiomyopathy can be treated with prescription medications.

Corneal Dystrophy

An abnormality of the cornea characterized by shallow pits in the surface. This inherited condition affects the cornea of both eyes, potentially resulting in vision loss.

Three different types of corneal dystrophy can affect the cornea in different ways, at different times, during a dog’s life. Signs of corneal dystrophy include gray or white rings on cornea, clouding, opacity, and swelling of the cornea.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This is a painless but progressive disease of the spinal cord that usually occurs in dogs 8 years old or older. It can lead to paralysis and death. There is no effective treatment for degenerative myelopathy.

The quality of life of affected dogs may be maintained by physical rehabilitation, nursing care, prevention of pressure sores, and increased mobility with harnesses and carts.


A birth defect in dogs characterized by vertebrae that are underdeveloped and wedged-shaped on one side. German Shepherds inherit hemivertebra as an autosomal recessive trait. It is also common in dogs with screwed-tails.

Dogs with mild signs can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. Dogs who develop severe signs may need surgery to decompress the vertebral spine.


This is an endocrine disorder that occurs when the parathyroid glands produce an excessive amount of parathyroid hormone (PTH).

The excessive amount of PTH leads to an increased amount of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia), renal damage and pathological bone fractures. Treatment of hyperparathyroidism depends on what is causing the disease.

Perianal Fistula

This health condition results from the contamination of the tissues that surround the anus. It is most commonly seen in German Shepherds. The treatment of perianal fistulas can be medical or surgical.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

Affected dogs have abnormal clotting proteins in the blood that causes them to have difficulty recovering from cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Symptoms include unhealed wounds and blood in the feces. Diagnosis is confirmed by blood and urinalysis, and blood transfusions can be necessary to maintain a dog’s health.

Health Condition Risk Profile Avg. Treatment Cost
Hip dysplasia High $ 4,025 to $6,050
Gastric torsion Medium $ 490 to $1,050
Elbow dysplasia Medium $ $1,550 to $6,025
Osteochondritis Medium $ 50 to $2000
Cataracts High $ 3507 to $3784
Sub-aortic stenosis Medium $ 3,000 to $10,000
Dilated cardiomyopathy Medium $10,500 to $20,025 for surgery
Corneal Dystrophy High $2,200 to $3,050 per eye for surgery
Degenerative Myelopathy High $2,000 – $4,000
Hemivertebrae Medium $1,000 – $5,000
Hyperparathyroidism High $500 to $6500
Perianal Fistula High $150 – $3,000

You can learn more about this is other genetic diseases in German Shepherds and other breeds on the Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs published by The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

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German Shepherd Pet Insurance

German Shepherds have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. This breed is susceptible to various congenital and hereditary conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, cataracts, hemivertebrae, perianal fistula, and osteochondritis dissecans.

There is no way to know for certain if your German Shepherd will suffer from any of these illnesses, but the possibility is always there, and every dog will require special care as it gets older. The right dog insurance plan can help keep you from the added burden of financial worries when your dog requires medical care.

The first step to a healthy and happy German Shepherd is finding a reputable breeder who can provide genetically fit puppies. The second step is to train your dog well and give it plenty of healthy food, exercise, and love.

Even great breeding doesn’t guarantee that your German Shepherd won’t have a congenital or hereditary disease. So, it’s important to get a pet insurance plan that covers these conditions. Unfortunately, not all do. You can compare pet insurance coverage in order to find a plan that will cover genetic disorders.

For many owners, the third step is to purchase a pet health care plan that helps to keep vet bills predictable and to ensure that you can focus on helping a sick dog to recover rather than worrying about the cost of treatment.

Given that German Shepherds are susceptible to these and other diseases, and that they are extremely active dogs, owners can expect more than their fair share of vet bills.

A pet health insurance plan that covers everything from accidents to progressive diseases is ideal so that you can focus on spending quality time playing fetch.

Choosing a Dog Health Insurance Policy for German Shepards

When choosing your pet insurance plan, it is a good idea to check if it covers the hereditary conditions mentioned above. Taking this precaution can save you lots of money and headaches.

This pet insurance comparison chart allows you to choose a plan that covers hereditary or breed-specific conditions such as cancer, hip dysplasia, and cataracts. The following companies do cover these types of issues:

Need help to choose the right pet insurance for your German Shepherd? Take a look at our Pet Insurance FAQ for answers to your most commonly asked questions.

Additionally, some insurance providers offer wellness coverage so even if your German Shepherd doesn’t ever contract a disease, they’ll still be covered for routine care.

An Overview of German Shepherds

Breed Function: companion, police, contraband detection, assistance, herding trials, Schutzhund, sheep herding, guarding

Also known as: Alsatian, Alsatian wolf dog, Berger Allemand, Deutscher, Schäferhund

Life span: 10 -12 years

Average Size: 24 to 26 inches (males) and 22 to 24 inches (females)

Average Weight: 75-95 pounds

Origin: Germany


  • Intelligent
  • Fearless
  • Self-confident
  • Quiet, eager
  • Alert
  • Loyal


  • Livestock
  • Herding

German Shepard Breed Origin

During the 1850s, shepherds from Germany were selecting dogs that could assist them in their job of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. They sought dogs who were smart, fast, strong, and possessed a keen sense of smell.

These shepherds already had dogs with such traits, but they differed significantly in terms of physical appearance and ability among different locations in Germany. There was a need for standardizing a breed of sheepdogs, so the Phylax Society was created in 1891 with this goal in mind.

However, this society disintegrated three years later due to internal conflicts regarding the traits in dogs that society should promote. While unsuccessful in their goal, the Phylax Society inspired people to pursue the standardization of a breed of sheepdogs in Germany.

In 1989, an ex-member of the Phylax Society and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College, Max von Stephanitz, bought a dog called Hektor Linksrhein. Stephanitz was a firm believer of breeding dogs to select their working traits instead of their physical traits.

And his new dog, Hektor Linksrhein, was everything he thought a working dog should be. Stephanitz renamed the dog as Horand von Grafrath. Later, Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog) and Horand was the first German Shepherd registered.

Horand became the center of the breeding programs to develop the German Shepherd breed. He was bred with dogs from Thuringia, Franconia, and Wurttemberg displaying desirable traits.

Horand was the father of many dogs, including Hektor von Schwaben, who was the father of the three dogs from whom all modern German Shepherd descended: Heinz von Starkenburg, Beowulf, and Pilot.

The German Shepherd breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. It is now recognized as the second most common dog breed by this association.

Today, German Shepherds serve many functions, such as rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection, and mine detection dog, among others.

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Physical Characteristics of A German Shepard

  • Size. Males measure 24 to 26 inches in height at the withers, and females measure 22 to 24 inches. The average weight of German Shepherds is 75-95 pounds. The German Shepherd Dog is longer than it is tall, according to the AKC, the most desirable proportion is 10 to 8½.
  • Hair coat. German Shepherds should have a double hair coat of medium length. According to the AKC, the outer coat should be as dense as possible and the hair should be straight, harsh and lying close to the body. The outer coat can also be slightly wavy or with a wiry texture.
  • Head. The skull of a German Shepherd should be noble, cleanly chiseled, strong and without coarseness. The AKC standard mentions that the head should not be fine and that it should be proportional to the body. They have a keen, intelligent and composed expression.
  • Eyes. German Shepherds have medium-sized eyes with an almond shape, which are set a little obliquely and not protruding. The eye color should be very dark.
  • Ears. The ears of a German Shepherd are moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front, and carried erect when at attention.
  • Neck. They have a strong, muscular and clean-cut neck.
  • Legs. German Shepherds have muscular, well-coordinated legs that are capable of free movement.

To read more about the German Shepherd’s breed standard, download the Official Standard of the German Shepherd by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

German Shepard Personality

German Shepherds are fearless, self-confident, quiet, eager, alert, loyal and intelligent. Although they sometimes seem unapproachable, they are not hostile dogs.

However, they need to get to know a person before they allow them to have direct contact.

Their working dog heritage shows up in their willingness to please and easy to train. The AKC breed standard mentions that German Shepherds should not be timid or nervous, instead, they should be confident with an incorruptible character.

Shy German Shepherds are prone to fear biting.

This breed is exceptionally loyal and is wary of strangers, therefore, they are excellent watch and guard dogs. When a German Shepherd barks it is because he or she is alerting the family of something out of the ordinary.

They tend to become extremely protective if not trained properly. German Shepherds are usually very good with children in their own family, but may not trust other children.

German Shepard Training

German Shepherds are smart, easy to train dogs. They thrive on human leadership and need proper training.

German Shepherds need to have a job—this is what they are born for! Training and guidance are essential for the mental wellbeing of this breed.

They need to channel their mental and physical energy on something good if not all of this energy can turn into bad behaviors and possible aggression.

A German Shepherd will never be happy just lying around. This intelligent breed has served as a sheepdog, guard dog, police dog, as a guide for the blind, in search and rescue service, and in the military.

German Shepherds have also excelled in many other dog activities including tracking, obedience, agility, flyball and ring sport.

A firm, loving hand is important to good training. Early training is essential for this breed, so it is advisable to start training your German Shepherd as a puppy.

You can teach basic obedience commands to your dog at home and assign him or her some chores around the house if he/she is going to be a family dog.

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Grooming a German Shepard

German Shepherds have an abundant hair coat, which requires frequent grooming. In addition to regular baths and brushing, grooming this breed involves checking their ears, eyes, claws, and teeth.

The AKC recommends grooming your German Shepherd weekly to keep his/her coat clean, shining and manageable and, more importantly, to maintain good health.

A regular grooming schedule allows us to detect any skin abnormality, fleas, and ticks, ear infections among other common health problems in dogs. It is important to start grooming German Shepherds at an early age so he or she gets used to these procedures as early as possible.

Grooming is also an excellent opportunity to bond with your dog and to reinforce your leader position.

Bathing frequency depends on your dog’s lifestyle. Very active dogs or dogs that spend too much time outside need more frequent baths.

Brushing your dog weekly and bathing him or her every other week is a good grooming schedule that will work for most German Shepherds.

Ask your veterinarian about the best shampoo for your dog. Since this breed has abundant hair, you can dilute your shampoo before application and this will help you achieve an even application.

Always dry your dog’s hair coat thoroughly, paying special attention to the ears, because humidity can lead to ear infections.

German Shepard Energy & Exercise

Training is definitely necessary because this breed has a lot of energy and exuberance. The working heritage of German Shepherds means that they are very active dogs.

This breed needs a great amount of physical and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy. When not exercised properly, German Shepherds, as well as other working dogs, may become destructive and aggressive.

In order to meet your dog’s exercise needs, you can take your German Shepherd on daily walks, jogs or runs. Remember to keep your dog walking beside or behind you, that way he or she will learn that you are the pack leader.

Feed your dog according to his/her physical activity level, in order to prevent obesity.

Nutrition & Feeding a German Shepard

Your best options for feeding your German Shepherd are commercial dry food (kibble) or canned food, and homemade meals. There are several types of commercial dog foods—how should you choose the best one for your dog?

You should consider your dog’s size, age, and activity level. It is important to understand that dogs, just like us, need a nutritionally balanced meal with an appropriate amount of calories.

Dog food contains a combination of ingredients, including meat, grains, vitamins, minerals, fats, and byproducts. This combination is balanced to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs.

If you prefer to feed your German Shepherd a homemade meal, you should make sure it is nutritionally balanced. Dr. Paula Terifaj from Founders Veterinary Clinic in California has developed a nutritionally balanced homemade dog recipe that you can use to feed your dog.

You may also want to consult your dog’s veterinarian before you start feeding your dog with homemade meals.

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Is A German Shepherd Right For You?

A German Shepherd may be right for you if you want…

  • a large, strong, athletic, and natural-looking dog
  • a dog with a beautiful hair coat
  • a smart, intelligent and easy to train dog
  • a dog with a confident and strong temperament
  • a dog that can serve as a watch or guard dog

A German Shepherd may NOT be right for you if…

  • are unable to provide your dog with a good amount of exercise
  • do not have enough time groom your dog regularly
  • do not want to deal with potential inherited health issues
  • are unable to train your dog

For other types of dogs, check out our full list of dog breeds.

Other articles you may find helpful: 

Is Exotic Pet Insurance Necessary? 

The Best Pet Insurance By State 

What Is Pet Insurance?

Fun Facts, Dog FAQ, And Unsolicited Dog Advice

5 Training Commands to Save Your Dog’s Life

The Ultimate Guide to Safe Foods for Dogs

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