Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Are you worried about why your German Shepherd is so small?
Especially considering this breed is known to grow large and powerful.
You might even wonder how you can help your German Shepherd puppy get bigger and grow faster.
Give me less than 10 minutes of your time, and I’ll tell you not only why your German Shepherd might be so small…
but how you can help your growing dog develop good muscle and fitness for lifelong health.
Why is my German Shepherd so small?
The top reasons a German Shepherd is so small are its genetic history, underlying medical illness, intestinal worms, incorrect diet for their growth, and inadequate caloric consumption for their activity levels. While some of these reasons for small growth need a veterinarian’s attention others require you to monitor and note your German Shepherd’s size, rate of growth, activity, and calorie levels. Closely observing your GSD will give you many clues to their health and help you understand why they are so small.
Let’s look at these problems with growth and size and give you some solutions to make sure your German Shepherd is at peak performance.
1. Inherited Smallness
Your German Shepherd’s size is inherited based on their parents (and to that extent their grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on). It’s possible that your dog is from a line of dogs that are smaller in size.
Therefore, your dog may naturally be a smaller GSD. If your dog or puppy has been to the vet recently and the vet didn’t notice any issues and your dog is acting normally, then chances are your dog is simply going to not grow as large as you thought.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a small German Shepherd if they’re eating as usual and healthy.
Larger breeds, like the German Shepherd, also tend to mature at slower rates than smaller breeds. It can take up to 18 months to 2 years for your GSD puppy to grow into its adult body.
2. Underlying Medical Illness
Perhaps your German Shepherd is smaller because of an underlying medical problem. There are many diseases that could impact growth and affect nutrient absorption.
So, even if your dog is eating as usual, but not gaining weight (especially if they’re a growing puppy) then this is cause for concern and you should seek the advice of your vet.
One of the largest studies on dog gene mutations (plos.org) found that due to breed selection and closely related breeding partners some gene mutations do occur. These mutations could affect the growth and size of your puppy.
For example, pituitary dwarfism is an autosomal disorder that may be inherited in some German Shepherds. Pituitary dwarfism presents between 8-16 weeks of age and needs a specific test from your vet. Keep in mind that this disorder is very rare.
If you German Shepherd isn’t acting like their normal self and is not eating, having issues going to the bathroom, or seem lethargic get them to a vet immediately.
3. Intestinal Parasites
The most common reason why a German Shepherd puppy’s growth becomes stunted is that they are infected with roundworms, hookworms, or tapeworms which are very common in puppies living in the United States. These worms are contracted from the environment they live in or from their mother.
If left untreated your puppy could have an extremely heavy worm infestation, and the worms can steal enough calories from your puppy to slow down his growth and make him appear smaller than he should.
Here’s what to look out for in a puppy that has a lot of worms:
poor haircoat (dull, thin fur; missing patches of hair)
a big, round pot belly
a thin, small body even though they are eating voraciously
The good news is that worms are treatable with the help of medication. And, once your German Shepherd puppy is free of worms its body can heal and regain normal growth and development.
Follow the deworming schedule set forth by your veterinarian to prevent worms.
4. Poor Nutrition for a Large Breed Dog
German Shepherd Dogs can vary considerably at different stages of their life in their nutritional requirements for energy, fat and carbohydrate. Even an adult GSD still needs the proper nutrition, especially for this athletic breed.
Your German Shepherd isn’t getting enough of the proper nutrients if you can:
easily see his ribs, vertebrae, and pelvic bones
feel no fat on the bones (or the bones stick out too far)
he’s lethargic and tired most of the day
his fur looks thin and falls out in clumps
or you notice some loss of muscle mass
If chronically underfed or malnourished, GSDs may experience impaired ability to perform their normal daily activities, a puppy’s growth may become stunted, and your dog has an increased susceptibility to bacterial infections and parasites.
Keep in mind that your puppy should eat food made especially for large breed dogs and without corn, wheat, or soy so that the food is easier to digest and sensitive on their stomachs.
Try this Nutro Natural Choice large breed formula if you want to ensure proper growth and the right nutrition.
You can feed this puppy food up to 18 months old and it offers the levels of protein, carbohydrates, and fats recommended for your GSD. German Shepherd Dogs do well on dog food that uses muscle meat as the first ingredient, such as chicken or beef, and chicken is the first muscle meat in this dog food formula. 🐔
Steer away from foods with soy or soy products, as these are thought to contribute to stomach gas, which can lead to bloat or another stomach upset. And don’t use a food made for small breeds as it’s not nutritionally appropriate for your GSD.
Feed the high-quality diet in smaller amounts throughout the day to provide a steady proportion of calories and to monitor their intake more easily.
Nutritional changes are slow to take effect, so don’t switch every few weeks when you don’t notice an immediate difference. Feed the new food for at least six weeks before evaluating the results, but do go to the vet as soon as possible if you dog’s heath or condition worsens.
5. Too Few Calories
Your GSD puppy will go through growth spurts during the first year and there will be days when he needs to eat more due to his high puppy energy and antics of the day.
You’ll need to be flexible about the amount you are feeding your dog on some days in order to support his proper growth and development. This doesn’t mean overfeed them or let them get overweight.
But consider the activities your dog has done throughout the day and add a bit more food if he has participated in activities that took more energy, such as:
been on an extra-long walk
ran more than a couple of miles
gone hiking or hill walking
or had a full day of swimming
Enjoying low-impact exercise with your GSD puppy will not stunt his growth, but if not fed enough calories to support his needs he might appear underweight. And remember that strenuous exercise could damage the growth plates of the bones and predispose your puppy to joint issues later in life.
A smaller German Shepherd still needs exercise to keep them happy and their body working normally. Enjoy your daily walks even with a small GSD as long as they are healthy.
Wait until your vet gives the all-clear (around 18 months of age) to enjoy high-impact activities (like running, jogging, and jumping) with your puppy. Use these safe German Shepherd Puppy Exercise Ideas instead to keep their bones and joints healthy into adulthood.
Now, let’s review how to manually feel if your dog is too small so you can better understand your dog’s health and condition.
Is My German Shepherd Really Too Small?
There are so many overweight dogs that a fit, lean , athletic German Shepherd might look underweight to you.
Instead of relying on charts and scales, use your hands to determine how small your German Shepherd really is.
Here’s how to manually test your dog’s weight:
Take both your hands and run them gently along your dog’s sides.
You should be able to feel the ribs with only a thin covering of skin.
And your hands should curve in slightly when near the waist.
In a short-coated German Shepherd, you should not be able to see the ribs and the bones should not stick out prominently.
Many German Shepherds are lean and look smaller because they are very active, not because they need more food or are underweight. Don’t panic if your dog seems to act the same and is eating normally since they could just naturally look smaller than the average German Shepherd.
If you’re even thinking about helping them to gain weight, then you must read this post packed full of the right ways to fatten up a German Shepherd. If you don’t know how to properly bulk up your dog, then you could unintentionally cause them more health issues.
Furthermore, getting the quantity of food right depends on taking into account individual variations in your dog’s lifestyle.
Use this German Shepherd Calorie Chart to help you determine your dog’s needs. Remember, it’s a range and nothing is set in stone since your GSD is so unique!
German Shepherd Calories Per Day
Level of Activity
Inactive adult and older German Shepherds (adult and senior)
1,272 – 1,540
Active older German Shepherd (senior)
1,407 – 1,700
Active German Shepherds (adult)
1,740 – 2,100
Young adult active German Shepherd
1,876 – 2,264
Growing German Shepherd puppy
3,480 – 4,200
This is only a recommendation and your dog’s calories may vary greatly based on individual needs.
The general caloric recommendation for German Shepherds is to consume between:
1,272 and 1,540 calories per day for inactive or older dogs for weight maintenance.
1,407 and 1,700 calories per day for active German Shepherd seniors and older dogs.
1,740 and 2,100 calories per day for a German Shepherd who is active daily.
1,876 and 2,264 calories per day for young adult dogs.
3,480 and 4,200 calories per day for a growing GSD puppy (Yes, this is a lot of calories!).
Your growing GSD puppy will eat twice as many calories per pound of body weight as an adult active dog.
On the other hand, because of the decrease in their physical activity and slowed metabolism due to aging, older Shepherds generally need about 20% fewer total calories compared to middle-aged adult GSDs (nap.edu).
Want more help with your German Shepherd’s health and growth?
It’s worrying not to know what to expect with your German Shepherd and have questions you need answers to, especially if you’re confused about why your German Shepherd is so small.
But having the right information at your fingers can ease your stress and keep your dog in top shape.
Do you know what behaviors and growth changes to expect as your German Shepherd grows and matures?
Sounds like you need to prepare yourself!
Get Your German Shepherd Month-by-Month to use as your instruction manual and provide you with the right tips and tools to help your small German Shepherd develop into a healthy, happy adult.
Remember, good nutrition is only part of the picture…
you must also provide your dog with the right exercise, training, mental stimulation, and build a bond that lasts a lifetime!
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
You need German Shepherd training to get the best behavior from your dog and enjoy a happy life with them. Read these posts to find out what type of German Shepherd training works the best for your breed.
Your German Shepherd’s health, as well as your dog’s specific breed history, contributes to their overall life span. These posts will help you become aware of your dog’s health problems and how to help solve or improve them.