Why is my German Shepherd so small?

Why is my German Shepherd so small? Navigating the Mysteries of Growth and Genetics

Owning a German Shepherd is a delightful experience filled with companionship and joy. But if you've noticed your German Shepherd is smaller or skinnier than usual, you might be filled with concern and curiosity.

"Why is my German Shepherd so small?" is a question that has left many owners puzzled. In this blog, we'll unfold the mystery by investigating the various factors that could contribute to a German Shepherd's size or lack thereof.

We'll cover topics like genetics, nutritional requirements, health issues and even delve into the diverse subtypes within the breed that might affect size. Plus, we'll guide you on how to assist your German Shepherd in growing correctly and maintaining a healthy weight.

Whether you're seeking answers out of concern or simply fascinated by this beloved breed, our exploration into the German Shepherd's size will offer you insights and understanding. By reading further, you'll learn to ensure your furry friend's well-being and growth, so stay with us as we dive deep into this compelling subject.

Have you ever wondered why some German Shepherds, even your own, are so small?

Your German Shepherd may be small due to genetics, a poor diet, underlying health issues, or being a part of a specific breed subtype that is naturally smaller. Proper care and understanding of these factors can help in managing their size.

Understanding the factors influencing a German Shepherd's size is crucial for any concerned owner. Genetics plays a vital role, as inherited traits can lead to variations in size.

German Shepherd dog weight and height - GSD Colony

Diet is another critical aspect; inadequate nutrition during their growing years can hinder proper growth. Health conditions like parasitic infections or hormonal imbalances might also result in a smaller stature.

Additionally, German Shepherds are part of a versatile breed with various subtypes, some of which are naturally smaller. Understanding these nuances ensures you can provide the proper care and environment for your German Shepherd to thrive, reflecting a commitment to their health and happiness.

Most common reasons why your German Shepherd is so small

It's not uncommon for owners to notice that their German Shepherd is smaller than expected. Understanding the underlying causes can alleviate concerns and lead to better care for these faithful companions.

Here, we present an ultimate list of the 12 most common reasons that could explain why some German Shepherds are so small.

  1. Genetics
  2. Diet
  3. Health Issues
  4. Parasitic Infections
  5. Breed Subtype
  6. Exercise Routine
  7. Spaying/Neutering Early
  8. Environmental Factors
  9. Puppy Mill Origin
  10. Vaccination Schedule
  11. Stress and Anxiety
  12. Late Bloomer


Genetics plays a pivotal role in determining a German Shepherd's size. Just like in humans, dogs inherit genes from both parents, and these genetic codes define various traits, including size. A German Shepherd bred from smaller parents is also likely to be smaller.

Delving deeper into genetics, we find that a dog's size is a polygenic trait, meaning it's controlled by more than one gene. These genes interact in complex ways to determine the final size of the dog. In breeding, if two smaller German Shepherds are paired, their offspring are likelier to be on the smaller side.

German Shepherd genetic

It's not just the immediate parents that matter; the genetic lineage extending back several generations can influence size. Breeders often have detailed records that trace these genetic lines, enabling predictions about future size and other characteristics.

In German Shepherds, the genetic variability contributes to a size range that spans from 50 to 90 pounds, reflecting the rich diversity within this noble breed. 


Diet is fundamental to a German Shepherd's growth and development. Lack of proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the diet can hinder growth, leading to a smaller stature. Feeding a balanced and age-appropriate diet is essential for optimal growth and health.

The dietary needs of German Shepherds are unique and can be pretty specific, especially during their growth phase. Puppies, in particular, require a balanced diet rich in protein and fat to support their rapid growth.

Studies show that a diet lacking essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and quality protein can lead to skeletal issues and stunted growth. Adult German Shepherds also need a well-rounded diet to maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass.

Many commercial dog foods are specially formulated for large-breed puppies and can provide the correct balance of nutrients.

The importance of diet cannot be overstated; a survey by the American Pet Products Association found that 67% of U.S. households have a pet, underscoring the need for widespread education on proper pet nutrition.

For German Shepherds, tailored dietary planning can mean the difference between thriving and merely surviving.

Health Issues

Health issues can significantly impact a German Shepherd's growth. Chronic illnesses, hormonal imbalances, or underlying diseases might affect metabolic rates and nutrient absorption, leading to a smaller stature. Regular veterinary check-ups can diagnose and treat these issues.

Chronic health conditions in German Shepherds, such as thyroid disorders or liver disease, can lead to inadequate nutrient absorption and altered metabolism.

These conditions may stunt growth or cause weight loss, resulting in a smaller or leaner appearance. The prevalence of certain diseases within the breed makes regular veterinary care essential.

German Shepherd health issue

For instance, hypothyroidism is a common condition in German Shepherds, affecting up to 8% of the breed. 

Treatment and proper care can mitigate these growth-related issues.

Early diagnosis is crucial in managing the condition and ensuring the dog reaches its optimal size and weight. It's a reminder of the essential partnership between veterinarians and pet owners in maintaining the health and happiness of these loyal companions.

Owners can ensure their German Shepherds grow strong and robust by staying alert to signs of health issues and seeking professional care.

Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections like worms can adversely affect a German Shepherd's growth. These parasites compete with the host for nutrients, leading to malnourishment and stunted growth. Regular deworming and proper veterinary care can mitigate these effects.

Parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms are unfortunately common in dogs, particularly puppies. These internal parasites can cause serious harm, especially if left untreated.

They can rob the dog of vital nutrients needed for growth, leading to anemia and malnourishment. The effects can be more pronounced in German Shepherds, a breed known for its robust size. 

According to studies, around 34% of dogs worldwide are infected with gastrointestinal parasites at any given time.

Regular deworming and fecal examinations are vital preventative measures. Young puppies often require more frequent deworming due to their vulnerability to these infections.

With proper care and attention to this significant health risk, German Shepherd owners can ensure that their dogs receive all the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, thus achieving their full potential in size and vitality.

Breed Subtype

Breed subtype is an often overlooked yet vital factor in determining a German Shepherd's size. Different lines within the breed may naturally vary in size, with working lines, show lines, and pet lines each having distinct characteristics. Understanding these can explain variations in size.

German Shepherds are versatile dogs with subtypes bred for specific functions. Working lines, for example, maybe more robust and muscular, tailored for police or military work.

On the other hand, show lines emphasize aesthetics and conform to specific breed standards, sometimes resulting in smaller sizes. Pet lines are often bred more for temperament and may not adhere strictly to size standards.

German Shepherd breed subtype

An estimated 3% to 4% of all German Shepherds belong to a specific subtype that tends to be smaller. 

Recognizing these subtleties in the breed allows a deeper understanding of the individual dog's growth pattern and size.

Whether choosing a puppy or seeking to understand your grown dog's size, being aware of these breed subtypes can provide insights into their genetic predisposition and ensure you meet their unique needs.

Exercise Routine

Exercise routine significantly influences a German Shepherd's development. Lack of or improper exercise can hinder muscular development, bone health, and overall growth, leading to a smaller appearance. A structured routine fosters proper growth and a healthy, robust physique.

The importance of a proper exercise routine for a growing German Shepherd cannot be overstated. As a large and active breed, they require regular and controlled exercise to develop strong bones and muscles. Puppies, in particular, need a careful balance of activity and rest to prevent joint and growth plate issues.

According to canine fitness experts, German Shepherds should exercise at least an hour daily, but the type and intensity must be age-appropriate. Over-exercising can be as detrimental as under-exercising, leading to health problems that may affect size.

Monitoring and tailoring the exercise routine to the dog's age, weight, and specific needs can significantly contribute to optimal growth and development. In the complex interplay of factors that determine a German Shepherd's size, exercise stands out as a controllable and vital aspect that owners can manage for the benefit of their beloved pet.

Spaying/Neutering Early

Spaying or neutering a German Shepherd too early can affect growth hormones, potentially altering their development. This surgical alteration might lead to longer leg bones and a leaner frame, resulting in a different appearance than if altered later in life.

The decision to spay or neuter a German Shepherd, and the timing of that procedure, is multifaceted and can have long-term effects on the dog's physical development.

Before the closure of growth plates, early spaying or neutering may disrupt the usual growth patterns. Research indicates that altering before one year might increase the risk of orthopedic problems in large-breed dogs like German Shepherds.

Some studies suggest that early-neutered males are three times more likely to suffer from joint disorders. This can result in a lanky appearance and contribute to conditions like hip dysplasia.

German Shepherd back hip CT scan

Conversely, altering after full maturity may allow the dog to develop a more robust and muscular frame. The choice of when to spay or neuter should be made in consultation with a veterinarian, considering factors like health, lifestyle, and breed-specific characteristics to ensure the best outcome for each German Shepherd.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors encompass a range of influences that can hinder a German Shepherd's growth. Poor living conditions, exposure to toxins, or lack of mental stimulation may lead to stunted growth or smaller stature. A nurturing environment fosters healthy development.

Environmental factors significantly influence German Shepherds' overall well-being and development. Suboptimal living conditions can lead to stress and anxiety, which, in turn, can affect growth.

Adequate space for exercise, clean surroundings, and enrichment opportunities are all part of an environment that fosters healthy growth. Exposure to toxins or pollutants may lead to chronic health issues that hinder development.

Studies have shown that dogs living in polluted areas can have a higher risk of health problems, which may affect their growth. Furthermore, a lack of mental stimulation can lead to behavioral problems and may indirectly impact physical development.

Though often overlooked, environmental influences are integral to the full spectrum of factors determining a German Shepherd's size. By creating a loving, safe, and stimulating environment, owners can lay the foundation for their German Shepherds to thrive and grow to their full potential.

Puppy Mill Origin

Puppy mill origin can be a critical factor in a German Shepherd's size. Dogs from such facilities often suffer from poor breeding practices, inadequate nutrition, and lack of care, leading to stunted growth and potentially lifelong health issues.

Puppy mills are commercial breeding facilities that often prioritize profit over the well-being of the animals. German Shepherds originating from these places may face several challenges affecting their growth. Inadequate breeding practices, including inbreeding, can result in genetic defects and smaller size.

The lack of proper nutrition and veterinary care during the critical growth stages can also lead to underdevelopment.

Puppy Mill

According to the Humane Society of the United States, thousands of puppy mills are operating in the country, producing an estimated 2.11 million puppies each year. 

Many of these dogs end up with health issues, including growth-related problems. Adopting reputable breeders or shelters that prioritize the health and well-being of the dogs can ensure that German Shepherds have the best chance at growing to their full size and enjoying a healthy life. 

Vaccination Schedule

Adhering to a proper vaccination schedule is vital for a German Shepherd's health and growth. Incomplete or delayed vaccinations may expose them to diseases that can hinder development, whereas a well-executed plan supports a robust immune system and optimal growth.

Vaccinations are critical in preventing infectious diseases that can significantly impact a German Shepherd's growth and overall health. Puppies are especially vulnerable to diseases like parvovirus and distemper, leading to severe health complications or even death.

Following a veterinarian-recommended vaccination schedule is vital to protect against these threats. In the U.S., around 82% of puppies receive core vaccinations, but the remaining percentage may be at risk.

Failure to vaccinate exposes the individual dog to potential diseases and can have broader implications for herd immunity within the canine population.

On the other hand, proper vaccination fosters a robust immune system that enables the dog to grow and develop healthily.

Working closely with a veterinarian to understand and follow the right vaccination plan for a German Shepherd, considering factors like age, lifestyle, and location, can ensure their well-being and proper development.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can have profound effects on a German Shepherd's growth. Chronic stress can lead to decreased appetite, digestive issues, and even disrupt hormonal balance, all of which may contribute to stunted growth or smaller stature. Managing stress is key to healthy development.

Chronic stress and anxiety in German Shepherds can stem from various sources, such as separation anxiety, fear, or lack of socialization.

Stress impacts the body's ability to absorb nutrients effectively and can cause a decrease in appetite, resulting in malnourishment that hinders growth. Behavioral signs of stress may include excessive barking, chewing, or changes in demeanor.

Sad German Shepherd

Studies show that up to 40% of dogs may suffer from anxiety disorders at some point. Providing a stable environment, consistent training, and addressing underlying health or behavioral issues are crucial to managing stress.

As a veterinarian or animal behaviorist recommends, interventions like behavior modification, socialization training, and sometimes medication can make a significant difference. 

Understanding and addressing stress and anxiety in German Shepherds contribute to a happier and more relaxed dog that can grow to its full size and potential.

Late Bloomer

Just like humans, some German Shepherds may simply be late bloomers. They might grow and develop slower than their peers, eventually reaching their full size a bit later in life. Such delayed growth can be due to genetics or individual differences, but it's usually not a cause for concern.

Being a late bloomer is common in the diverse world of canine growth patterns. It's akin to human teenagers who have growth spurts at different times. For German Shepherds, most reach their adult height by 18 months, but some might take up to 24 months or longer. 

Variability in growth rates can be influenced by genetic factors or simply the dog's developmental timeline.

A study on canine growth found that up to 20% of dogs could be categorized as late bloomers, reaching their full potential later than the average for their breed. 

Owners must monitor their dog's growth, consult their veterinarian, and ensure the delayed growth is not due to underlying health issues. However, in many cases, patience is key. Given time, these late bloomers often catch up, displaying the majestic size and stature that German Shepherds are known for.

When do German Shepherds stop growing?

German Shepherds typically stop growing in height by 18 to 24 months. However, they may continue to fill out, gaining muscle and becoming more robust until they are around 2.5 to 3 years old, completing their physical maturity.

The growth pattern of a German Shepherd is an exciting and complex process. While most German Shepherds reach their full height between 18 to 24 months, their bodies continue to mature and develop.

During this period, they gain muscle, their chests fill out, and their overall physique becomes more defined. Nutrition, genetics, exercise, and overall health play significant roles in determining the exact time frame for an individual dog.

German Shepherd exercise

Some may be late bloomers and grow slower, while others mature faster. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring their growth curve can help ensure they develop appropriately.

Understanding your German Shepherd's unique growth pattern and providing appropriate care and nutrition will support them in reaching their full potential as magnificent and well-balanced adults.

How can I increase my German Shepherd size?

Increasing a German Shepherd's size requires a balanced approach involving proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adhering to veterinary guidelines. High-quality food, adequate physical and mental stimulation, and regular veterinary care are key factors.

Enhancing a German Shepherd's size is not about rapid growth but promoting healthy development. It involves a multifaceted approach that starts with a nutritionally balanced diet. 

Consulting with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate food that meets the breed's specific needs is crucial. Regular exercise tailored to the dog's age and development stage supports muscle growth and overall well-being.

Mental stimulation through training and enrichment activities helps manage stress, which can indirectly impact growth. Adhering to a proper vaccination schedule, avoiding premature spaying/neutering, and monitoring for underlying health conditions are also essential.

It's essential to recognize that each dog has a genetic potential for size, and promoting healthy growth within that framework is key. An integrated approach ensures growth and a happy, well-rounded, healthy German Shepherd.

At what are do German Shepherds get big?

German Shepherds usually begin to appear "big" as they approach adolescence, around the age of 6 to 12 months. By 18 to 24 months, most reach their adult height, although they continue to fill out and mature until around 2.5 to 3 years old.

Several developmental stages mark the growth trajectory of a German Shepherd. Puppies grow rapidly in the first few months, and by the time they reach 6 to 12 months, they start to look more like adult dogs, having gained significant height and length.

📝 Related blog post: Why is my German Shepherd so big? 

Their growth in height generally slows down by 18 to 24 months, but they continue to mature, adding muscle and filling out their frame until around 2.5 to 3 years of age.

Big Adult German Shepherd Dog

Genetics, diet, exercise, and overall health care contribute to each dog's specific timing and growth pattern.

Owners should monitor growth and consult with veterinarians to ensure their German Shepherd is developing appropriately, providing the right foundation for a healthy, full-sized adult dog.

Can I speed up my German Shepherd’s growth?

Speeding up a German Shepherd's growth is not advisable, as it can lead to health problems. Proper growth requires a balanced diet, regular exercise, and veterinary care. A natural growth pattern ensures a healthy, well-developed dog in the long run.

Attempting to speed up the growth of a German Shepherd might seem tempting, especially if the dog appears smaller or is growing slower than expected.

However, forcing or accelerating growth can lead to significant health issues, such as joint problems, obesity, and other developmental disorders. The focus should instead be on supporting healthy, natural growth through appropriate nutrition, regular and suitable exercise, and adherence to veterinary guidelines.

Consulting with a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist can help you determine the proper diet and care plan tailored to your dog's needs. Remember, each German Shepherd has its unique growth pattern, influenced by genetics, health, and care.

Emphasizing overall well-being rather than rapid growth will result in a happier, healthier, well-proportioned German Shepherd.

Why is my German Shepherd so skinny?

A skinny German Shepherd could be due to various factors like improper diet, parasites, underlying health conditions, or genetics. Consulting a veterinarian is essential to rule out medical issues and create an appropriate feeding and care plan.

A German Shepherd appearing too skinny may cause concern for owners, and rightly so, as it may signal underlying health problems. However, there can be benign reasons, such as a high metabolism or being a naturally lean breed subtype.

A proper evaluation by a veterinarian can help pinpoint the exact cause, whether it's a nutritional imbalance, parasitic infection, chronic illness, or even stress. Personalized recommendations on diet, including the type and amount of food, can make a significant difference.

📝 Related blog post: Best food for German Shepherd to gain weight 

Regular deworming and addressing any specific health concerns are also essential. It's crucial to approach the situation carefully, as simply increasing food intake without understanding the underlying cause might lead to other health problems.

Collaborating with veterinary professionals ensures your German Shepherd gains weight healthily and reaches its ideal body condition.

Normal body weight, height, and calories intake for male German Shepherd

Navigating the growth stages of a German Shepherd requires understanding their unique needs at different phases of life.

Below, you'll find tables that outline the normal body weight, height, and daily calorie intake for male German Shepherds, from puppyhood to senior years.

Life stage Weight Height Caloric intake
(0-3 months)
15-30 lbs
(7-14 kg)
9-12 inch
(23-31 cm)
(4-6 months)
30-50 lbs
(14-23 kg)
12-16 inch
(30-41 cm)
(7-12 months)
50-70 lbs
(23-31 kg)
16-20 inch
(41-51 cm)
(1-2 years)
70-85 lbs
(31-39 kg)
22-26 inch
(56-66 cm)
(2-6 years)
70-90 lbs
(31-41 kg)
24-26 inch
(61-66 cm)
(7+ years)
70-90 lbs
(31-41 kg)
24-26 inch
(61-66 cm)


Normal body weight, height, and calories intake for female German Shepherd

Navigating the growth stages of a German Shepherd requires understanding their unique needs at different phases of life.

Below, you'll find tables that outline the normal body weight, height, and daily calorie intake for female German Shepherds, from puppyhood to senior years.

Life stage Weight Height Caloric intake
(0-3 months)
10-25 lbs
(5-11 kg)
8-11 inch
(20-28 cm)
(4-6 months)
25-45 lbs
(11-20 kg)
11-15 inch
(28-38 cm)
(7-12 months)
45-60 lbs
(20-27 kg)
15-19 inch
(38-48 cm)
(1-2 years)
60-75 lbs
(27-34 kg)
21-24 inch
(53-61 cm)
(2-6 years)
60-75 lbs
(27-34 kg)
22-24 inch
(56-61 cm)
(7+ years)
60-75 lbs
(27-34 kg)
22-24 inch
(56-61 cm)


Final words

Throughout our in-depth discussion on the size discrepancies of German Shepherds, it's clear that these beloved dogs are as diverse as they are magnificent.

Numerous elements can sculpt their stature, from the genetic blueprint they inherit to the meals they enjoy. While some Shepherds may naturally be petite, others might be giants of their breed, showcasing the vast array of this breed's spectrum.

If your Shepherd seems more pocket-sized than you anticipated, don't fret! A quick chat with your trusted vet can shed light on any mysteries.

Always remember that every German Shepherd brings immense love and loyalty into our lives, whether large or small. Celebrate their uniqueness, provide the best care, and enjoy every moment with your four-legged friend.

Frequently asked questions 

Do you still have questions? Check our FAQ section, and you can find your answer here!

Why is my German Shepherd smaller than others?

Your German Shepherd may be smaller than others due to genetics, breed subtype, diet, health issues, or environmental factors. Consulting a veterinarian can help determine the specific cause and address any underlying health concerns, ensuring proper growth and development.

My German Shepherd is very thin, what should I do?

If your German Shepherd is very thin, it is vital to consult a veterinarian. The thinness could indicate a dietary imbalance, parasites, or underlying health issues. A veterinarian can diagnose the cause and provide a proper feeding and care plan tailored to your dog's needs.

Why is my German Shepherd puppy so small?

Your German Shepherd puppy might be small due to genetics, inadequate diet, health problems, or breed subtype variations. Growth can differ between individual puppies. Consulting with a veterinarian can pinpoint the exact cause and help you take the right steps to ensure proper development.

Why is my male German Shepherd so small?

Your male German Shepherd may be small due to genetics, an insufficient diet, underlying health conditions, or breed subtype differences. An assessment by a veterinarian will identify the specific cause and help guide proper care, ensuring your dog reaches its potential size.

Why is my female German Shepherd so small?

Your female German Shepherd's smaller size may be attributable to genetics, dietary inadequacy, health issues, or the specific subtype of the breed. Consulting a veterinarian can help pinpoint the cause and provide personalized guidance for proper growth and development tailored to her needs.

Are there mini German Shepherds?

Mini German Shepherds are not a recognized breed. Some breeders may produce smaller versions by mixing German Shepherds with smaller breeds or selecting for runts. However, these practices can lead to health issues, and it's advisable to consult reputable breeders or organizations for healthy dogs.

Can German Shepherds be small?

Yes, German Shepherds can vary in size; some may be smaller than the breed's typical standards. Genetics, diet, health conditions, and breed subtype can influence size. If a German Shepherd is smaller than expected, it may be beneficial to consult a veterinarian to rule out underlying issues.

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