So, are German Shepherds Good With Cats? Having German Shepherds and cats living together is not impossible, but it will require a lot of planning, patience and careful monitoring to be successful. A range of factors can affect how well the introduction will go, including age, personality, previous experiences and even health. If they are introduced slowly and calmly, cats and dogs can form incredibly strong bonds.
Are German Shepherds Good With Cats? - What to Consider?
German Shepherd Temperament
German shepherd dogs have a high prey drive, which means anything fast moving is going to trigger their chasing instinct. Cats are included in this group. When introduced from a very young age, any dog can learn to behave gently with other animals. Older dogs will need more intensive training, but it is possible.
Some German Shepherds are quite laid back and placid by nature. This will make introducing them to a cat much easier. An excitable dog that loves to run and play will need a little more direction.
It is not just the temperament of the German Shepherd that needs careful consideration. The personality of the cat is a big factor in how well an introduction will go. A nervous or skittish cat will struggle to adjust to any new pet. A lively puppy will certainly be a big challenge.
Confident and playful cats tend to cope quite well and are more likely to be inquisitive about the newcomer. You will still need to be cautious and take things slowly when introducing them. If your cat has lived with dogs before, you should have no issues. It is still advisable to let them meet through a barrier first though so they can get used to each other’s scent.
Age of Cat and Dog
Imagine your grumpy old man of a cat has lived his entire life as master of the house. Now his humans want to bring a bouncy puppy into the house! Older cats tend to be less tolerant of puppies due to their playful nature. You will need to spend a long time allowing your cat and dog to scent and see each other without physically meeting to ensure a successful introduction.
The same should be considered if you have an older German Shepherd dog and are introducing a new kitten to the family. Your old-timer may not take too kindly to having his peace shattered by a little ball of fluff with sharp claws and teeth.
Kittens and juvenile cats are much more adaptable to puppies as they are at similar stages of development and have the same desire to play. You will still need to carefully manage their meetings, but things should progress quite quickly when both pets are a similar age.
Dog’s Previous Experiences
Age and personality are just two factors you must consider when introducing a cat and dog together. It is important to be mindful of your dog’s previous experiences with cats. If he is a young puppy he most likely hasn’t seen a cat before. He could be nervous of his new roommate. He could confuse the cat for a toy. He may want to play but be too rough. You will need to limit your puppy’s access to your cat at first so they can get to know one another slowly and learn boundaries.
Your puppy may have come from a family home or from a breeder who also has cats. This makes your job much easier, as you only need to be concerned with your cat’s reaction. Your puppy will most likely not pay much attention besides a quick greeting.
You should also consider whether your dog has had a bad experience with cats in the past. Puppies in particular can get too giddy around cats, resulting in a swipe or even a nip from the offended puss. This may cause your puppy to be nervous of other cats he meets.
If you have an older dog you should take notice of how he reacts to cats in the neighborhood. What does he do if a cat comes into the garden? How does he react if he sees a cat when out on a walk? This will give you a good indication of how he is likely to react with a new cat in the home.
Cat's Previous Experiences
The experiences of the cat will also have a big impact on the introduction. If the cat was a part of the family first, they will already be settled and comfortable in their environment. They may not have seen a dog or been in close contact before, so you should expect nervousness or even defensiveness from your cat. This is usually shown via growling and hissing.
If your cat has been chased by a dog previously then it is safe to assume that he does not have a high opinion of them. You should be careful with your introductions and take things slowly.
If the opposite is true and the cat is the newcomer, you will need to be mindful of giving your dog access to his favorite resting spot in case he wants out of the introduction at any point. A kitten will be easier to integrate into the home as they most likely have never met a dog and will have no preconceptions.
The health of both pets is another important factor in the success of an introduction. If your cat or dog is suffering from an illness, even a mild one, they will not feel themselves. This will make any introduction attempt pointless. If the illness is a short and treatable one, you should wait until the sick pet is feeling better and behaving normally.
If one of the pets is suffering from a long-term illness, you will need to be mindful of their symptoms. An animal feeling unwell or in pain will not tolerate a new pet as quickly as a healthy pet might. You will need to spend much longer getting them used to seeing and smelling one another before they are allowed to physically meet.
If the illness is a physical one, you also need to consider how easily that pet will be able to remove themselves from the meeting if they wish too. Cats are flight animals, but if they have a physical limitation this can be tricky.
You will need to pay attention to your pets’ body language to gauge their reaction and stop the meeting if you sense them becoming agitated or uncomfortable.
Blindness can be a big obstacle to a successful introduction. You will have to spend much longer getting them used to each other’s scent before you progress to meeting through the baby gate. A blind pet will have their own way of navigating the house, so they need to be comfortable and familiar with the new pet’s scent. You must never allow the new pet to approach the blind pet without them being aware of the new pet’s presence. This may cause your blind pet to react out of fear and risks causing injury.
Are German Shepherds Good With Cats? - Preparing For Introduction
There are a few things you can do within the home before you begin starting the introduction process. Whether the current pet is a cat or a dog, be sure to keep their regular safe zones away from where the introductions will take place. If the established pet wishes to get away at any point, they must have a place they can go where they feel comfortable.
Ensure that your cat has a high ledge or perch they can climb onto that your dog or puppy cannot reach. Cats have a natural flight instinct. A ledge or high place gives your cat a safe space to be if the meetings are too stressful or your dog reacts with too much energy.
You should also invest in a baby gate or door screen. This will be needed to keep the two pets separate at first but still able to see and smell one another.
Scent swapping is an important part of the introduction process. Both dogs and cat rely heavily on scent to investigate their surroundings. Familiar scents make them feel safe in their environment. Introducing the scent of the other pet will help familiarize them together and will make the physical meeting a calmer affair.
- Stroke each pet with a clean, soft cloth. Use one cloth for your cat and another for your dog.
- Rub it on your furniture and doorframes.
- Leave the dog’s cloth in the cat’s environment for them to sniff and investigate.
- Do the same in a place your dog is comfortable in.
- Repeat the process until your pets show no reaction to the smell.
Meeting Between Barriers
Before their first physical meeting, your dog and cat should meet between a barrier such as a glass patio door. This give them the opportunity to see each other but not touch. For your dog, it will help to eliminate the chase instinct and encourage them to rely more on their sight.
When cats feel safe they tend to be more curious than nervous, so a dog kept safely behind a glass door does not pose much of a threat. This will give your cat the time to get used to your dog. Keep these meetings short so reduce stress.
You will also need to ensure that there are areas within the home where they cannot come into contact with one another. These meetings should be done slowly over a couple of days.
Face To Face Meetings
So, your cat and dog have been given each other’s scent and are now not showing any reaction to it. They have also met several times between a barrier such as a glass door. It is now time to take the next step. This next meeting should still be behind a barrier, but one they can smell each other through like a baby gate or mesh door guard.
This kind of semi-barrier allows both sight and scent to play a part in the meeting. Your cat and dog should recognize each other’s scent and be used to seeing the other pet through glass. They are not strangers, but they are not yet friends.
To prevent your dog from getting overly excited, you should keep him on a leash for now. This will prevent him from rushing or jumping at the gate and startling your cat. Give them soft verbal praise but do not push them to get close if they do not wish to.
Kittens meeting puppies or older dogs needs more careful handling. Kittens may not show fear or nervousness toward a dog, but they are small and easily injured through rough play. Do not let your dog roughhouse with your kitten. They should be calm and gentle.
Try not to show the cat any attention. This will only encourage your dog to put more focus on the cat. You can incorporate a short training session to distract the dog and keep him from focusing too much on the cat.
You will need to repeat these meetings two or three times per day in 10-minute sessions for at least three days. This will give both pets time to settle and get used to being in close proximity.
As these meetings progress and both pets show a calm and relaxed manner, you can start to give your dog a longer leash. This will allow him a little more freedom to move around but still have him under control in case he tries to chase the cat.
Off Leash Meeting
If these meetings have been going well and both pets seem relaxed together, you can now attempt a physical meeting. This should be done in a room where your cat can leave whenever it wishes. Do not shut the door as this may make your cat feel trapped.
This meeting is best done after your dog has had a long walk to tire him out. Keep your dog on a short leash and have him take a sit position with you sat on the floor beside him. Allow your cat to decide when they want to entire the room. Do not pick them up and carry them in, this may cause unnecessary stress.
If your cat has not lived with a dog before, expect one of two reactions: keeping a big distance or growling and hissing. Cats are a prey animal and meeting a dog is not a normal part of their routine. Don’t be put off by this. Simply allow your cat the space it needs and try again later.
Your cat will eventually decide to come a little closer to investigate. If your dog gets up from his sit position, gently correct him and get him back into a sit. Do not let him greet the cat in this manner. He must be calm and gentle.
If he is excited, whining or playfully barking, remove him from the room and give him some time to calm down. A few repetitions of this will teach him that he cannot meet the cat when he behaves in that manner.
Sniffing one another is a positive step. This will help cement the familiarity for both pets, as they will recognize their scents from the cloths you used earlier in the process.
It is important here that your dog remains calm. Your cat has been very brave to willingly come close and any boisterous reaction from your dog at this point will only set you back. Gently stroke your dog and praise him for being calm and still.
Allow them to sniff each other and be close for a few minutes, then remove your dog from the room. You should repeat this twice a day for a couple of days and allow the baby gate meetings to happen naturally.
Once they are comfortable with this and are actively seeking attention from one another through the baby gate or mesh guard, you are ready for an off-leash meeting. Have this set up the same way as before. Sit down on the floor with your dog in a sit position or lying down.
This time allow him to interact with the cat naturally, but immediately remove him if he gets too excited or tries to chase. You will need to carefully monitor these meetings for a few more days until your are certain that both pets are confident and calm with one another.
Are German Shepherds Good With Cats? - Considerations
You may find that both pets are comfortable with each other right from the start. If you are confident that your dog will be calm and your cat is showing open interest in meeting your dog, you can reduce the time spent at each stage of the process.
Cats who are comfortable and relaxed with make little chirping noises, will show their rear end to the dog and may even roll over to expose their belly. These behaviors are both a peace sign and an invitation.
If your cat is an outdoor cat, you will need to consider how you will allow them access outdoors without having to meet your dog, particularly at the beginning of the process. Cats are territorial and most will go outside at similar times each day. They do this to avoid other neighborhood cats. Try to keep your dog isolated while your cat exists and enters the house until they have been successfully introduced.
Your cat will spend more time that normal investigating the garden as your dog’s scent will be all over it. This is a good thing. Allow your cat to do as they please and give them plenty of attention when they come back to the house. This will help to reinforce their experience as a positive one.
If you have more than one dog, you should introduce them only to one dog at a time. Once they are happy with the first dog, you can then repeat the process with your other dog(s). The same should be done if you have multiple cats. Most likely your pets have different personalities. One cat may be confident and happy with your dog, but the other may be nervous and not want to engage in any interactions.
Dogs too can show differences in their reactions. One dog may be intolerant of your cat, or show no interest at all. Your other dog may be the same or they may show a little to much attention. You will need to plan the meetings with each pet according to their individual personalities. It may take longer for one pair to settle than another. This is perfectly normal and should not be forced or rushed in any way.
Are German Shepherds Good With Cats? - Solving Potential Problems
If your pets are still not tolerant of each other after carefully following the introduction process, it may be worthwhile speaking to your vet or a pet behaviorist. They may be able to offer further advice or alternative approaches to help calmly integrate your pets.
Nervous cats may be assisted with plug-ins like Feliway. It is an adapter that slowly releases calming pheromones to help relax your cat. You can also get a similar product for nervous dogs. Always seek veterinary advice before trying treatments like these.
Were you able to successfully introduce your German Shepherd and Cat? Do they get along? Have we got anything wrong or missed something out? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Bergman, L. and Gaskins, L., 2008. Expanding families: preparing for and introducing dogs and cats to infants, children, and new pets. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 38(5), pp.1043-1063.
Clarke, A. and Brown, L., 2016. German Shepherds: A Practical Guide for Owners and Breeders. Crowood.
Eldredge, D. and Palika, L., 2012. Your German Shepherd Puppy Month by Month. Penguin.
Pearson, C., 2016. Between instinct and intelligence: harnessing police dog agency in early twentieth-century Paris. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 58(2), pp.463-490.
Stephanitz, V., 2011. The German shepherd dog in word and picture. Read Books Ltd.
Włodarczyk, J., 2018. Culture of Instinct: Emergence of the Disciplinary Regime, 1910–1946. In Genealogy of Obedience (pp. 80-106). Brill.