Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
German Shepherds are extremely intelligent dogs, and when properly socialized and trained, they make great companions for your family.
However, it’s essential to keep in mind that these dogs’ historical function is to keep herds under control, bringing life a series of crucial instincts, thresholds, and triggers to keep in mind.
This is particularly important when introducing a German Shepherd to a cat.
German Shepherds can be good with cats if both pets have been trained, socialized, and cared for enough. When introducing your pets to each other, it’s worth considering the size difference, territorial instincts, and training requirements. Training is vital for the animals and humans alike.
Your cat and your German Shepherd might never be best friends. Still, you can achieve a peaceful solution within your household with the proper training and some patience.
Using my background as a veterinary doctor, I’ll tell you all you need to know to manage this situation.
Are German Shepherds Naturally Aggressive or Friendly Toward Cats?
German Shepherds are incredibly caring and loving dogs. They’re also energetic, strong, and tend toward being the most dominant pet in the household.
However, because of their instincts and characteristics, they’re not always naturally friendly to cats.
In fact, their first reaction to other pets might include a lot of chasing.
German Shepherds are highly prey-driven dogs, and they’re likely to chase anything that moves fast – especially within their territory.
Squirrels and other small animals such as cats make for the perfect target for their attitude.
You can prevent this by keeping your dog on a leash during the first encounters, especially if you have just adopted a kitten.
While German Shepherds aren’t naturally aggressive, they can become so if they feel threatened or overstimulated.
And, because of their size, they can easily represent a threat to your kitten.
Aside from keeping your dog under control, don’t forget to try and create a more relaxed atmosphere for your cat, who will be less likely to shoot off and end up being chased.
How Territorial Are Cats?
Cats are among the most territorial pets – and they’re often more territorial than dogs.
This kind of attitude doesn’t usually emerge if uncalled for, especially if no other animal invades their space.
However, when they feel like their territory is threatened, their territorial instinct will start to show – no matter how long you have known your pet.
Introducing a new puppy in your household can be one of the instances where your cat might feel like an intruder has taken over their territory.
The size of your cat’s territory isn’t easy to identify. If you keep your furry pet in your apartment, they might deem this space as their territory.
However, if they often wander around the neighborhood, their territory might be as large as that.
In terms of the manifestation of this territorial aggression, you can expect:
- Female and males cats are just as territorial as each other, but males are likely to defend larger territories.
- Territorial aggression can be directed towards other cats, dogs, small animals, and humans.
- Cats usually mark their territory by patrolling it and urine spraying it.
- Some territorial aggression’s triggers include sexual maturity, other animals in the territory, or significant changes to their environment.
How Territorial Are German Shepherds?
As we have seen, your feline is naturally territorial. But what about German Shepherds?
Historically, this breed of dog was bred to be protective and look after the herd. So, being territorial is within their nature.
Territorial aggression is their way to fulfill their duties, protect you, and keep the household safe.
If not trained otherwise, your dog’s aggression can persevere, creating severe inconveniences and health threats.
Being incredibly intelligent, German Shepherds can be trained and socialized to welcome other pets and humans into their territory.
However, to prevent your dog from becoming a liability, they must understand that they’re not threatened – and you can achieve this through socialization.
While the innate qualities of German Shepherds to protect your household can come in handy if you’re looking for a guard dog, your pet needs to be dependable and adequately trained.
Socialization is a huge part of this, and it includes other dogs, humans, and unknown areas and sounds.
Much like with your cat, your German Shepherd may feel like their territory is at risk when you bring in a new pet.
But there are ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. Let’s go over them now.
I Am Already a Cat Parent, and I’m Thinking of Getting a German Shepherd
Owning a cat can be an excellent experience for your whole household. Cats are loving and independent creatures that won’t require as much attention as other pets.
However, your cat might not be as easygoing in front of the possibility of sharing their territory with another pet.
Before deciding whether to introduce a German Shepherd in your home, you need to consider your cat’s personality.
If your feline is already used to other cats and dogs around the house, chances are they won’t be so bothered by the presence of another one.
Additionally, if they’re already used to sharing their territory with others, it means that your pet is socialized enough to deal with a German Shepherd’s attitude.
Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” formula when it comes down to bringing a new dog into your household.
You know your cat’s attitude better than anyone else, so you will need to take this decision.
Here are a few tips for moderating their first meeting.
How To Introduce a New German Shepherd Puppy to My Kitten
German Shepherd puppies are particularly active and energetic, which means they’re more likely to follow their instincts and try to chase a kitten.
If your puppy hasn’t been trained yet, it can also be difficult for you to impart the correct obedience command to keep them by your side.
Both the puppy and the kitten should be playful and curious; however, you need to keep in mind the size and strength difference.
Puppies learn how to play by interacting with other dogs and learning boundaries.
This will not be possible with a kitten, and there is always the risk that they’ll get hurt unintentionally.
The best way to make such introductions is with the puppy on a leash.
It’s also a good idea to bring in the kitten when the puppy is tired, which should help them to keep them calm.
Allow the puppy and kitten to sniff and be near one another, but don’t let them play right away.
Give them each time to get used to their surroundings, and each other, before bringing them together.
This should always be done under supervision and with your puppy on a leash.
Separate them if you notice things becoming too rough and give each their own space. Try again at a later time.
How To Introduce a New German Shepherd Puppy to My Adult Cat
The first meeting between a German Shepherd puppy and an adult cat is not dissimilar from the scene seen above.
However, in this case, you can foresee the reaction your cat will have.
For example, if your cat has a nervous, skittish attitude and is generally uncomfortable around dogs, they’re likely to display aggressive behavior in front of their new housemate.
However, if your cat has always been peaceful around kids, people, and pets, you can expect them to be calm during the first meeting with your new puppy.
In turn, this can genuinely help your german Shepherd remain calm and fight the instinct of chasing the cat – which is usually triggered by something moving fast.
Remember to make the introductions when the puppy is calm and tired, and always keep them on a leash.
How To Introduce a New Adult German Shepherd to My Kitten
Introducing an adult German Shepherd to a kitten can be an extremely delicate moment.
An adult German Shepherd can be several times the size of your kitten and, thus, dangerous, whether they mean to be or not.
In this case, your new dog’s previous owner and the training received can genuinely make a difference.
If you’re unsure about your German Shepherd’s history, you should find out more about their behavior, socialization level, and eventual previous issues.
This will tell you if your new dog is suitable for a life with a cat or not.
If you don’t know their history, it’s a good idea to take things very slowly. Bring the kitten into the room but don’t let the dog near.
If your shepherd is well trained, have them sit and wait.
Allow some sniffing, but don’t let the kitten run free until they have become more accustomed to each other.
Never leave your German Shepherd alone with a young kitten.
Even if they’re well-mannered and gentle, accidents can happen due to their size.
How To Introduce a New Adult German Shepherd to My Adult Cat
As we’ve seen above, an adult German Shepherd will have defined personality traits, training, and socialization levels.
Finding out more about how they have been behaving in the past is the best way to know if they will get along with your cat.
However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that an adult cat will behave differently from a kitten.
An adult cat who has lived in the same area all their life is likely to be more territorial and have a clear territory marked out.
Introducing an adult German Shepherd and an adult cat can be troublesome.
The first meetings should happen with professional supervision – especially if you weren’t sure about the personality of the two.
It’s a good idea to keep them separated, for the most part, bringing the cat in when your shepherd is tired and calm.
Keep the dog on a leash and if needed, add one to the cat also. If you’re unsure at all, seek professional help.
Cats can be unpredictable, and should they lash out, your dog may instinctively become aggressive out of fear.
I Am Already a German Shepherd Parent, and I’m Thinking of Getting a Cat
If you already own a German Shepherd, you know what to expect from them.
These dogs have always been bred for their territorial attitude, which has led them to be excellent herding and guard dogs.
However, when this attitude isn’t refined and trained, your dog can become a liability.
You should only consider adding another animal to the house when you know your dog, their temperament, and that they’ll heel when called.
On the other hand, if you have adequately trained and socialized your dog over time, they should be ready to meet a new kitten or cat.
Just remember the above advice and do so slowly.
In the video below, you can see what to expect from the first meeting but remember that every dog and cat have different personalities:
How To Introduce a New Kitten to My German Shepherd Puppy
Introducing a kitten to a puppy can be eventful, and it isn’t easy to entirely plan out the meeting.
Your kitten can be suddenly frightened by your puppy and run away, which can trigger the German Shepherd to chase him.
If your dog is still a puppy, you might have started their training not too long ago.
In this case, you can’t be sure that they will remain by your foot and dedicate your full attention to you no matter their surroundings.
It’s always a good idea to keep the animal separate for a time, allowing each to get used to the other’s smell and sounds.
Keep your dog on a leash, and hold onto the kitten.
Don’t let your dog paw at the kitten and separate them if one seems to be getting too excited.
Because you’ll want to keep both animals safe and in harmony in the household, you might consider waiting until your German Shepherd has completed the recommended training before bringing in something so unpredictable.
How To Introduce a New Kitten to My Adult German Shepherd
If you’re thinking about introducing a new kitten in a household with a German Shepherd, you’ll need to rely on your understanding of your dog’s character.
If you own an adult German Shepherd, you likely have personally trained your dog, or you know of their history.
In any case, you should observe what happens when “intruders” access their territory.
This can be a squirrel, another person, a stray cat, or your kids.
A well-trained and well-socialized German Shepherd might acknowledge them and inquire, but they’ll return to you upon order.
For example, if your dog is reactive to visitors, you’ll know that they’re likely showing signs of being territorial.
This could be an issue when bringing in a new pet.
Knowing your German Shepherd will tell you whether it’s a good idea or not to adopt a cat.
If possible, try a test run with a friend’s cat. Keep them in a travel case and go very slowly to see how your shepherd reacts when they’re on a leash, tired, and calm.
If your dog becomes aggressive or overexcited, it might not be a good idea to get a cat of your own.
How To Introduce a New Adult Cat to My German Shepherd Puppy
German Shepherd puppies might not have a defined territory that they feel like they need to protect.
It’s essential to play this to your advantage when introducing an adult cat to your home.
An adult cat might also find himself outside of their comfort zone.
While this kind of encounter might make it difficult for you to foresee what will happen, you’re less likely to deal with heightened territorial aggression from either party.
If you’ve left your puppy with their litter long enough, you might not notice aggressive behavior on their part yet.
In turn, this offers them a blank canvas to decide which territory belongs to whom and what their balance will be.
How To Introduce a New Adult Cat to My Adult German Shepherd
Introducing an adult cat to adult dogs who have lived in the same territory for years might be problematic.
Naturally, it depends on how you have trained your dog over time and how your pet’s reactions are when an “intruder” accesses their territory.
You can observe these traits at the park or home.
Try to find out as much as possible about the cat’s personality before committing.
You can do so by speaking to their previous owner or kennel.
However, if you cannot get any information, it might not be a good idea.
You ideally want to know that the cat is calm and will play well with other animals before committing to bringing them home.
Can Cats and German Shepherds Be Left Alone Together?
It’s crucial to keep in mind that German Shepherds are a breed characterized by intelligence, strong personalities, and overpowering prey drive.
This derives from their days as herding dogs, and it’s still one of their most prominent personality tracts.
You’ll notice this instinct when they’re chasing squirrels or other animals or trying to protect your home from the mailman.
Because of this trait, it’s easy to see why your German Shepherd might be obsessed with your cat.
A fast-moving feline in their territory does not help them keeping their instincts under control.
At the same time, if you’ve adequately trained and socialized your pet during puppyhood, you’ll see that they can go along with cats, kids, and other dogs alike.
Yet, because of the dog’s energy, size, and tendency, they can accidentally hurt or kill small animals.
It’s also essential to keep in mind that the cat’s behavior needs to be conditioned as much as the dog’s.
Cats can be highly territorial and be as fierce as putting up a fight with an animal twice their size.
Because of these characteristics, it’s crucial to supervise the first meetings between the two and continue to keep an eye on them.
It may take months before they can be left alone, but hopefully, they’ll become amicable.
If the conditions are right, your German Shepherd and cat can find a balance and live in harmony.
When this happens, you can leave them alone together.
However, until you can be 100% sure of this, it’s recommended to keep them separate if you’re not home.
How To Facilitate a Successful Friendship
A lot of the relationship between your cat and your dog is decided during the first meeting.
As we’ve seen above, depending on whether one of the two pets is a puppy or an adult, you might need to address this experience differently.
However, preparation is just as necessary.
Here are some essential tips to follow:
- Start with separation. Start by keeping each pet in a different part of the house and away from each other. You’ll need to ensure that this doesn’t feel like a punishment for them, so ensure that they provide enough attention and stimulation.
- Let them meet the other’s scent first. The smell is essential for cats and dogs, and they use it to communicate. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the other through scent by putting a toy or towel used by one of the pets in the other pet’s territory.
- Use positive reinforcement while feeding them on opposite sides of a door. This will allow you to get used to the vicinity and scent of the other.
- Take precautions. During the first face-to-face meeting, your pup should be on a leash and the cat in a crate. This allows them to feel safer.
During the first face-to-face meeting, you should keep your pets at a considerable distance, and over time, you can start bringing them closer to each other.
However, if you notice that one of the two is spitting, hissing, moaning, barking, or bouncing, you should start retreating until they have calmed down.
When working with puppies, they may become excited and start jumping.
This isn’t aggressive but can be taken as such by the cat. If your puppy is a jumper, or you see them starting to jump, you should work on the “sit” command longer and only make introductions when the pup is tired and calm.
During the first physical contacts without leashes or crates, keep in mind the following tips:
- This step takes more time than the others – be patient.
- Ensure the meeting happens in a closed room.
- You might consider separating the cat and dog with a baby gate.
- Ensure your cat’s side has elevated locations where the cat can retreat to and feel safe.
- Ensure that it is your cat that’s going to approach the dog and not vice-versa.
- Please don’t leave them unsupervised.
Signs Your German Shepherd Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Feline Sibling (How To Intervene)
Before a meeting between a German Shepherd and a cat, it’s normal to be worried about the cat’s health.
However, often, the German Shepherd might be in as much distress.
Generally, this distress or fear becomes more visible as a form of aggression.
And, it’s possible to notice nervousness, a change in behavior, and sex drive in your dog.
If you’ve noticed that your dog’s attitude around the house is different or they have changed their feeding and bathroom routine, it’s possible that they’re not adapting well to the new living situation.
You can help this through training and socialization.
Training your dog to be obedient to you can help you put a stop to most dangerous situations.
Training is also a great way to play with and tire your dog out.
When it comes to socialization, you should be seeking out everything from other dogs and people to loud sounds and busy roads.
The idea is to get your dog used to such stimulation so they can remain calm when faced with something new and unexpected.
Signs Your Cat Is Not Adapting Well to Their New Canine Sibling (How To Intervene)
Cats can also be affected by the dog’s presence. During the first meetings, you’ll notice their feelings through signs such as aggressive body posture, hissing, and growling.
However, over time, they might get used to the dog’s presence.
If they don’t fully accept the other household member, it’s possible for them to start feeling stressed and aggressive, which can cause them to respond in three ways: fight, flight, or freeze.
At the same time, your dog’s instincts will be triggered by this reaction, making things worse.
Ideally, you should help your cat relax to improve the situation.
Be sure to give them their space, which is dog-free, and always give them lots of attention.
They shouldn’t feel like they have to hide under the bed or in a closet to be safe.
Unfortunately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” formula on which you can base the decision to adopt a cat and a German Shepherd.
Both animals are known to be highly territorial, and they can display aggressive behavior if they feel threatened.
However, you can bring a stable balance in the household by training and socializing them.
- ASPCA: Aggression in Cats
- AKC: German Shepherd Dog
- The Kennel Club: German Shepherd Dog
- WellBeloved: Strange Bedfellows: How Your Puppy and Kitten Can Live Together in Harmony
- Paws.org: The Fearful Cat
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society