Dog with prey instinct – killed cat

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra,

I have a very serious question. I have an 8-month-old GSD puppy from working lines. Even as a 2-month-puppy he always took an interest in my cats.At first he would try to lick them and sniff, much to their dismay, they did NOT like him within 5 feet of them. One particular cat is very small and we recently had snow over Easter. in Texas… and she was very fluffy just like her sister, I thought nothing of her being pregnant, she had one kitten about 2 weeks after Easter and we saw that she dropped her “fluffiness” in 1day. We noticed her swollen teats and knew she had a kitten.Over the weekend my very beloved puppy went on a romp around the property (we have a few acres) and while inside to get his training collar I looked out the window and saw him with something gray in his mouth just kind of loose, he was also nudging it and just kid of looking at it and licking it. So I thought it was a piece of the gardening soil bags that he had gotten a hold of out in the yard. I didn’t have my contacts on so I thought I better hurry up and get my contacts in to go train with him. I put my contacts in and looked outside before I walked out and noticed that gray thing was white underneath. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but it was a kitten about a month old and I rushed off the porch to find it on its back, dead but it wasn’t bleeding, just wet with slobber and its eye was half open. I was so upset, I didn’t punish him because I didn’t catch him in the act I just told him to go to his pen. He hadn’t made any punctures and I’m kind of figuring that he just suffocated it or maybe held it too hard in his mouth. I’ve heard stories of lionesses taking a gazelle baby and not knowing whether to kill it or care for it, as if it were confused. This can’t possibly be the case, Can it? I’m educated in how to raise puppies, dogs, how to train them and help them with some behaviors but I’ve yet to hear of something like this.I’m not sure what to think and I’m confused, could you possibly give me advice as to why he did this or what I did wrong? I believe his prey drive has increased a bit. If you knew him you wouldn’t believe he did this, He is a very good puppy and knows he cant chew on people’s things, he loves children and absolutely loves my cousin (6yrs), he chases him around and sometimes he gets this look on his face like he will do harm, but he never does.He’s so intelligent that he kind of wows as well as freaks me out, I have full confidence in him, I honestly WOULD leave him in a room with a baby (don’t worry I haven’t), on a trip to the park with a 9 month baby cousin he wouldn’t let passerbyers come close to her, he lunged at the photographer there with us to take pictures of us when she got too close to me. I feel that I should begin training him to do a sport. But I’m not sure if this would ruin or help him. You might know that in order for dogs to do certain sports they have to have the right ‘nerves’, able to be trained to tell bad from good signs.Please Help!

London M.


Hi – thanks for your email. I’m sorry to hear about this. It is obvious by your email that you are very distressed over the situation.

From what I understood from your email, your German Shepherd is 9-month-old and a very good dog. He does show strong protective behavior toward you and shows a prey instinct – at least he did once toward a cat.

I’m not sure how he killed the cat but it is not uncommon for a dog to “shake” a cat creating enough trauma to kill it or crushing injuries. Both of these may not show “blood” or punctures.

All dogs have some level of prey drive. For some dogs, it is very strong. Predation was a natural survival related behavior that is instinctual to many dogs. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a well known behaviorist from Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine, has an article about this on our site.

There is no good treatment for predatory aggression. When you have time, read this article – I think it might be helpful.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra