Even though they weren’t bred to hunt, German Shepherds, particularly those that haven’t been trained and socialized, generally succumb to predatory instincts that lead them to chase down, corner, and kill rats.
This behavior unfortunately, puts them at risk for a number of diseases that rats carry. Some of which are fatal and even transmissible to humans.
In this article, we’ll discuss why German Shepherds kill rats, the possible consequences of the behavior, and what you can do about it.
Why Do German Shepherds Kill Rats?
German Shepherds were bred to protect not kill. But they still have predatory instincts that lead them to chase down and kill small animals like rats. After all, herding is simply modified predatory behavior.
Through selective breeding, breeders were able to minimize the German Shepherd’s natural inclination to treat sheep, cattle, and other animals as prey while maintaining their hunting skills. The keyword there is minimize, it doesn’t say remove.
It’s also completely possible for a German Shepherd to kill a rat out of aggression. German Shepherds are highly protective and territorial dogs, and a rat that casually walks into a German Shepherd’s territory may be seen as a threat that needs to be subdued.
Finally, it could also be just because a German Shepherd’s bored and looking for ways to entertain itself. It’s possible for a GSD to chase a rat for play but end up killing it due to being too big and powerful.
No matter the motive though, you have to be cautious as rats may transmit a number of diseases to your German Shepherd.
Should You Be Worried If Your German Shepherd Kills A Rat?
Yes, you should. Again, rats may transmit a number of diseases. Some of which may lead to death, and even get passed onto you.
These diseases are as follows:
Leptospirosis is a deadly and easily transmittable disease caused by a type of bacteria called Leptospira. It causes damage to a dog’s liver and kidneys and can eventually cripple or kill when left unchecked. It’s also one of the most common diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
Symptoms include the following:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Loss of appetite
Note however, that this disease develops quickly and that mild infections may show no symptoms and go undetected.
Treatment for this disease includes antibiotic treatment and IV fluid treatment for German Shepherds that sustained damage to their liver or kidneys. However, while these treatments generally get the job done, severely infected dogs may have irreversible organ damage that causes rapid deterioration or death.
Salmonellosis is a disease found in dogs caused by the Salmonella bacterium. It’s another fatal disease that may also get transmitted to humans.
Symptoms of salmonellosis include the following:
- Weight Loss
- Loss of blood
Treatment for his disease includes rehydration and in severe cases, blood transfusions.
Tularemia, otherwise known as rabbit fever, is a disease caused by the Francisella tularensis bacterium. It is commonly transmitted to dogs if they kill or eat infected rabbits or rodents like rats. It is yet again, a disease transmissible to humans.
Fortunately, dogs are generally less susceptible to disease and fight the infection while only suffering mild symptoms. However, it may develop into a serious condition for young or immune system compromised dogs.
Symptoms of severe tularemia are as follows:
- White patches on the tongue
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Throat infection
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Organ failure
Treatment for disease involves antibiotics to fight off the bacteria.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii or T. gondii. It typically doesn’t fully mature in adult German Shepherds but may cause a generalized infection in puppies or ones with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of infection are as follows:
Treatment for this disease is usually not necessary for healthy dogs, but if needed it may include fluid therapy for dehydration, anticonvulsive medication for seizures, and antibiotics to control the infection.
Bubonic plague is a disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium. It’s a disease that’s usually transmitted when a rodent bites or is bitten by a dog. Affected dogs may experience fever, inflammation, and pain due to swollen lymph nodes. It can be fatal if left untreated.
Fortunately, this is quite a rare disease in dogs since they tend to have higher resistance to the bacteria. However, the disease is transmissible to humans, and so extra care should be provided to the affected dog.
Treatment for this disease includes antibiotic medication, fluid therapy, and flea treatment.
What To Do If Your German Shepherd Kills A Rat?
The most important thing to do when your German Shepherd kills a rat is to find out if it has contracted any disease. This goes the same for both vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs (although you can rest easy with the former, it never hurts to be sure.)
So consult with a veterinarian immediately to rule out any problems and for early treatment if needed.
How To Stop Your German Shepherd From Killing Rats
To stop ratting behavior you need to train your German Shepherd to ignore and stop chasing small animals. The focus, leave it, and recall commands are essential for this so you’d need to teach those to your dog.
The key here is to try and divert your German Shepherd’s attention away from rats and towards you instead, and when it responds, you have to reinforce the behavior by providing a reward. Over time and consistent effort, your dog will learn to ignore rats and other small animals and keep its focus on you instead.
Keep in mind though, that it can be quite difficult to control your German Shepherd’s prey drive. So you’d need to be extremely patient and consistent for the training to work.
You also have to keep your cool even if your German Shepherd fails over and over as scolding or punishment may just confuse your dog futher and possibly even cause the development of other behavioral problems.
Can German Shepherds Live With Pet Rats?
While difficult, it is most definitely possible. It will take training and a very long introduction process for it to work, and even then they may still end up hating each other.
Buf if you want to try, here’s how to do introduce your German Shepherd and your pet rat to each other:
- Make sure your pet rat is comfortable with being handled. Before everything else, you must make sure that your pet rat can remain calm when introduced to what they may consider a scary and threatening dog.
- Scent swapping. After that you can then slowly introduce them to each other by scent-swapping. To do this, allow your German Shepherd and your rat to smell each other without contact by using towels, or letting them smell each other through a door. If they’re able to remain calm, proceed to the next step.
- Face-to-face-interaction. This is where it can get scary, so you have to ensure the safety of both parties. So keep your rat in its cage and your German Shepherd on a leash, then slowly let them get close and smell each other. If either of them starts getting aggressive or nervous, calmly pull your German Shepherd back, take a break, and repeat the process until they both remain calm in each other’s presence.
- Off-cage interaction. If they consistently remain calm during their face-to-face interactions, you can proceed to removing your rat out of its cage to see how your German Shepherd reacts. Just be sure to keep your dog on a leash and if possible have someone hold your rat to prevent it from getting loose and running away as that may trigger your dog’s prey drive. Again, if either show signs of aggression or distress, calmly separate them and take a break before repeating the process.
Again, even if you repeat this process over and over, there’s a chance that your German Shepherd and pet rat won’t get along. That’s just the reality of it, and something you have to deal with.
To recap, German Shepherds do kill rats. And because of that they open themselves up to contracting a number of life threatening diseases.
So as an owner, if you know that you live in a place where your rats aren’t a rarity, be sure to keep up with your dog’s vaccinations and consult with a vet immediately should it happen to kill one.
As for pet rats, keep in mind that there’s a high chance that they won’t get along well with your German Shepherd, so always exercise safety when having them in the same room. Never let them interact with each other unsupervised.