We’ve all heard of “road rage,” but some dog owners may not be familiar with rage syndrome in dogs. Canine rage syndrome is characterized by an acute or a sudden aggressive behavior that comes out of nowhere, and then minutes later, the dog’s behavior will return to normal.
In most cases, the dog will not seem to remember or realize that he has acted aggressively and will wag his tail and be affectionate after the episode. Although this condition is very rare in dogs, there are certain signs and symptoms that owners should be aware of, as well as possible causes, and treatments.
What Is Rage Syndrome In Dogs?
Rage syndrome in dogs is referred to as “idiopathic aggression” in veterinary medicine, and the term idiopathic means “unknown.” The reason that veterinarians refer to this syndrome as “idiopathic” is because both researchers and animal behaviorists have not been able to come up with a cause, or a reason for this behavior. While other types of aggression in dogs can be treated through counter-conditioning (changing the dog’s emotional response) and desensitization, these techniques often are ineffective in dealing with idiopathic aggression.
What Are The Symptoms Of Rage Syndrome In Dogs?
One thing to note is that rage syndrome behavior in dogs will come out of nowhere, and minutes later the dog will be calm and act normally as if nothing happened. Rage syndrome happens most often in dogs 1-3 years old, and some owners have reported that their dogs will act confused, or have a “possessed” or glazed look in their eyes right before an outburst. Some owners wonder if dogs can get possessed, but there is no conclusive evidence for this.
Symptoms of rage syndrome in dogs include the following (a dog may show only one, or a few of these signs):
- No recognizable trigger or stimulus
- Crazy rages, and explosive aggression
- Behavioral changes
- Sudden change in the dog’s behavior
- Curled lips
- Showing teeth
- Biting and snapping
Are Certain Breeds Predisposed To Rage Syndrome?
Veterinarians and behaviorists have noted that certain breeds seem to be more prone to rage syndrome, suggesting a possible genetic cause. However, this does not mean that these breeds are dangerous, or that other breeds are exempt.
These breeds include:
- Springer Spaniels
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Cocker Spaniels
- Lhasa Apsos
- St. Bernards
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
What Can I Do If My Dog Has Rage Syndrome?
If your dog has exhibited some of the symptoms listed above, and there seems to be no apparent reason for the outbursts, it’s important to keep yourself and your family safe. You also can document your dog’s episodes, so that you can describe all the details to your veterinarian or behaviorist. Some owners even take videos. If your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with rage syndrome, work with a veterinary behaviorist or a qualified dog behavior consultant.
What Causes Rage Syndrome In Dogs?
Unfortunately, researchers have tried for years to find the cause for rage syndrome, and even though certain breeds are predisposed to this condition, a clear source has yet to be discovered. However, some researchers suggest that there may be more than one reason for this behavior.
Some of these are listed below:
- Some dogs may foam at the mouth and have small muscle tremors just before an episode, and this could indicate some sort of seizure or neurological event.
- One study showed that dogs with rage syndrome have abnormal electroencephalogram (a record of brain activity) readings, but other researchers have been unsuccessful in reproducing these results.
- Another study showed that dogs with idiopathic aggression had lower serotonin (the hormone that stabilizes mood, and feelings of well-being) blood levels than other dogs.
- Most dogs with idiopathic rage syndrome range in age from 1-3 years, the age where dogs are establishing their status in the pack.
- Possible damage to areas of the brain that trigger aggressive behavior.
- Low thyroid levels have also been tied to aggressive behavior in dogs.
The difficult part of this puzzle is that researchers just don’t know what really causes rage syndrome in dogs. Several conditions may contribute to idiopathic aggression, but future research is needed in this area.
How Is Rage Syndrome Treated?
Treating a condition or a disease is based on a diagnosis and a cause, however, without knowing the cause of rage syndrome in dogs, treatment can be very difficult. One reason is that the episodes are unpredictable and explosive, and can put family members and other pets in danger. The good news is that in some dogs with idiopathic aggression, they may be successfully treated with medications. However, the prognosis for rage syndrome is poor, and some dogs with idiopathic aggression may need to be humanely euthanized for the health and safety of family members.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Rage Syndrome?
Although dogs with rage syndrome will explode with no known cause or stimuli, it’s important to remember that this condition is very rare in dogs. If your dog acts aggressively, it does not necessarily mean that your dog has idiopathic aggression. If you are concerned, consult your veterinarian or a certified trainer or behaviorist. These professionals can give you a thorough analysis of your dog’s behavior and can help you find solutions in managing aggressive habits.
If your veterinarian or a behaviorist thinks that your dog may suffer from idiopathic aggression, then making an appointment with a certified veterinary behaviorist is the next step. Medications and drug therapy can work with some dogs in curbing aggressive behaviors. It is also important to note that physical punishment should never be used to suppress aggressive behavior as it will exacerbate the behavior and strain relations between you and your dog.
Rage syndrome in dogs has long had researchers and veterinarians scratching their heads to find a cause. We do know that aggressive dogs may behave the way they do as a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, and perhaps future research can develop therapies that can be used to help rebalance those chemicals.