Does your dog have ‘rage syndrome’?

(Credit: Getty Images)

Dog aggression can be unsettling, stressful, and even dangerous, not only for the dog but also for other pets, family members, and strangers.

Because some forms of aggression are rare and unexpected, such as rage syndrome, Lori Teller, a clinical professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, provides guidance on how owners can recognize and respond to the varying signs of aggression:

What is rage syndrome?

Rage syndrome, a serious and complex condition that causes dogs to become aggressive without any apparent trigger, can be challenging to diagnose and treat effectively.

“Dogs with rage syndrome have episodes of extreme aggression toward a person or other animals that occur seemingly out-of-the-blue and without provocation, yet they otherwise appear friendly and happy,” Teller says.

The exact cause of rage syndrome remains unclear, though Teller points out that there can be genetic and neurological factors involved. Nevertheless, owners should remain vigilant for varying signs of the disorder.

“No identifiable trigger leading up to the attack is one clear sign of rage syndrome,” Teller says. “Additional signs include confusion or seeming dazedness during or immediately after an episode, glazed eyes, dramatic escalation of aggression without any warning, and unpredictability of episodes.”

Other forms of dog aggression

On the other hand, it’s important not to confuse conflict- or fear-based aggression with rage syndrome. Aggressions stemming from conflict or fear are more common than rage syndrome because they are natural responses to perceived threats or conflicts in the environment.

“There is usually an identifiable trigger for other forms of aggression, unlike with rage syndrome, but some owners have a hard time reading a dog’s body language or recognizing the trigger, making it challenging at first to determine what type of aggression a dog may have,” Teller explains.

“With fear-based or conflict aggression, a dog will often exhibit warning signs before attacking, such as a hunched body posture, lip-licking, trembling, baring teeth, growling, or snapping.”

Aggression of this type is often defensive in nature, yet Teller says dogs also exhibit predatory behaviors that, while appearing aggressive, are actually offensive in nature and are driven by a dog’s natural instincts to pursue prey.

How should owners respond?

When a dog is in the midst of an aggressive episode, owners should avoid intervening physically, as this could lead to injuries. Once the dog has calmed down, owners should take them to their veterinarian for a thorough examination.

“The veterinarian will obtain a complete behavioral history and probably perform some diagnostic tests to rule out a medical problem that has led to the aggressive behaviors,” Teller explains. “An example of a medical problem that may trigger an aggressive response is when someone touches a painful area, such as with osteoarthritis or an ear infection.”

Teller also notes that rage syndrome can be caused by seizure-like activity in the brain, so veterinarians may recommend an electroencephalogram, a test that measures electrical activity in the brain, or an advanced imaging modality such as an MRI or CT scan, which takes detailed images of the brain to identify any abnormalities in its structure.

Managing aggression in dogs, however, will require a comprehensive approach that addresses both the underlying causes and immediate behavioral issues.

“Depending on the underlying cause of aggression, the dog may be put on an anxiolytic medication to relieve anxiety, an anticonvulsant to control the risk of seizures, or a combination of medications,” Teller says. “A behavioral modification plan will also be instituted, and in some cases, a referral may be made to a veterinary behaviorist.”

By understanding the differences between forms of aggression and seeking professional help when needed, owners can provide the necessary care and support for their dogs.

The impact of aggression on a dog’s life can be minimized as a result, leading to a safer and happier environment for both the dog and its owners.

Source: Texas A&M University