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What is Rage Syndrome?

While many believe that rage syndrome is an extreme and rare form of dominance aggression, there are speculations that it may be a symptom of seizure-related aggression. Partial complex seizures result from abnormal electrical activity in the temporal lobe of the brain, an area which oversees memory, sensation, and emotions. Seizures in this area can affect behavior, specifically defensive and predatory responses, causing aggressive and threatening behavior.

Rage syndrome refers to a condition of uncontrollable aggression in dogs. While aggression can usually be attributed to a specific reason, such as protecting a territory, or from fear or anxiety, the classification of idiopathic aggression, or rage syndrome, is given when there seems to be no reason for the aggressive behavior or attack. It is seen most frequently in English Springer Spaniels, which has given the condition the additional name of “Springer Rage."

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Symptoms of Rage Syndrome in Dogs

Symptoms of rage syndrome can include many of the signs of regular aggressive behavior that are triggered by normal aggressive tendencies. These can include behavior meant to protect and defend, but rage syndrome differs in that there are no discernable triggers to an episode of aggression. Often, episodes that can last minutes to hours are seemingly out of the blue, and can be focused on any person or thing in the dog’s vicinity. The periods of aggression can be prolonged, and there is usually an accompanying behavioral change before or after, such as a slump of depression. Signs your dog may have rage syndrome include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Depression
  • Violent and uncontrolled aggression
  • Lunging toward targets
  • Growling
  • Snarling
  • Barking
  • Biting and snapping
  • Baring teeth
  • Curling lips
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Causes of Rage Syndrome in Dogs

While the cause of rage syndrome has not as yet been fully defined, there are some ideas why it may occur.

  • Genetic disposition to aggression
  • Extreme dominance aggression
  • Partial complex seizures, causing symptoms of aggression and behavioral changes

Seizures can occur due to varying factors, including:

  • Genetic disposition
  • Trauma 
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke 

Rage syndrome can occur in any dog, but there are breeds that seem more prone to the condition. These breeds include:

  • English Springer Spaniels
  • Cocker Spaniels 
  • Bull Terriers 
  • Retriever breeds
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Diagnosis of Rage Syndrome in Dogs

Rage syndrome can often be a difficult diagnosis. In many cases, a diagnosis of rage syndrome is later disputed and reclassified. Monitoring and reporting your dog’s behavior before, during, and after aggressive episodes can help to discern rage syndrome from the many other forms of aggression that a dog can display. Any triggers or stimuli that precede an aggressive event can help to determine what kind of aggression your dog is displaying. Rage syndrome is diagnosed when there are no discernable triggers or reasons for the aggression, and there are perhaps periods of depression or behavioral changes that occur before or after the episodes. 

To ensure there is not a medical reason for the behavior, your vet will perform a physical or neurological exam and may order blood tests, a urinalysis, or imaging techniques to look for any abnormalities, such as organ dysfunction or tumors. Abnormal EEG results can help to confirm a diagnosis of rage syndrome.

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Treatment of Rage Syndrome in Dogs

Treatments for rage syndrome cannot cure the condition, but only serve to manage it, and owners should be aware that aggressive episodes can still occur. Every member of the family needs to understand the condition, and learn to recognize any behavioral changes that may signal an aggressive event is about to occur. You may need to change how you handle your dog in these circumstances. 

The episodes characteristic of rage syndrome can usually be stopped with anticonvulsant medication, such as phenobarbital. While some dogs only need a single dose, other may need lifelong treatment with periodic blood testing to monitor the results, as well as any side effects. Constant monitoring of your dog’s behavior will also be needed. If your dog has been diagnosed with discernable seizures, your vet will instruct you on appropriate behavior in the case of an epileptic seizure to ensure the safety of both you and your dog. In some cases when the aggression cannot be managed, euthanasia may be considered.

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Recovery of Rage Syndrome in Dogs

To help manage the symptoms involved with rage syndrome, you may have to administer medication to your dog and take him in for periodic testing. The way you handle your dog may need to be tailored to his needs. Your dog may need lifelong treatments and monitoring to ensure the safety of everyone in the household. Recovery is fair, as some dogs can experience improvement with treatments, while others may still retain their aggressive behaviors.

Rage syndrome can be a frustrating condition, and owners may not have the patience to undergo the constant threat of unmitigated attack by affected dogs. As there may be a genetic component to this condition, it is recommended that affected dogs are not bred.

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Rage Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Ask a Vet

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English Springer Spaniel

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Attack

My dog has been attacking without any reason some family members. His attacks has been increasing the level of damage. We are confuse and not clears about if the euthanasia is the best way to keep safe the family and avoid the pet stigma and fair of the family.

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. If this is happening suddenly, there may be a medical problem or pain that is causing this. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 21, 2020

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Fiona

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Chihuahua

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9 Months

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Fair severity

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10 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

I have 8 chi’s. Fiona is the youngest. She growls and snaps in her sleep. She lunges and tries to fight with every dog in the house. Even when everyone is in a restful state. She absolutely HATES to be looked at. Given she is only 3 pounds, when she acts this way I separate her from the pack until she settles down. Episodes only last seconds to sometimes under 5 minutes. Once the episode has passed she is affectionate, loving and playful again. I must admit, the first time seeing this was scary for me and the other dogs. Totally unprovoked. Is there an alternative to medicating her?

Sept. 23, 2018

Fiona's Owner

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