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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."

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

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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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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1 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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Ziggy

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Bull Terrier

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2 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

Our 2 years old bull terrier has been attacking our feet, chairs, doors and other random objects, without any triggers. He will suddenly go and attack our feet or objects near him. We could be cuddling him or he could be sleeping, or just standing and he wakes up in a frenzy, no command works, no stimuli works, not even food as a distraction. Seems that he is not there, that the dog that we own disappears for a couple of minutes. We love him and it's hard and heartbreaking that any of the symptoms above described match in some point with what we are experiencing for the last 6 months especially. We are looking for some options other than to put him to sleep, but it seems to be the common solution every time when we are doing research. As time goes on, these attacks are becoming worse. In the beginning it was barking and snarling. Lately he has come at us and even attempted to bite us. 99 % of the time he is the quirky, loving and loyal bully that we own, but it is the other 1% that is the issue. These attacks are untriggered and there is no way of knowing that it is about to happen only that vague look he gets just before. Afterwards he is tired and sad, often wanting to be alone or go to sleep for some time and then he is himself again.

Sept. 15, 2018

Ziggy's Owner

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Frankie

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Cocker Spaniel

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8 Years

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Critical severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Sudden Unexpected Aggression
Often At Night
Glazed Eyes
Depression After Episode

I want to share my experience of my beloved Frankie who was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was around 2 years old but I strongly believe this is related to rage syndrome. He was the most loving dog and best friend you could ever wish for. But we had to make the unbareable decision to put him to sleep yesterday because these episodes were getting worse and worse and we could see how depressed and confused he was after them. A lot of people believe their dog has rage syndrome but most of the time it turns out to be a behavioural problem. Our Frankie was the perfect dog, so well behaved and loving. After the first couple of episodes he was put an anti epileptic drugs and the dosage was increased and increased after each episode. They did seem to help at first and make these episodes less frequent but still they became more and more aggressive. It broke our hearts when the last episode made it clear we had no other choice. Afterwards, he was seriously depressed and it was like he wasn’t there, you could see in his eyes and he had other health problems that meant he was in pain a lot of the time. This last event was traumatic for us all, my dad lost half of his finger due to the aggression and we knew that no one could be at risk from this again, it wouldn’t be fair to anyone or Frankie. This last event did something to Frankie, I don’t know whether the seizures could cause scarring on his brain, I feel like they do some permanent damage and each time we lose another part of him. We all miss him painfully and feel the guilt of making this decision whether it was right or wrong and it has always been difficult never having the actually diagnose of rage syndrome but I cannot think of anything else it could have been. So I do understand anyone’s pain who is experiencing this and taking the necessary steps and visiting a vet to rule this out is important as there are many other explanations as to what someone’s dog may have. Rage syndrome is rare and I feel unlucky that our Frankie most likely suffered with it and that is very hard to except but I know we gave him the most amazing life in his 8 years and we took any suffering and pain away from him.

Sept. 7, 2018

Frankie's Owner

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Zeke

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Doberman Pinscher

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16 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eyes Go Blank, Becomes Agressive

I believe my 16 month old male Doberman Pinscher may have rage syndrome. The most recent one was yesterday. I was sitting on the couch and he came over and got on my lap and fell asleep. I was gently petting him and at one point he rolled over and stared at me as if he didn't know who I was. I knew what was coming because I've seen him do this before. He went into attack mode and grabbed my hand but never bit down, although he has in the past. I loudly and sternly said Nay and he immediately stopped and became this loving dog, like what's wrong. The first time he did this was at around 7 months. It doesn't happen everyday or even every week, but they are scary. He's gone to a board and train and I've taken him to classes specializing in dogs who have fear aggression, which I know he has, but it's the out of the blue attacks that frighten and worry me.

Aug. 23, 2018

Zeke's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

If Zeke is continuing to have this behavior, he may need to be working with a trainer directly on an ongoing basis. If he has actual rage syndrome, there may be nothing that can be done for him, but that is actually an uncommon condition, and there may be a trigger that can be worked with. If you don't know a trainer that you can work with, your veterinarian can recommend one for you.

Aug. 23, 2018

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monty

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Cocker Spaniel

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28 Months

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Serious severity

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2 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

have a 28 month tri coloured cocker spaniel. He has show aggressive behaviour to things he finds wont give them up. Been to lots of training classes. However in the last 2 months he is having aggressive attacks over something he thinks he has found. Digging and scratching even concrete , grows full attack mode cannot get near him will not listen almost a frenzie. then it wears out and he is himself. Comes in normally , panting drinks water lies down. These sessions are unpredictable and as we have young grandchildren very concerned as they are getting more frequent.

Aug. 15, 2018

monty's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I would be concerned about that behavior as well. You may need to actually hire a trainer to come in and work with him, vs classes. A trainer will be able to assess his behavior and advise you on any possible options for Monty. If you do not know a trainer, your veterinarian will be able to recommend one, you just want to make sure that the trainer uses positive techniques.

Aug. 15, 2018

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Toby

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King Charles Spaniel

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6 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Biting, Lunging, Confusion

So we had this spaniel since November 17th. And overtime, he gets more aggressive. Here are the main causes: holding him for too long and picking up toys. It might be understandable that he is just protective. But he does it with no warning. One second we could be playing tug-of-war with the blanket, then the next second, he lunges and bites. He bites so hard that it draws blood and bruises. It is very inconsistent when he does this. Some days he is the sweetest thing, but he bites some days. After the incident, he acts like nothing ever happened or is confused. Let me know in the comments if this sounds like cocker rage. This could very well not be it. Like I said, he is just a puppy. Only 6 months old.

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Bear

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English bull terrier

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1 Year

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Sudden Unprovoked Aggression

We have a 1 year old, male bull-terrier. Most of the time he is the most loving, playful dog ever. He first attacked our 10 year old female shitzu when he was 6 months old. We de-sexed him, and had one on one training, as well as further obedience training. We tried to reduce any possible triggers, eventually just keeping the dogs separated at home, with interaction when going for walks, the beach etc. He was clearly very dominant, and possessive about his house. He gets walked twice a day, has been muzzle trained, mat trained, crate trained. He responds well to commands, and we had to work very hard to make sure that he knows his place in the pecking order, not being on the couch, not sitting with him on the floor, not sleeping on the bed. He has these episodes where it is like he has a complete brain snap. For no reason we can identify, and completely unprovoked, he has attempted to attack my adult daughter, who lives with us, and he has known his whole life. He goes really quiet, his body goes still, and it is like you can feel this change, and he looks at her really strangely, like he has never seen her before, and then he growls this deep guttural growl and just goes for her. The last episode I managed to grab him by his collar, resulting in him biting me on the arm. She had to jump on the kitchen bench. He does not respond when you talk to him at the time, and when he is put outside, he seems depressed, and it takes him a long time to go back to his usual self. Another time my husband (whom he adores) was sitting on the couch, my husband called me and asked me to come and stand between him to distract the dog as Bear was looking at him strangely, really intently, and he again went very very quiet. He should never be woken when asleep, because when accidentally woken, he wakes up aggressive, lashing out. We absolutely adore him, but we have made the painful decision to have him put down, because we can't identify a trigger that we can further work on. I am not afraid of dogs, but when you have a 26kg, pure muscle dog, launch at you, it is very scary, and I am afraid that he might badly hurt someone. We feel like we have failed him.

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Sassafras

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English Springer Spaniel

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Uncharacteristic Sudden Aggression

I have a five year old English Springer Spaniel. She is the sweetest dog you can meet, kisses us every morning, and lays and watches tv with us, up to this point is never aggressive toward us or mean. When she was first a puppy, we noticed she would go into this weird spells, where she would just get all crazy and snarl and growl at us and even tore up a bed sheet aggressively. Now that she is older, she does not do that with us at all, but when we take her out around other dogs sometimes, not all times she gets very aggressive and even though her tail is wagging, she lunges at other dogs. Now sometimes she is lunging at children as well. It is hard to tell when this will happen. Sometimes we take her out, even in stores, she is fine, lets people pet her, although we warn them, they don't get how such a sweet dog could turn. Other times, she is barking, growling and lunging at every one we meet. We can not seem to figure out a trigger. I am wondering if she gets that way when she gets tired, because it has happened after a walk, or staying too long at events. We had her at a ball park event for dogs, and at first was fine but then tried to attach a pit bull that muzzled and chained and for no reason, the dog looked at her like she was crazy. Still when she gets home, no aggression towards us, no food aggression, etc. It seems to be when she feels cornered or something. It is happening when she is leashed more but has happened if someone comes to the door but again not all the time. It is similar to he puppy issue, but she seems to love us so she does not do this to us. I am at such a loss, we cannot seem to predict when it will happen. I do know she sometimes will feed off energy of some people, but even that is not all the time. I am not only worried she will attack someone but I am also worried some dog is not going to take it lying down and she will be killed. It boggles my mind, how such a sweet, kissy, lovey dog can turn out of no where on other people and dogs and yet, sometimes not even react. She even wags her tail after growling at a dog and acts like she has no clue what just happened. She wants friends so badly, but it just seems impossible. We had to resort to letting her facetime with her cousin dog, so she can have a friend. Is this Springer Rage? Does it always have to be aggression toward everyone, because with us she is fine, it is very rare but when it happens, it comes out of the blue.

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Winston

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English Cocker Spaniel

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8 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Rage
Rage Syndrome

Hi, I have a 7.5 month of English Golden Show Cocker Spaniel. Our Winston is a lovely dog, however from about 9 weeks old he started attacking us, growling, snapping, biting. We just put it down to “puppy biting” and tried yelping, telling him to “leave it”, using time out method, telling him no, turning our backs.. everything. Now the attacks are so severe our only option is to leave the room until he stops and calms down. He does the same to my parents who keep telling me there is something wrong with my dog, which there is. We told the vet and had him castrated, which has made no difference. He attacks strangers that come up to him. Our latest problem is in the space of 2 days he has aggressively tried to go for 2 children and a woman who just walked by him in the street. He was on the lead so didn’t manage to get them but a very scary experience for both them and me, we have now had to muzzle him. The only way I can describe his attacks are like he is being possessed, his eyes glaze over and the noises he makes are horrendous and very aggressive. I have read a lot about rage syndrome and it’s very scary, but his symptoms are very much like Winston’s. It has been going on for 5 months now and even with us trying everything the attacks are just uncontrollable. I do not want to have him euthanised and I am looking for other options?

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Winston

dog-breed-icon

English Cocker Spaniel

dog-age-icon

7 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Anger
Unprovoked
Rage
Rage Syndrome

Hi, I have a 7.5 month of English Golden Show Cocker Spaniel. Our Winston is a lovely dog, however from about 9 weeks old he started attacking us, growling, snapping, biting. We just put it down to “puppy biting” and tried yelping, telling him to “leave it”, using time out method, telling him no, turning our backs.. everything. Now the attacks are so severe our only option is to leave the room until he stops and calms down. He does the same to my parents who keep telling me there is something wrong with my dog, which there is. We told the vet and had him castrated, which has made no difference. He attacks strangers that come up to him. Our latest problem is in the space of 2 days he has aggressively tried to go for 2 children and a woman who just walked by him in the street. He was on the lead so didn’t manage to get them but a very scary experience for both them and me, we have now had to muzzle him. The only way I can describe his attacks are like he is being possessed, his eyes glaze over and the noises he makes are horrendous and very aggressive. I have read a lot about rage syndrome and it’s very scary, but his symptoms are very much like Winston’s. It has been going on for 5 months now and even with us trying everything the attacks are just uncontrollable. I do not want to have him euthanised and I am looking for other options?

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