What is Sudden Onset Aggression?
Rage Syndrome is a serious but rare uncharacteristic behavioural problem
that has been reported in several breeds. Rage Syndrome is often incorrectly
diagnosed as it is sometimes confused with other forms of aggression. This
rare but serious condition has been known by a variety of names; Sudden Onset
Aggression is the name that has been adopted as a somewhat more accurate and
less sensationalized description than the term 'Rage Syndrome' that was used
more frequently in the 1980s and 1990s. Sometimes the terms mental lapse aggression
and idiopathic aggression are also used -- the latter simply means
aggression due to an unknown cause or condition. There are several theories
as to what causes SOA (some researchers believe it is caused by a partial
seizure disorder) and it is thought to be an inherited disorder, appearing
much more frequently in some breeds than in others.
Sudden attacks for no apparent reason; the dog will often be sleeping and
then attack without warning. The eyes become dilated and sometimes change
colour during and after an attack, the dog is totally confused when attacking
and will not respond to any attempts to stop it. The attacks are very unpredictable
and the dog will often appear disorientated afterward and unaware of it's
actions, then return to it's normal self shortly after. Victims are usually
members of the family and due to the lack of warning from the dog, suffer
from a flesh wound that will need medical attention.
Many dogs, except for the SOA episodes, are wonderful, even temperamented
animals; some having KC Canine Good Citizen and/or obedience certifications,
others have performed in agility and other competitive events, even acted
as therapy dogs... It is a frustrating and unfortunate situation to have a
dog that, awake, is the perfect dog, but asleep is a ticking time bomb.
Unlike other forms of aggression, SOA cannot be controlled with training or
behavior modification, because the behavior isn't really in the dog's conscious
control to begin with. Sometimes, medication may be used to somewhat
lessen the attacks but there is no cure. Sadly, the situation comes
down to a matter of weighing whether the risk in keeping such an animal is
justifiable -- in many situations it may not be.
This problem has been reported in American Cocker Spaniels, Bernese Mountain
Dogs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Dobermanns, English Bull Terriers, English
Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Pyrenean Mountain
Dogs and St. Bernards. Again, the number of affected animals is very small.
There are many theories on what Rage Syndrome is & what it is caused
by. These theories are:
1. A form of epilepsy,
2. A canine form of schizophrenia;
3. Low serotonin levels in the brain and thyroid dysfunction.
4. Some also believe that Rage Syndrome is simply an extreme
form of dominance-related aggression & is not a separate condition.
5. A Heritable Condition
Although there have been no large studies undertaken to prove this theory,
it is certainly possible and some leading geneticists and behaviourists believe
that there is a genetic component to this problem.
Each case requires individual attention and what is prescribed for one dog
may not work for another. Some treatments that have been recommended and tried
are: change of diet, the use of d-amphetamine, vitamin B12 therapy, Oculucidon,
neutering and progestagen therapy, anticonvulsants and behaviour modification
techniques aimed at changing the dominance status of owners.
If you suspect you have a dog with SOA, please seek help from a veterinary
behaviorist! This problem should not be 'self-diagnosed,' only a professional
will be able to determine for sure if the dog has SOA, if the aggression is
due to some other medical cause, or if this is another behavioral issue entirely.
This is (thankfully) a rare condition, and the majority of suspected cases
turn out to be due to some other 'normal' canine behavior, such as territorial
aggression, dominance, or resource guarding. A behaviorist will be able to
address those types of issues as well as help determine the best course of
action if by chance a dog does turn out to have Sudden Onset Aggression.
The above information is simply informational. It's intent is not
to replace the advice of a veterinarian nor to assist you in making a diagnosis
of your pet. Please consult with your own veterinarian for confirmation of
any diagnosis. Your pets life may depend on it.