Sick dog

Can you dog blame dog aggression on poor health?

Sudden aggression in dogs may be caused by medication issues.  However, dog’s who may be aggressive for a numbers of other reasons may also have medical problems and this can cause the aggression to be more intense, and more impulsive.  Up to 50% of the behavior cases seen by University of Pennsylvania have additional medical complications. But while it is difficult to determine whether a medical condition is solely responsible for your dog’s aggression, it is common for sick dogs and dogs in pain to behave differently than they normally would when they are feeling well.

Dog aggression could result from an illness, injury or chronic pain, such as underlying medical problems such as painful muscles, joints, and teeth, an uncomfortable gastrointestinal system or neurological problems.  For example, hip dysplasia which is very common in dogs will either make aggression worse, or cause it to occur in dogs that have had no previous history of being aggressive.

Aggression can be toward nearest human or animal.  When dogs are aggressive because of pain, they often will show aggression in situations that people used to call “dominance” such as when people are attempting to do something that dog doesn’t want, such as being forced to move when resting, having their food removed, or trying to control them in other ways.  The challenge is that dogs in pain tend to be more reative, meaning that they may not give any warning signs that they are going to behave aggressively.

Regardless of medical issues, you will need to address the learning component in aggression

Unfortunately, even when there is a medical component to aggression in dogs, there is almost always a learning component, too.  Even if the aggression is caused by pain or illness, your dog will have been fearful or anxious at the time and will have learned from that experience that there is something to worry about.  Keep in mind that if aggression has occurred, the dog is not feeling pretty bad on an emotional level.  Afterwards, it is a little like being nervous in a car even when you are safe after having been in a car accident.  Those fear and anxiety responses have been formed, and your dog will need to re-learn that certain situations are okay again.

It also means that even when your dog has recovered, or has his pain and discomfort managed, there will be residual effects left over as a result of aggression having happened, and the aggression problem left untreated may resurface again.

Luckily it is possible for you to treat aggression.  Our e-book on treating dog aggression outlines a number of different strategies that can help, from different ways to prevent the aggression from even occurring to directly targeting his anxieties and fears and helping him or her to feel differently about the situation.

Given that most dogs will experience some illness and pain as they age, it is a very good idea to start working with your dog to help him or her cope better.  The best thing about it is it helps you to enjoy your dog your dog again.

Ruling out medical causes of dog aggression

It is advisable that at the onset of any sign of aggression, all possible medical causes are ruled out. The best professional to consult for this is a veterinary behaviorist in serious cases. Your vet can do this on your behalf.

If an injury, disease, genetic or congenital defect is deemed the cause of the dog’s mood swings or aggression, then training will be less effective until the problem has been resolved or controlled.

If the temperament problem is genetic in nature, then the likelihood that the animal can be completely cured of the aggression is minimal.   However it is possible to improve the aggression with retraining, and treatment would then concentrate on the “management” of the behavior rather than an absolute cure.  We go into different ways to manage aggression in our e-book in detail.

Other conditions (like Hypothyroidism) can be effectively treated with medication prescribed by your veterinarian.

A few medical conditions that may cause aggressive behavior in dogs

  • Any condition which causes inflammation of the brain, can also cause neurological problems, including aggression.
  • Increased aggression around food and an increased appetite could be related to hormonal diseases.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome which is associated with age related degeneration can be managed through medication, and environmental and behavior modification.
  • The loss of hearing or sight can cause a dog to be caught off guard, resulting in aggression.
  • Epilepsy may also lead to aggression.  Certain dog breeds are more likely than others are more susceptible to hereditary Primary Epilepsy, but there are many other causes of epilepsy, some of which are unknown.

See the following conditions that may lead to dog aggression for more information:

Brain chemistry/Imbalances
Encephalitis (bacterial or viral) Distemper
Hydrocephalus in brachycephalics
Brain tumors
Head trauma
Behavioral Seizures