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Medical causes of aggressive behavior

40261 Views 23 Replies 21 Participants Last post by  Castlemaid
Occasionally aggressive behavior is not a result of personality, lack of training or socialization, but is in fact a medical issue that can be treated. Medical issues should always be considered, especially if the aggressive behavior is a new development in a previously mild mannered dog.

Some links to provide additional info:
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Thanks for the links! That'll give me some new reading material while bunsiess is slow.
Me too.....
Just read this......

This fits Max to a T. I never consider hypothyroidism because he does not have typical thyroid sx (dry skin, wt gain etc).

Going to have this checked!!
Great info!

We actually went through this with Grace - she presented with greasy skin, poor coat, itchy skin, change in behavior (extreme agitation, irritation) but also ravenous appetite and dramatic weight loss in spite of the fact that we were shoveling tons of premium food into her.

Her thyroid tests came back within the normal range and we never questioned it because everything we saw on thyroid issues in dogs talked about lethergy and weight gain which was totally opposite of what we were seeing.

After a zillion inclonclusive tests and an ultrasound of her abdomen, the clinic ended up saying they suspected food allergy and bowel inflamation. Lots of meds and special diets later, she improved but wasn't 100 percent. Much later, tests indicated thyroid problems!

Bottom line - the medical profession is still learning the role of these horomones. You can't even rely on the tests to tell you conclusively what's going on. I wish I'd seen these articles when we were going through it!
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Our boy had a good coat, he was skinny, and hyper -- he had low-normal T4, low T3, and also was TgAA positive (so autoimmune thyroiditis), which means that his thyroid was probably on it's way to dying out. I had to leave a vet because he wouldn't treat a low-normal thyroid dog. Once treatment started, there was a definite calming behaviour.
Originally Posted By: JeanKBBMMMAANAnother one-

Good thread!
Thanks, Jean

This site has some great information for agression within the home

And elsewhere - definitely worth researching.
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I'm off to the vet this describes Baron to a T.
Just adding more info I've found on the 'net:

Tables 1 and 2 summarize results of complete thyroid diagnostic profiling on 634 canine cases of aberrant behavior, compiled by the authors in collaboration with Drs. Nicholas Dodman, and Jean DeNapoli of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA.

*Ninety percent (568 dogs) were purebreds and 10% were mixed breeds.

*There was no sex predilection found in this case cohort, whether or not the animals were intact or neutered.

*63% had thyroid dysfunction as judged by finding 3 or more abnormal results on the comprehensive thyroid profile

*The major categories of aberrant behavior were: aggression (40% of cases), seizures (30%), fearfulness (9%), and hyperactivity (7%); some dogs exhibited more than 1 of these behaviors.

*Thyroid dysfunction was found in 62% of the aggressive dogs, 77% of seizuring dogs, 47% of fearful dogs, and 31% of hyperactive dogs.

*Outcomes of treatment intervention with standard twice daily doses of thyroid replacement were evaluated in 95 cases. Of these, 58 dogs had greater than 50% improvement in their behavior as judged by a predefined 6-point subjective scale (34 were improved >75%), and another 23 dogs had >25 but <50% improvement. Only 10 dogs experienced no appreciable change, and 2 dogs had a worsening of their behavior. When compared to 20 cases of dominance aggression treated with conventional behavioral or other habit modification over the same time period, only 11 dogs improved >25% and of the remaining 9 cases, 3 failed to improve and 3 were euthanized or placed in another home. These initial results are so promising that complete thyroid diagnostic profiling and treatment with thyroid supplement, where indicated, is warranted for all cases presenting with aberrant behavior.

Dr. Dodds on Thyroid Disease:

An association between behavioral and psychologic changes and thyroid dysfunction has been recognized in humans since the 19th century. In a recent study, 66% of people with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder were found to be hypothyroid, and supplementing their thyroid levels was largely curative. Furthermore, an association has recently been established between aberrant behavior and thyroid dysfunction in the dog, and has been noticed in cats with hyperthyroidism.
I realize this is an older post (my apologies) but what is the treatment for this? Is it meds, surgery?

Originally Posted By: JacobysmaI realize this is an older post (my apologies) but what is the treatment for this? Is it meds, surgery?

If you're referring to thyroid problems, the treatment is meds, and I believe they are not particularly expensive either. You just need to have the diagnosis confirmed with thorough testing.
We went through this with Grace - she got low thyroid and very aggressive and snappish with other dogs. We got her on meds and she's as sweet as she's ever been. She takes one tiny pill of Soloxine twice a day and I think we pay something like $11 a month. It's not bad at all!
Did she have any other aggression problem or just towards dogs? I would love to find out this is all Athena needs.She loves people but hates dogs.
The only aggression we saw was towards other dogs but she was just generally extremely cranky. Sort of imagine a dog with really fierce PMS - that was how she was acting. And she's never been a really mellow easy going dog, but it was a definite change and decline in her ability to get along and play well with others.

ETA: I just saw Athena's age and I'd have to say low thyroid is unlikely in such a young dog. I mean, worth checking on certainly, but it mainly shows up in middle aged to older pets. Our Rottie had it too, although his didn't manifest as aggression, he just got fat and tired, which is more typical. Grace actually lost weight and was very edgy.
So I decided to take Barrett in to have blood tests done because of this thread. His thyroid looks good but she found that his liver value (ELT??) was 195 when it should be 5 - 95. Anybody know anything about this and if it might contribute to aggression or difficult behaviour?
What did your veterinarian suggest? Does Barrett have previous bloodwork to compare the values with?

While I'm not into annual vaccines, I do get my dog's blood work done annually to keep an eye on what their normal values are.
Serious unprovoked aggression

I'm posting this for the benefit of anyone else who may encounter similar problems.

I'll give you a short rundown of the problems we've had /having with our 6 year old unneutered male GSD (Jake)

We had him from a rescue centre when he was just 5 years old. He was being rehomed because his original owner (the mother of a volunteer at the centre) had moved from a Pub to a flat, and couldn't exercise him much and didn't think it was fair on him.

That's the story we were told, whether that was the whole truth we couldn't be sure. The son of the owner certainly seemed very genuine and didn't hide anything from us, as far as we are aware. He even admitted they exercised him by shining a laser light on the floor for he to chase after GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

As a result he has major OCD with lights and shadows.

We took Jake home, and couldn't believe our luck. He was absolutely wonderful. He was well trained, very friendly, playful, great with people and had clearly been well looked after and not mistreated in any way. The only problem we had was he pulled like crazy on the leash - and with training that was soon sorted. Everything was great.

Then one evening, two weeks after we rehomed him , suddenly from nowhere, seriously nowhere, he attacked our 12 year old granddaughter, and I do mean attacked.

At first, without question we decided we had to have him put to sleep. But once we'd all calmed down, the anger and upset was replaced with a need to understand how such a wonderful dog could do such a thing, and none of us (including our granddaughter) really wanted him pts, and we all tried to understand why...... there must be a reason - we must have done something wrong - or missed something ---But What? .

We decided to do nothing in haste, just make sure he was either muzzled or kept away from people.

For the next few days, Jake was a little subdued, and we went over and over the incident to see were we could have possibly gone wrong................ Had we overwhelmed him with new people, new food , new house, and an unfortunate accident he had during the first week may questions!!! But no answers to really explain why he would attack without any warning at all.

But then Jake exhibited this really bizarre behaviour, as though he was intensely terrified of some invisible entity.

Following this episode the dog forum I was a member of - - advised that he needed a vet as they thought it could be epilepsy.

Although unsure, without a CT scan or an MRI (which we just could not afford) , the vet prescribed phenobarbital to see if would help. She also advised seeing a behaviourist. Now, call me arrogant if you like, but I knew it wasn't a behaviour problem, we'd owned enough dogs over the years to know this was something different.

The medication appeared to work, and he returned to his usual self. Don't get me wrong he still had what I can only describe as absences, but no really bizarre behaviour or aggression.

He was gradually reintroduced to people he would see regularly (not children)

Everything was going well until our usual vet emigrated, and the new one decided "weird and aggressive" behaviour was not epilepsy and decided to wean him off his medication.

Major mistake !!! He then attacked our adult daughter as she played with him. The original medication has now been reinstated, and he is not allowed near anyone, apart from me and the OH, even though there have been no aggressive incidents since - he has growled but nothing more.

I'm not going to pretend I'm never nervous of him, and deep down I think perhaps we should have had him pts. but my OH won't even consider it.. But I am also pretty good at spotting when things are not quite right with him, and luckily on these occasions he keeps away from us on his own accord. These ocassion are such a tiny, tiny part of him, and he is so lovely it's easy to forget he's got a problem at all.

We have now been in touch with Dr. Jean Dodds (a specialist in thyroid disorders) and we are going to send blood samples to her for analysis, incase he also has an underlying thyroid problem.

I have now also temporarily stopped using cleaning products and we are very careful with his diet, incase he is allergic to anything. It has only just occured to us (thick or what?) that this has only happened since we've had him, it could be something we use that the previous owner didn't.

I'm glad we decided to do nothing in haste, because Jake is such a wonderful dog - just a wonderful dog with a problem, that I hope we can solve.

PS: I will also post in the sticky thread "Medical Reasons for Aggression" section of the forum.
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I'm curious to know the correlation between a low thyroid and aggression.
I just want to add that it's sometimes important to do a FULL thyroid panel (not the cheaper one vet's routinely do). Since thyroid issues are still an emerging area of expertise for many vets, I think it's worth paying extra to send it to Hemopet to get Dr. Dodds' advice.

Your vet can send send the blood sample to Dr. Dodds' lab (Hemopet in California), and she personally reviews every set of results. It's not prohibitively expensive. This gets you access to one of the leading experts in the country on thyroid issues. If results suggest treatment is needed, she can consult with your vet on it.

My understanding is that Dodds has developed a proprietary breed-specific database, so if Hemopet does the blood analysis, your results won't give you a "normal range" for all dogs, including chihuahuas, but rather one specific to GSDs. I think including shipping, the full panel cost well under $200 (I paid the fee to my vet, who arranged to overnight the blood sample, and consult with Hemopet). I believe she also does consultations on lab results from other places for a flat $85 fee.

The Hemopet price list is here (though your vet will likely have to add on to it, for the cost of shipping and the blood draw):
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