Older black dog with greying face. Senior dog aggression.

New or worsening aggressive behavior in older dogs may result from undiagnosed pain.  It’s sad but true that many dog owners may unnecessarily turn their dogs over to animal control for euthanasia when the dog’s behavior could have been returned to normal with good veterinary care.  In a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, researchers studied dogs whose owners complained of new or worsened aggressive behaviors.  They studied 12 dogs, and in all 12 cases, the new aggression turned out to be related to undiagnosed pain.  In most cases, the pain came from hip dysplasia, and in all cases the pain had been building for some time.  Dogs became aggressive when people tried to move their food, when the dogs were moved, or when they were made to do something.  Some of the dogs had previously shown less severe signs of aggression and some had no history of aggression.  Interestingly, the dogs who showed no history of aggression were more likely to act aggressive in response to being repositioned.  Dogs with no prior history of aggression were less likely to give any warning (such as growling) before going on the attack.

Here are some signs that pain is building in your dog:
• Less active
• Refusal to get on couch or bed
• Slower walk – altered gait
• Gets up from lying position more slowly
• Sudden onset of housetraining accidents
• Unusual submissive behaviors such as tucked tail, turning the head away, or hunching down
• Aggression

If you suspect pain, bring your dog in for an exam.  The pain could be a sign of a worsening condition, the course of which could be improved with timely intervention.

Tomas Camps, Marta Amat, Valentina M. et al. Pain-related aggression in dogs: 12 clinical cases. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 2012; 7 (2): 99.

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