Sudden Aggression in Older Dogs

Dogs can be aggressive for many reasons and as dog owners we usually know and accept this. The problem is some of us are taken by surprise by sudden aggression in a dog that has been docile and gentle for his whole life. This can be truly heartbreaking, especially when it becomes severe. Fortunately, most dogs will remain about the same in terms of personality until the day they die. However, there are some cases in which dogs may develop sudden aggression in their old age. One of the main reasons this happens is due to some sort of medical condition present that may be going unnoticed. Whatever the reason this can be very stressful, not only to the dog owner but also to the dog. Some of the following circumstances may cause an older dog to become suddenly aggressive.

Reduction in Physical Stamina

If you have noticed that your older dog tends to get snippy or plain out nasty with your younger dogs this may be because he is not strong enough to keep up anymore and just does not want to be bothered. Most of the time, an older dog will tolerate a certain amount of play from a pup but after awhile he will have had enough. At this point he may warn the dog off by growling or even snapping. Usually this is not followed by any serious injury to the younger dog and it is almost always a warning but there are times with specific breeds such as larger breeds that are already prone to dog aggression then this could become a serious issue. Obviously, if you have Chihuahuas this will be more of an annoyance than anything but if you have Pit Bulls then you may wind up having to break up a fight or two.

Pain in Joints

As dogs get older they may have a series of conditions that can result in joint pain such as arthritis, hip dysplasia or even old injuries that begin to cause them pain. A lot of times this will cause your dog to want to be left alone. This may result in him nipping at you when you try to push him off the couch or prompt him to jump into the car. If you notice that your dog is not quite as eager to do anything and shows an overall lethargic demeanor it could be because he is in pain. This is especially true if you notice that he seems to be having trouble doing things he has always done with ease such as jump up and catch the ball or leap onto your bed. There are treatments and medications that are intended to ease joint pain but the only way to know for sure if that is what is going on is to take your dog in to the vet to be seen.

Brain Tumor

This is not very common at all but unfortunately it does happen from time to time. A dog may develop a mass on his brain that totally and suddenly changes his personality. This can be quite dangerous because it can happen out of nowhere and catch you completely off guard. The trouble is that there are some warning signs but sadly many people miss them until something very unfortunate such as a bite has occurred. Sometimes the signs of a brain tumor are dismissed as signs of old age. For example, a sign of a brain tumor may be a slower walk or a change in gait, both of which could be attributed to general aging as well. In addition, sometimes psychological issues are seen as the dog becoming senile or grumpy because of his old age. If you notice a rapid change in your dogs behavior, whether it seems to be for the better or worse, it would be a good idea to have him checked out. Dogs who have always been super docile should not be showing sudden signs of aggression just as dogs who have always been aggressive toward other dogs should not suddenly seem oblivious to their presence.

Loss of Sight or Hearing

In some cases older dogs, just as older people, will lose their sight or hearing abilities. When this occurs the dog may become startled a bit easier than normal and on occasion will even go after his owner before realizing who he/she is. If you walk into a dark room without announcing yourself your dog may go ballistic on you until he realizes that you are his beloved friend. You may need to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate your aging dog. Make sure that you make your presence known before walking into a room that your dog is in or coming into the house after being away. You may also want to stop allowing strangers to approach your dog or even friends and family that have been familiar to the dog previously.

A dog ages just as a person does and when they do things become hard for them just as things become hard for people. Many of us have had the occasion to interact with an older family member who seems to become grouchy for no reason at all. The same can be true with dogs. If you have an older dog that seems to be going through behavioral changes the first thing you need to do is rule out any underlying medical conditions. Once you have determined that the sudden aggression is simply a natural part of the dog’s aging process then you can try and figure out a variety of ways to keep him and others around him safe. If you have a breed that could severely injure someone then you may be forced to make a touch decision if the aggression becomes too hard to manage.

Comments 2
  1. Very well written, easy to follow, and to the point. Thank you for discussing this important issue and encouraging families to work with their older dogs and find a way to support them when they need it most.

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