Although it’s true that dogs experience emotions and can respond to fluctuations in brain chemistry in a manner similar to humans, it’s important to resist the temptation to apply human labels and diagnoses to your dog. Dog behavior also includes a combination of instinct and learned behaviors. Often, what appears to be a psychological problem can have an environmental or a biological cause. Although dogs sometimes exhibit behavior that can mimic the appearance of bipolar disorder, there is no such thing as bipolar disorder in dogs.
Bipolar disorder is a human mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings. Formerly referred to as “manic depression,” someone who is bipolar typically experiences a “manic” phase, during which they feel euphoric and have a lot of restless energy. This sometimes leads to impulsive and even reckless behavior, as well as darker feelings such as irritation and anger. Eventually, this feeling gives way to symptoms of depression, including sadness, lack of energy and trouble sleeping.
Dog owners sometimes refer to their dogs as bipolar when sudden aggression appears to come out of nowhere. Although such mood swings can be startling, to call them bipolar is inaccurate. While bipolar disorder in humans is thought to be caused by a fluctuation in brain chemicals, sudden aggression and apparent mood swings in dogs can have a number of root causes. Although they can be a sign of a neurotic dog, they also can be a sign of a neurological disorder or trauma.
Idiopathic aggression, sometimes referred to as “canine rage syndrome,” is the correct term for aggression with no known cause. Characteristics include sudden, explosive aggression with no identifiable stimulus. Some dog parents describe their dogs as having a glazed, confused or even “possessed” look in their eyes right before an episode. Onset typically occurs between the ages of 1 to 3 years, and certain breeds, including cocker and springer spaniels, Saint Bernards, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds, appear to have a higher propensity toward these episodes, according to the Whole Dog Journal.
True idiopathic aggression is thought to be quite rare, according to Whole Dog Journal. In most cases of dog aggression, a thorough examination of the dog, his history and environment reveals a root cause for this behavior. In some cases, it turns out to be either status-related aggression, where a dog tries to establish dominance, or resource guarding, in which a dog is protective of a resource such as food. This type of aggressive behavior and apparent mood swings also can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, and by neurological disorders such as epilepsy. If your dog exhibits this or any other type of neurotic behavior, it’s important to have a thorough examination conducted by a veterinarian to rule out biological or neurological causes.
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