Can Dogs Be Autistic?

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Autism is a complicated condition that affects human beings in a variety of ways, covering a broad spectrum of severity. But did you know that your dog can be affected by autism, too? It's a strange thought, but it's true that there are, in fact, some dogs who suffer from autism. Current research shows that there are dogs who exhibit similar behaviors to humans who live with autism - one of the main symptoms being repetitive behaviors. 

You must have a million questions. How do I know if my dog suffers from autism? Are there specific signs I should be looking for? What can I do to help my dog live a normal, happy life?

Don't worry! We've answered all those questions and more in our guide below! Read on to figure out what you should be looking for, how to determine if your dog might have autism, and if diagnosed, what you should do about it to help them live the best life possible! 

Signs Your Dog Might Have Autism

Just as autism manifests itself as a bunch of different symptoms in people, dogs also will have certain traits that point to this condition. For people, autism is typically described as several conditions that somehow associate with social interaction, repetitive behaviors, communication, and more. There are, of course, many combinations of this and every single case is unique. 

Autism is similar in dogs. If your pup is suffering from this condition, there are a few, specific signs you might want to be on the lookout for.

For example, watch for repetitive behavior. This typically manifests itself in tail chasing (incessantly), frequently repeated behaviors, like running to the door every few minutes, or even only being willing to do certain things. 

Your dog might have limited behavior, so, they might avoid playing new games or trying to learn new tricks. They also will likely have dysfunctional behavior when it comes to interacting with other dogs or people. Much like people, dogs can also be apathetic, being unable to communicate feelings like fear or happiness, and in some cases, dogs might even appear overly lethargic. This is easier to notice in breeds that are known for being high-strung or full of energy.

Body Language

There's always specific body language that you can watch out for with your dog when determining if something is a little bit off. For this condition, check and see if your dog is exhibiting any of the following signs:
  • Head tilting
  • Cowering
  • Head turning
  • Back hair on edge
  • Lips pushed forward
  • Averting eyes
  • Freezing

Other Signs

There are more signs that might indicate that your dog has autistic tendencies, though. See if your dog is exhibiting any of these other signs:
  • Dysfunctional Social Behaviors Around Other Dogs
  • Unwillingness to Learn New Games or Tricks
  • Lethargic and Low Energy
  • Apathetic
  • Limited Interaction
  • Limited Behavior
  • Repetitive, Incessant Actions

Historic Causes of Autism in Dogs

Dog autism is sometimes thought to be idiopathic and undiagnosable, however, that doesn't mean researchers haven't thought or considered it to be a genetic condition that is inherited from one of the dog's parents. Historically, some of the causes of dog autism can stem from things like mirror neurons in a dog's brain. Some researchers have hypothesized that a lack of mirror neurons is what leads to this condition. 

On the other hand, some researchers believe that autism is a congenital condition, one your dog is just born with, and that they can't really just "come down with" autism, like they can with other conditions. It's even possible that puppies can be born with autism if one or both of their parents were exposed to unnecessary chemicals or they were given vaccinations and shots they didn't need.

The Science of Autism in Dogs

To understand better how dogs can be affected by autism, it's helpful to understand, first, what autism is. Autism is considered a mental condition that is characterized in humans by having difficulty with communication and forming relationships with people and in using language to express emotions, thoughts, and feelings. 

In dogs, autism is defined similarly, but not exactly the same. One of the most popularly-believed causes of doggy autism is a lack of mirroring neurons in the brain. Unlike people, dogs will typically start showing these symptoms from birth - humans often develop them in early childhood. 

Dogs' conditions are a bit different - dogs cannot communicate the way that people do, so it's hard to classify autistic traits based off of communications. Autistic dogs will, however, have a hard time socializing and communicating their needs to their owners.

How to Train Your Dog to Deal With Autism

First and foremost, training your dog to deal with their autism is going to take a lot of love and affection on your part - just because you think your dog can't reciprocate it doesn't mean they won't appreciate and want the safety and security that come hand-in-hand with attention and love. They are still a dog, after all, and feeling safe and cared for is important! 

In order to keep your dog living a happy and healthy life, we recommend talking with your vet about ways you can work through their condition. In some cases, you'll want to train your dog to get comfortable with a doggy counselor who can help them cope with their condition - often, this has been proven to make autistic dogs more receptive to love and more open.

Additionally, you can keep your dog happy by keeping their routine fairly regular. Resist changing up their routine too much, or else you run the risk of making them feel stressed. If you get the urge to change up your living room furniture, think about how it might affect your pup. If you're considering taking their walk a bit later than usual, think about how it will change their behavior. 

Most importantly, continue giving lots of love, attention, and acceptance to maintain your dog's well-being.

How to React If Your Dog is Autistic

  • Talk with your vet.
  • Resist changing the furniture as it may throw off your dog's routine.
  • Keep an eye out for re-occurring symptoms and figure out ways to combat them if they are harmful or unhealthy for your dog.
  • Keep a consistent schedule for your dog.
  • Show your dog a ton of love and attention.

Tell Us About Your Amazing, Autistic Dog!