Can Dogs Have Autism?
[Complete Guide Into Canine Autism Spectrum Disorder]

By kropek2021. • Updated June 30, 2021

Most of us are aware of the human condition called autism which primarily affects one’s nervous system. The symptoms vary from awkwardness in social situations, obsession towards people/objects, communication issues, and repetitive behavior. Can dogs exhibit this medical condition too? Do you ponder over the question, “Does my dog have autism?”

Veterinary sciences believe that dogs can showcase similar behavior, alternatively coined as “Canine Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Some of the common symptoms they display include incessant tail wagging, unwanted aggressive barking, and so on. In some dogs, the signs and symptoms may be so mild that they would not be noticeable. The tendency to repeat performing the same action is a clear giveaway of autism in dogs and requires an immediate medical consultation.

There is a raging debate in the medical community regarding whether a dog truly has autism or not. So, first of all, let’s get into the signs of autism in dogs.

Signs for Diagnosing Autism

Repetitive Behavior

If you have started noticing specific repetitive patterns in your dog’s daily behavior, there is a high probability that your canine buddy has autism. Occasional running in circles or jumping up and down for a walk outside need not be linked to autism. Stil, the increased frequency of specific movements like rocking, banging head on a wall, or any other daily routine that your dog finds difficult to stop repeating is a potential issue. 

In this case, your dog turns out to be uncooperative and resistant to change. Ensure to be extra vigilant so that your buddy doesn’t cause self-harm due to this symptom.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an even more severe form of repetitive behavior observed in autistic dogs. A typical example will be that your dog gets aggressive if anyone tries to move one of their toys from a specific place in the house. 

Social Awkwardness

In general, dogs are friendly and sociable creatures. They enjoy meeting people, socializing with the family and other dogs. However, the level of sociability in dogs varies from each dog and each breed. In case your dog has recently shown withdrawal symptoms with you, this is something to look into at the earliest. For instance, if they don’t respond to their names, have poor eye contact, or show hardly any facial expressions, then the odds of autism are on the rise.

Try giving the usual commands your dog responds to with ease. If the outcome is lackluster along with extreme passive or disruptive reactions from your dog, the situation beckons for medical help.

Understandably, newly adopted puppies display shyness till they get accustomed to the new home and surroundings. But this natural shyness wears off as they grow. In contrast, the social awkwardness due to autism remains and demands treatment.

Fall in Energy Levels

Dogs are designed to be energetic. They enjoy playing games, going for walks, and displaying exuberance while happy. An overall feeling of lethargy and dip in enthusiasm is a symptom. My brother’s husky, Millie, displayed this symptom last summer. She refused to move out of her room for weeks. Timely medical consultation and therapy have been a game-changer in showing signs of improvement. 

Lack of Emotions

As dog owners, we know how much dogs love to express their sincere emotions to their beloved owners. The usual jump of joy as the owner returns home, wagging the tail at the sight of food, is a classic example. 

What if your dog gives you a poker face during these kinds of daily moments? As their dads/moms, you would find it difficult to read their happiness, anger, sorrow, or any other usual display of emotions. Dogs tend to get apathetic and unwilling to showcase what they feel inside.

These are a few of the commonly observed symptoms of dogs diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The gravity and category of symptoms vary on a case-to-case basis.

 

Scientific Causes Behind Canine Autism

Medical science has been on the prowl for years to uncover the causal links for autism in canines. The following list gives some of the prominent ones based on several research outcomes:

  • Autism can be genetically inherited from one or both of the dog’s parents
  • The deficiency of mirror neurons in the dog’s brain is a probable factor
  • Recent researches have shown that puppies whose parents were exposed to specific chemicals or vaccinations are prone to autism
  • Sudden cure from autism is not possible as the condition is congenital

This list is in no way complete as the research is still in progress. It can be tedious to perform a crystal precise diagnosis of autism in canines because the distinction between normal and abnormal behavior can be minute in many cases. Some of the symptoms mentioned above bear proximity to the triggers for stress and anxiety. In essence, systematic and thorough medical supervision is a prerequisite to diagnose canine autism.

In the next section, we will move on to the vital question – “How can we treat autism in dogs?”

Treatment for Autistic Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut solution or a silver bullet for the problem that is autism. 

Avoid Potential Triggers

The most practical action you can undertake is identifying the cause or trigger of your autistic dog and devising a plan to prevent these autism-inducing triggers. For instance, seeing another animal in the park can be a potential trigger. You can take countermeasures so that your dog does not get into contact with that animal. 

Always rely on medical help for diagnosis. We highly recommend not to indulge in self-proclamation of autism in your dog.

Love Your Dog, No Matter What

Shower your dog with all the love and affection you can muster. Although they may not be able to replicate those feelings, they will feel comfortable and secure. It can be an excellent approach to avoid enraging the existing symptoms and keep things under control.

Acceptance

The lack of medical treatment for dogs with autism means that your dog will show signs of autism throughout their lives. Since you can not avoid the situation, it helps you come to terms with this bitter reality. This attitude will help alleviate unwanted expectations and enable a realistic view of things in the future concerning your dog.

In Millie’s case (My husky), our vet redirected us to a brilliant Therapist specializing in canine autism. Therapy is a great option to tone down the severity of existing symptoms of an autistic dog. This measure was the best thing that happened to our dog. She now feels wanted and affectionate.

Focus on Health

Engaging your dog regularly in physical activities like walking, outdoor games, and training programs can help keep anxiety, loneliness, and stress at bay. This measure will improve the dog’s morale and prevent them from falling deeper into the pit of autistic symptoms. A well-balanced diet and proper sleep routines also play a crucial role in your dog’s overall well-being.

Dog puzzles and other cognitive games can help your dog to retain mental stimulation to a great extent. Lack of cognitive exercises can make your dog even duller and void of energy.

Positive Reinforcements

Making your dog participate in therapy is the first step towards controlling autism. However, dogs and positive reinforcements go a long way. Cheering them up when they display even the smallest improvements, giving them treats, hugs, and kisses greatly improve chances of gaining control over canine autism.

These are some of the practical techniques you as a dog owner can employ to keep dog autism symptoms under check. 

How is Canine Autism Different from Human Autism?

Based on what we have discussed so far, there are a few similarities that can be noticed in Autism symptoms in both humans and dogs. For instance, the tendency of repetition and communication difficulties are faced by both. The couple of contrasting aspects are listed below.

  1. In humans, medical science lists a predefined set of symptoms termed the autism spectrum. A corresponding spectrum of symptoms is currently non-existent for the canine counterparts.
  2. The medical community fully accepts autism in humans as a diagnosable health condition. But canine autism is still a topic of debate within the same community. There are conflicting theories and different versions of the same condition in dogs.

A significant breakthrough in canine autism was achieved by Tufts University researchers back in 2011, as they tried to study the compulsive behavior of bull terriers chasing their tails repeatedly. The study found out that the neurological activity displayed by the male species of this breed was similar to that in humans who have autism. This conclusion led to discovering an OCD drug that could be prescribed for both humans and pets.

Wrapping Up

We discussed the significant signs in dogs for diagnosing the medical condition of autism. Identifying the cause is the first step to be carried out by the pet owner. This step requires the expert consultation of medical practitioners to identify the causal link accurately. Never involve in the self-diagnosis of your dogs.

Medical science is still in research mode to come up with a cure for canine autism. At present, therapy is the best bet to keep the autistic symptoms in check. A fragile line exists between the signs of autism and other medical conditions like anxiety. This aspect has led to a debate among the medical science fraternity whether canine autism is an actual medical condition or not.

If you happen to be the owner of an autistic dog, ensure that they get all the affection and care you can give. Autism is congenital and does not just go away. Make sure your dog receives the best therapy and proper health monitoring to avoid mishaps. 

We hope we were able to shed some light on this sensitive topic of autism In dogs. It is not easy to go through the journey of an autistic pet. Showering your dog with positivity and acceptance of reality can heal some wounds in you as well as your dog.