Can dogs have autism?

In this brief blog we are going to answer the question “ can dogs have autism “.

Can dogs have autism?

Yes, studies have indicated that dogs can indeed have autism.

Dogs have been diagnosed with autism in the past and for a dog to be diagnosed with autism it will need to exhibit some typical repetitive behaviour and a degree of impaired social interaction skills with other dogs or people.

Because we don’t know the typical behaviours of dogs so well it is hard to say what they do is normal or if it isn’t normal and hence the question “can dogs have autism” is a very hard one to answer.

Dr. Parthasarathy  says we could see a change in this in the future with the diagnosis of the dogs, a true possibility.

“As we are learning more about the complexities of canine neurology, behavior and neurodiversity, the more information there is to help dogs. As we learn more, we may be able to start more finely characterizing different behavioral disorders. We may find that autism is a condition in dogs as it is in people.”

Can dogs have special needs?

Yes, dogs can have special needs outside of just needing food and shelter.

There are some dogs who are allergic to a particular type of food or need a particular type of environment to be at their very best, these are all special needs so dogs can indeed have special needs.

Is my dog autistic symptoms?

Your dog may be autistic if it displays the same behaviours needed to diagnose a human of autism, this includeS: No feelings or emotions, fixation or particular things for an abnormal period of time, fear of new things, strict routines which when disturbed cause huge upset, low energy or excitement and in some cases the inability to accept something is not frightening or threatening despite seeing it many times.

The question “ Can dogs have autism” is still being heavily researched in the USA and some indications are that dogs can have autism but further research is still needed.

Can a dog be Down syndrome?

The same certainly can’t be said about dogs.

If Down syndrome does occur in dogs, it is a much rarer event. For example, people have 23 sets of chromosomes while dogs have 39.

Therefore, duplication of all or part of chromosome 21 would have different effects in the two species.

Dogs having autism

Recent research has shown that dogs can have autism just in the same way that people have autism.

Autism in dogs will have the same traits as autism in people as the dogs will have difficulty having normal social interactions and having normal relationships with other dogs.

Autism in dogs is however not a new thing, autism has been discussed in dogs since as early as 1966 and the veterinarians back then were talking about how they saw the same autism symptoms which were present in people, in dogs as well.

You have probably seen some dogs constantly obsess and chase their tails for hours.

A recent presentation at the 2015 American College of Veterinary Behaviorists reported on investigations into tail chasing behavior in Bull Terriers and how this was possibly linked to autism in dogs.

The research didn’t just stop there, in fact, the study had a control group of 77 non tail-chasing dogs and 55 tail-chasing dogs which were all Bull terriers.

They examined the DNAs of both groups to find if there were any specific traits with the tail-chasing dogs and this was what they found:

  • a) more prevalent in males, b) associated with trance-like behavior, and c) episodic aggression (which was violent and explosive) (Moon-Fanelli et al. 2011). These findings, coupled with the repetitive motor behavior of the tail-chasing behavior and a tendency for phobias, led us to conclude that tail chasing could represent a canine form of autism.

The study wasn’t a concrete study but it also found that there may be a genetic link in dogs based on the genetic condition called fragile X syndrome.

It stated  “ For people with fragile X syndrome, prevalence of concurrent autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been estimated to be between 15 and 60 percent (Budimirovic, Kaufmann 2011). People with fragile X syndrome have a prominent forehead, long face, high-arched palate, and large ears (Garber et al. 2008). The characteristic long, bowed “downface” of bull terriers (often with high-arched hard palate) and their protruding ears mean that they have [facial feature] similarities to people with fragile X syndrome.  “

The interesting question ”Can dogs have autism” is  currently being researched by numerous organisations in the united states and hopefully the research being done can allow us to answer the question and provide adequate care to our fluffy friends.

What is autism?

Autism in people and autism in dogs is judged based on the same spectrum as the research into autism in dogs is just at the earliest stage.

Autism in people and autism in dogs are judged on two key criteria:

Impairment in social interaction and social communications:

This can include:

  • Lack of eye contact or facial expressions
  • No response to his or her name or appears not to hear his or her name being called
  • Rarely starts a conversation or is able to keep a conversation going, will only usually start a conversation or show interest in starting one when there is a request to be made or to label items
  • Avoids cuddling, holding and prefers to play on their own or prefers to stay in their own area
  • Rarely speaks or has delayed speech. In some cases, the ability to speak may be lost over time.
  • Rarely points at or bring objects to share an interest
  • Rarely seems to understand simple directions or simple questions
  • Isn’t able to express their feelings or understand the feelings of others
  • Approaches conversations by being passive, aggressive or disruptive
  • May speak with an abnormal tone or rhythm- this maybe with a robot-like speech or using a singsong voice.
  • May repeat words or phrases verbatim but doesn’t understand how to use them

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities.

This may include things such as:

  • Will not engage in make-believe or imitative sort of play
  • Moves constantly
  • May act uncooperative and resistant to any form of change
  • May become fixated on an object or activity with abnormal intensity.
  • Will perform irregular activities such as tapping, rocking, spinning or hand flapping
  • May act unusually sensitive to light, sound, and touch but may be very obvious to pain
  • May have a few food preferences, they may eat only a few types of food or food with a specific texture
  • May have issues with their coordination, may have odd movement patterns, maybe clumsy and have an exaggerated body language
  • May have specific rituals which could affect them if these routines are changed at the slightest
  • May be fascinated with spinning objects or the little details of objects

Autism is different for every person and people will be on the different stages on the autism spectrum

How is autism in dogs diagnosed?

Autism in dogs is diagnosed in the same way that autism in humans is diagnosed.

It is slightly harder but until more research is done into autism in dogs we will not be able to have a straightforward diagnosis of autism in dogs.

At this point, it is very hard to reach a definitive diagnosis of autism in dogs.

At this stage, our understanding of how dogs behave is still too limited to determine what is incredibly abnormal and what isn’t.

Dogs with autism may also simply be suffering from other typical conditions such as anxiety which bear similar symptoms to autism and may lead to a misdiagnosis.

This means it is very hard for veterinarians to say a dog has autism except when it is incredibly obvious due to past research as it is in bull terriers.

As of now, for a dog to be diagnosed with autism they will need to display very repetitive behaviour which also highlights social impairment around other dogs or people.

The veterinarian will also have the hard task of ruling out other conditions which have similar symptoms to autism such as anxiety

How to help a dog with autism

If you have been told that it is very likely that your dog has autism then there are a few things you can do to help them.

If you notice what causes your dogs repetitive behaviour then you should seek to avoid these sort of things.

If your dog doesn’t like the sound of cars then walk your dog in a quiet neighbourhood where moving cars are less frequent.

You may also want to adopt some of the techniques people with special needs dogs have found very helpful such as using wraps which provide reassuring pressure to the body and can avoid the dog being triggered by events which may usually trigger it.

You can also train your dog to do an activity which should hopefully help your dog as they have been known to help people with autism.

These activities include: pulling a loaded wagon or heavy work such as carrying a backpack with some weight.

What to do if you think your dog is autistic

If you think your dog is showing signs of autism, then it is a good idea to record some of the activities your dog is doing which makes you feel this way and after you have a catalogue of recordings, send them over to your vet and then make an appointment to see your vet with your dog.

If your dog is  not very prone to people then it may be easier to  ask your vet to visit you rather than putting your dog through a more stressful situation on the way to the vet

Treatments for dogs with autism

Below are a few treatments you can use if your dog has been diagnosed as possibly having autism.

Safe spaces

If your dog has autism then the first thing you should do is to try as much as possible to make their lives stress free and easier.

Make the home more welcoming by restricting the noise that gets to where the dog is or install noise proof windows if you live next to the road and the sound of passing cars brings out your dog’s autistic traits.


Dogs are being given medication which may lessen the effects of autism which they face.

Fluoxetine is the medication being prescribed for both dogs and humans. It is commonly used to treat OCD and autism problems.ogs.

Medical treatment would tranquilize your dog and prevent aggressive behaviours.


Exercising does the same wonder for dogs as it does for humans.

If your dog has plenty of exercise then they will hopefully have less anxiety and stress. Dogs are usually very happy when they get to move around.


Having a diet may also help your dog reduce its autistic tendencies.

Your vet should let you know if any diet changes are necessary and you can ask your vet for any diet recommendations.

Diets have been known to work in humans and may work in dogs too.

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, loneliness or any similar mental health issue then seeking help for it may be a good option.

Mental health issues such as depression, loneliness and anxiety can affect anyone of us.

If you are under 18 then CAMHS, an NHS run programme may just be the answer for your mental health struggles.

You should look to see if you meet the CAMHS referral criteria and then fill in the CAMHS referral form.

In this brief guide we answered the question “can dogs have autism  “.

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