Can Dogs Be Autistic?

Autism is very rare in dogs and some scientists even doubt that the condition exists in canines. On the other hand, canine autism is thought to be caused by the lack of mirroring neurons in the dog’s brain.

Causes Of Autism In Dogs

Dog autism is not yet very well understood, but it has been suggested by some that it could very well be a genetic condition inherited from a parent or relative. Some researchers are working on a theory according to which dog autism may be caused by the lack of mirroring neurons in the brain. However, this type of condition is actually congenital, meaning that dogs cannot suddenly become autistic, they can however be born with autism. There have been other studies that have associated the occurrence of autism in dogs with parents that were exposed to different toxins and unnecessary vaccinations.

Symptoms Of Canine Autism

It can be hard to tell if your dog may be autistic. First of all because it is still debated on whether or not it even technically exists. Second of all because there is very little understood on the matter. Last but not least, because dogs with autism may not display any symptoms or their symptoms could be so subtle that they may not be recognized at all.

However, other dogs with autism may show some of the following symptoms:

  • Repetitive actions. With this type of symptom dogs tend to have a routine that they like to stick to.
  • Dysfunctional interaction with other dogs or owner
  • Restricted behavior – limiting themselves to performing only a few actions and/or avoiding new actions, games etc.
  • Apathy
  • Inability to communicate joy, fear, and other feelings
  • Lack of activity. This is especially noticeable in breeds that are a high-energy dog as the lack of activity can be quite surprising.
  • Keen organization. While it may sound crazy, some owners have claimed that their autistic dogs organize toys according to size, shape, and/or color.

Typically, symptoms of autism are present from early puppyhood and the puppy may not be able to interact properly with the rest of his siblings or parents. A puppy suffering from autism may also show lack of interest in food and/or games.

Helping Dogs With Autism

If you suspect that your dog may be autistic you should pay special attention to him or her. In addition, you should also help him or her adapt to new situations and should try to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to not introducing lots of change to your dog’s routine etc. as it will only further upset him or her. It is crucial to maintain your dog’s schedule and to try not and alter it if possible. This can include even simple things like changing furniture around. Your pup will feel most comfortable in places that he or she is familiar with. It is for this reason that your dog shouldn’t change owners or homes frequently.

There is no known cure for canine autism. The best thing you can do for your pet, is make him feel comfortable and safe. He or she may also benefit from affection, routine, and lots of attention. Different types of pet therapy are also available. Setting up an appointment to talk to your veterinarian can be beneficial in learning more about how to cope with your dog’s autism.

Comments

  1. Sue says

    I adopted an Airedale from a kill shelter because the Airedale rescue group with whom I work told me no one wanted her because she was so shy. She and a brother were dropped off and he was adopted but she was not. She had not been groomed and she cowered and stayed under the bed. O worked with a mobile groomer to get her cleaned up and we found evidence of a prior bad skin infection as well as ulceration around her moth and a torn ear. The vet treated everything but she was still almost paralyzed with fear. For over a year, I had to climb under the bed three times a day and blockade her through the house and into the yard. She was afraid of wind, leaves falling, noise, and branches moving in the trees. I talked to the vet and tried obedience training but nothing helped. She chewed bedroom furniture and dry wall. I got pretty good at repairing walls.

    Her regular groomer finally talked me into getting another stray, part Lab, to bring home. Buddy, the stray, has changed her life for the better. It’s been slow but steady progress for Sadie Bug. She still prefers to stay in my bedroom or the laundry room when inside but she races to go out when I tell her the door is open. She runs in the yard, chases birds and squirrels, digs holes, and barks. The groomer knew another dog (the right type of dog) could teach her how to be a dog, I think. I was seriously considering putting her to sleep because neither one of us had quality of life. What a difference Buddy made in our lives! Your comments about routine are very true. I have company a few times a year for 5-7 day stays. As long as I keep to her meal and outside time routines, she does OK with the company and seems to get bolder after they leave. My intuition is that she realizes that I will keep her safe so she can relax a bit more. She will never be a “normal” dog but she can enjoy her yard, her Buddy, her meals and her bedtime. No more wall chewing although a shoe left on the floor at night is free game.

    • CharD says

      Sue, thank you for sharing Sadie Bug’s story. We have a similar story with our Willow.
      October 2013 we got a dog from the Humane Society. She was 1.5 years old and had lived outside during the day and in a bedroom with closed door at night. I think her owners were just too busy to give the daily care and affection a Sheltie requires. At time of adoption we were told she had behavioral problems and may have for the rest of her life. We felt we could give her the daily affection, play etc she needed. We have had Shelties for 25 years or so.
      A week later we got her a companion dog ( he is a companion for us, too). They play together, run hard together and made friends with neighbors to either side of our home. This past week Willow started to communicate with us. She can nod yes or no if our question is stated simply and is regarding a phrase she is familiar with. She barks once at the door when she wants in. Even if the door is open. She barked once to say “Hi” to a visitor. Then she ran back to another room. She looks toward the cupboard where I keep the dog’s vitamins if I forget to give them. About 6 am she starts barking until I let her out to potty. She has a “potty” bark which is totally different to her “THERE IS AN INTRUDER!” alert bark. She is coming around. She has always been loving and gentle, not to mention Gorgeous!
      Several months after we adopted her a lady at the Humane Society told me Willow was feral. That was disheartening . But knowing that gave us more information about how to work with her. She’s a very loving dog who is afraid to let us touch her and yet she will touch us. She is happy now.. She behaves well. When she barks at a cat, who plagues her daily, we correct her using an animal call. Like a deer or moose call. Willow instantly responds to that call.
      Willow is a blessing and we love her and her companion very much.

      • Rino Liberatore says

        We have had a rescue dog for the past 5 years. We believe she is an Australian Cattle Dog but we are not sure because she has unusual coloring. She is all white with Dalmation type spots just on her ears. We think she is now about 7 years old. When we adopted her on Father’s Day she was a shuddering mess in her cage at the shelter.
        “Lucy” is a very special dog and her behaviors are so unusual that she would have had a tough time being adopted into any home. She is fearful of almost everything including noises especially thunder, cars, trucks, anything loud. She is hyper-sensitive to her surroundings and likes routine especially on our daily walks. She took nearly two weeks to warm up to my wife and I and is not very food motivated. She hid in the basement for two days and then spent the next two weeks “on guard” against our behaviors–depriving herself of sleep to keep a careful watch.
        She has a difficult time with any visitors but seems to do well with children. She investigates unusual things like the door handles on all the cars we pass during our walks. She will only eat if she feels completely safe and has her routine. She is a sweet and loving dog with us but most outsiders would never know this to be true.
        We adopted a companion “Jack Russell” shortly after we had Lucy and they are best buds. We now have 4 rescue dogs and Lucy does well with all her friends and likes to play. There are times when we have been gone for more than 6 hours and she has trouble recognizing us. She also does unusual things like staring at the ceiling a lot. She is usually the first in the house to notice something unusual outside. A thundershirt we purchased definitely helps to ease her distress during storms but she is a dog living with a tremendous amount of anxiety. We love her very much, accept completely her odd behaviors and she has made us more sensitive people. Lucy has changed our lives.

        • Jeanne says

          Hi Rino, You should look up Catahoula Leopard Dogs. Lucy sounds like she might be that breed. What color are her eyes? And could it be possible that she is deaf or hearing-impaired? Our Winnie is a Catahoula with double marbled eyes and a lot of white in her coat so we know she’ll have a higher chance of losing her hearing as she ages. We’ve also wondered if she had autism since she was a puppy. The standing and staring thing, not wanting to look at us unless there was a treat pay-off etc. We’ve found if we give her extra hugs, kisses and talk she seems to ‘stay in our world’ a little more. Hope this helps with Lucy.

  2. Lynne says

    We got a tiny, 5-week (or so) old puppy whose mother had stopped caring for. He couldn’t see or walk, and the vet said he probably wouldn’t make it. He weighed 4 lbs. His siblings were 2x his size or better (lab mixes). We worked with him, partly bottle feeding, letting him fall into his food bowl because that pup simply would not give up on anything. He is now almost 5 years old, a big, strapping dog who can see just fine. Now and then, he wobbles, but he can catch tennis balls like nobody’s business. The vet said because his mother didn’t care for him, he didn’t learn to process things, and so he is constantly bombarded with everything — sights, sounds, smells, etc. He loves tennis balls and us, in that order. He is extremely OCD. On a walk, if a mailbox door is open when it shouldn’t be, he will turn around and head home. When my neighbor up the road decorated her mailbox for Christmas, he barked at it for hours from the safety of our driveway. During a visit to the vet, an unfamiliar tech took him into the back for his shots. All that noise, the strange tech, and then a new vet was absolutely the wrong situation. The vet got bitten and the familiar vet tech had to take my dog into an empty room and get him calm. He was hysterical. He’s a wonderful, sweet dog who on rare occasions will play with us or one of the other dogs. Mostly he sits in his chair, with his tennis ball. We humans are useful for throwing the ball for him when he’s outside, and that’s about it. :) He simply can’t tolerate a lot of noise, activity, or change, so we are super protective of him. We haven’t found a vet here that is willing to make allowances for his “quirks,” so we’re going to try meeting a mobile vet in a parking lot. Open spaces aren’t as scary for him as a vet’s office where monsters (like houseplants or magazines) might be lurking. They’re a challenge, but I definitely do believe autism is entirely possible with dogs.

  3. Louise says

    My bitch Jess had 8 puppies one of which was Buster he was born dead, after giving him the kiss of life & fighting to make him breath for a while we managed to make him breath, he was the runt & was blind for 6 months, then his sight kicked in, but he acts autistic, OCD, very odd behaviours, every human autistic trait he has, not sure if this is just brain damage or autism. He knows his name & understands things like car, sit & tea etc, but lives in his own bubble & unless he is out on a walk spends most of his day hiding or shaking over nothing, he doesn’t know how to interact properly with other dogs & I have to walk my other 2 dogs his mother & sister independently, he hates change, has to walk around the car & garden a certain way, won’t chase a ball, just chases his mum chasing the ball then bits her tail, runs up to other dogs doesn’t understand other dog language, he’s just very random, nothing like my other 2 labs.

  4. Lou says

    I disagree that autism syndrome is very rare in dogs. We’ve owned several rescue/shelter dogs who had the symptoms…. fearful, very sensitive, hyperactive, stare into space or at us, no interaction with other dogs or people, no activity even though young and an active breed, unresponsive often when called, lack of personality, no joy or facial expression, and on. These dogs are all over-vaccinated. Shelter and rescue dogs get 5-10 vaccines all at once or within a few days; they also are spayed/neutered, microchipped, given toxic drugs and chemicals at the same time as being vaccinated. Talk about an assault on the immune system! We’re trying homeopathy for our current autistic dog; she’s a sad, lost creature who is nothing like a healthy example of her breed. We are never again vaccinating and will never own another shelter/rescue dog. They’re just too messed up from all that’s been done to them.

  5. Connie Jeffrey says

    My Lhasa Apso X cav I’ve always knew from day one something was not right with him, but everything about him geled with me, I’ve recently have been tested for sensory processing disored and with that done alot of research on autism as its in the Spectrum and this is where buddie makes alot of sence to me to have canine autism. :-
    hated affection- he has his moments but can only be picked up one way. When I got him from the pet store he struggle to want to be pick up probably the reason why a week later he was still there.

    Routine- this dog if put out if his routine he’s more shut off for the rest of the day, he had to get groomed in the morning or he would not corporate to get groomed he just would sit still.

    Antisocial- he does not leave my room, refuses to greet anyone except for me but even that he stands back. He has an other Lhasa and boxer and has no interest in playing with them. Gets annoyed in their in his personal space.

    Sensory overload- he barks and bark and barks when he’s other fur family a playing he will jump on the bed to get away from them but can’t stand their movement so he just barks which in turn sets my SPD off by noise… He too with go off if to much noise I think it hurts his ears. Buddie is the type to every now and then just kick a ball around on his own, no interest in playing with the other dogs. My other Lhasa dutchess will try and get him to play but he just sits there then she gives up. If another dog or even I am sitting to close he gets frustrated and moves away from everything. He can stand the slightest touch if he over stimulated.

    Compulsive behaviour- we would never walk over cords. He would sit there and bark and cry until you moved it or lifted him over. He’s better with that now but took a long time. He’s obsessed with anything round because he’s overly obsessed with balls. He will round them all up and just lay with them and get protective if someone that’s not in his bubble or any other dog tries to take them. But great dog for catch he could catch bring back for hours.

    On the odd occasion- he goes through desperation anxiety from me and dutchess to sometimes. He will bark and bark and bark until he’s beside me. This doesn’t happen much only when something’s happen and he’s been out of routine and I’m also been thrown out of routine.

    Buddie really does fit the critiar he’s every aloof shows no to not much emotions and ampathy. It’s so hard because I understand him 100% I know what I need to do to seek help to control mine but it’s upsetting to see my dog suffer to when I know how he is feeling and going through.

  6. DIAN says

    I have a dog that I believe is Autistic. Ive had her since she was 6 weeks. She is now almost 14 months. She had always seemed to be an “independent” liitle puppy. Not afraid to stake her claim weither it be a bone or spot on her bed,her too what she thought was rightfully hers. Not in an aggressive way,more in a “take charge sort of way. (her sibling was a year older)…as time progressed I noticed when given a new toy for each she would not know what to do with it…and seem to be confused and anxious when my other dog would get excited and play with her new toy…When a person would visit the puppy did not know how to greet but again would get anxious when the other dog would show happiness and excitement towards the company. It was like the puppy did not know how to express the proper emotions. What confirmed my suspicion that it might be autism was taking her in the car to our summer home a few hours away…The puppy would start barking anxiously until we were on the road…again showing outbursts only when we would stop the car for gas or pull over for any other reason…Once she was back in a familiar environment she was fine….When we rescued this puppy we found out her mother was 13 years old!! She was 1 of only 3 puppies…She is non aggressive very attached to my other dog which is a year apart form her. She is also ver attached to me.Very affectionate & likes to be pet. Could it be “Fiona” is Autistic ??

  7. Gordon says

    I assisted as my bitch “Molly” delivered 8 beautiful healthy Aussie Shepherds – Merle aka “Doodah” was #7 and I could tell immediately he was “different” – he would not cuddle with his siblings and avoided contact with everyone except his mother. I kept him and one of his brothers (a twin) and one of his sisters (the runt). I’ve been convinced that Doodah is autistic ever since he was born. I never forced affection on him and he took about a year to “warm up” but he has developed into a beautiful happy little fella who grins literally from ear to ear, gives and accepts love on his terms, but even now after 4 years if I touch his paws he reacts with an electric shock-like reaction. Is it possible that hypersensitive paws are symptomatic of Canine Autism?

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