We define autism in humans as “a condition that impacts the nervous system”. Symptoms can vary but usually range from having difficulty being in social situations, communication issues, or exhibiting obsessive interests and repetitive behaviors. We have a history of diagnosing autism in humans. But what about autism in dogs? That field remains a mystery relatively.
Today, we will try to talk more about autism in dogs. Can dogs be autistic? Let’s talk about it!
What causes autism in dogs?
We define autism in dogs as canine dysfunctional behavior. It is an idiopathic condition, meaning that we do not know the exact cause. What we know is the cause is congenital, and dogs that exhibit dysfunctional behavior are usually born with it.
Scientists have conducted several studies on the topic. The result suggests that dogs with autism or canine dysfunctional behavior lack certain mirror neurons in their brains.
These mirror neurons help young dogs mirror older dogs and other canines. That is how they learn to function in a social setting. And without these neurons, dogs cannot develop the skills they need to build social relationships.
Has autism ever been diagnosed in dogs?
The studies about autism in dogs date back to the 1960s. As early as 1966, veterinarians talked about the occurrence of autism-like symptoms in dogs. The latest study comes from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Conducted in 2015, the study presented tail-chasing behavior in Bull Terriers and a possible link to autism.
This study observed traits of 132 Bull Terriers. They had a non-tail-chasing control group, and 55 remaining terriers that chased their tail. The study showed symptoms occurred more commonly in males.
Diagnosing autism in dogs
The study indicates that autism can occur in dogs. But until we have more research and studies, we cannot definitely diagnose the condition. In order to diagnose a dog with autism, “he or she should exhibit atypical repetitive behavior and some degree of impaired social interaction dogs and/or people”.
It is challenging to diagnose the condition simply because we lack evidence. And before we diagnose autism, we have to rule out other medical and behavioral conditions.
Veterinarians can perform several tests to see how your dog responds to certain situations. Yet, we have to stress, these tests cannot diagnose autism in dogs.
Signs and symptoms
While we cannot definitely diagnose autism in dogs, scientists have come up with a couple of symptoms. If your dog exhibits these symptoms and behavior, he might suffer from the condition.
Dogs are naturally social animals. They love to play with other dogs, humans, and even other animals. But if you notice that your dog doesn’t want to interact with other animals and people, ask for help. Now, your dog might have anxiety, stress, or trust problems. Do not associate with autism instantly.
Another natural trait of dogs is their communication. They communicate by wagging their tail, barking, howling, whining, or other ways.
Dogs with autism cannot express moods and feelings, be it happy or sad. Their personality appears flat.
One of the main symptoms of autism in people is obsessive-compulsive behavior. In other words, repetitive motions. As we said before, one of the studies on dogs and autism focused on them chasing their tail.
Other repetitive behaviors include lining up toys and obsessive chewing.
Inappropriate reaction to stimuli
Does your dog bark at the slightest touch of your hand? Dogs with autism, same as people, feel everything differently. They can get hyper-sensitive to any kind of stimuli, even a gentle pet.
They also over-react to sudden sounds. Why? Because they lack the ability to cope with new experiences.
Lethargy and tiredness
Dogs with autism prefer to ret in a familiar and comfortable area. They do not like going outside. They do not like playing with other dogs. Lack of interest in anything around them is a clear indication of improper behavior.
How to manage and treat autism?
As we said before, you cannot fully diagnose autism in your dog. But if you notice these symptoms, you can talk with your veterinarian. The goal is to determine the triggers that cause behavioral flare-ups. For example, does your dog get fearful while walking on a leash in a crowded area? If that is the case, simply avoid crowds.
There is no medication and treatment for autism in dogs. Veterinarians mostly prescribe medications that treat OCD and autism in people.
The best thing you can do for your dog is to provide a safe and secure place. Your dog gets nervous and anxious, and you have to prevent that trigger.
While dogs with autism prefer to stay home, you can try and find ways to provide regular exercise. Remember, exercise can reduce anxiety and stress. It also keeps your dog busy and adds a distraction from compulsive behaviors.
Overcoming the challenge
Simply put, dog autism provides a challenge, but it is one that you can overcome with your dog. For starters, a well-balanced diet will go a long way.
Work with trainers and therapists who specialize in positive reinforcement. Some trainers also have unique experience in working with behavioral issues.
Sadly, we have little experience with autism in dogs. We still need more research. Until we have more information about the condition, we have to deal with the symptoms of the condition, not the condition itself. It is a challenge for both the pet and the owner. But with the right support, training, and effort, you can get to the finish line.