Dogs are incredible creatures. As man’s best friends, they show unconditional love and companionship. But did you know that dogs can also suffer from mental disabilities?
Recently, studies have shown that some dogs may be autistic just like children. Dogs exhibit symptoms such as avoidance of contact with other dogs or people, lack of normal social responsiveness, not responding to their names or ignoring familiar commands, repetitive movements or unusual behaviors (such as pacing compulsively in circles), over-reaction to certain stimuli (like loud noises), under-reaction to another stimulus (for example remaining motionless after being frightened by a sudden loud noise), changing sleep patterns (sleeping excessively during the day) and hypersensitivity to stimulation (such as touch).
The autism spectrum in dogs is not yet well understood. Veterinary clinics are only starting to recognize the symptoms, which means that there aren’t enough autistic dogs around to study. But veterinarians are beginning to provide treatment for this type of mental disorder in canines. The link between human and canine autism may help discover how autism develops in children or even further current treatments.
Currently, there isn’t a single explanation for the cause of autism in humans. But genetic and environmental factors are among the top theories. Dogs can suffer from similar disorders as humans because they share many important genes with people. For example, some dogs have a mutated gene that is linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children.
By studying canine autism, scientists may be able to figure out what exactly causes this condition in both people and animals. In turn, this could lead to breakthroughs for the treatment of human autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
How can you tell if your dog is special needs?
If you think that your dog might be autistic, take him or her to a veterinary clinic. A veterinarian will work with you to determine if your pet’s behavior is unusual and advise how it can be treated.
Most dogs are social creatures, but some do prefer the company of their owners over other dogs. If this is true for your pup, but he or she doesn’t show affection for other dogs and people, then you should ask your vet about autism.
Just like children with ASD, dogs may respond well to treatment. Behavioral therapy is usually the first step in any treatment plan that the veterinarian recommends. This can help older dogs become more socialized and comfortable around other animals and people. For younger dogs, training may help them overcome some of the symptoms of autism.
Can animals have autism?
It is not yet clear if animals other than humans can have autism. But the evidence in dogs suggests that they might be able to. Studies are currently underway in several universities to explore this possibility with different species. If companion animals do suffer from ASD, they may experience symptoms similar to those of autistic children and adults.
One thing is for sure: animal therapy can be highly beneficial for humans with autism. In addition to occupational and speech therapies, kids with ASD can also benefit from taking care of a pet. Companion animals help children develop responsibility and empathy skills that they wouldn’t otherwise learn in school or at home.
Autistic students often receive exemptions from traditional academics to focus on pet care. For example, the University of Florida recognizes that students with autism often require special accommodations for their condition. They allow these children to complete coursework online in exchange for completing an animal science major. Autistic students who are interested in forestry may also be able to obtain a degree through distance learning at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Can dogs have high functioning autism?
Some dogs may be labeled as “high functioning” to describe their behavior. Though not all canine autism is the same, each dog experiences symptoms differently. For example, one may act like an excited child when he or she sees a family member after being apart for several hours. Others may not show emotions when they are separated from their owner and may even appear unfriendly.
Some dogs may be very smart but have low IQs when it comes to animal behavior. For example, they may be unable to learn commands or find their way home when lost. Others can focus on one thing for a long period without becoming distracted. This is often the case with dogs who like to chew or obsessively lick their paws until they are raw.
One thing is certain: all dogs should receive the proper care and treatment for autism spectrum disorder. Whether your pup is socially awkward or highly intelligent, he or she can benefit from behavioral therapy. An animal behaviorist may be able to help you train your dog so that he or she can be happier and healthier.