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Our four-legged companions are very important to us. Unfortunately, we can’t always understand why they do certain things. Some of their behavior can become troubling, and many pet owners may be left wondering why their pups act this way.
When owners notice their dogs being non-responsive to their verbal cues or commands, agitated in unfamiliar environments, performing repetitive behaviors, or being aggressive, they may ask themselves, can dogs have autism?
What Is Autism?
Before diagnosing the problem, you will want to understand autism better. Autism spectrum disorder can have a wide range of symptoms and severity.
People who suffer from it tend to have problems with social interaction and communication skills. They also can display repetitive patterns of behavior and become obsessed with specific interests or activities.
- Failure to respond to their name
- Resisting physical contact
- Not willing to make eye contact
- Compulsive behavior
- Repetitive movements
- Repetition of words or actions
- Intense interest in a limited number of things
- Unaware of others’ emotions
These are just some of the most common symptoms of the disorder. Due to the nature of autism, these can be expressed in different ways depending on the individual. The range in which the disorder expresses will make it hard to diagnose in dogs.
Studies for Canine Autism
Currently, autism is not a recognized disorder in dogs, but there have been studies about the possibility since 1966. That study looked at syndromes in dogs that are similar to autism in humans. The researchers could not determine if dogs had autism, but we have learned more about dogs and more about autism since then.
Many studies have also investigated behaviors that mirror autism symptoms, like a 2011 study of bull terriers chasing their tail obsessively. With humans, we can discuss motives in their behavior, which helps determine why they are doing something. However, dogs can’t communicate their motives, which makes studying their disorders even more difficult.
The main reason autism is not diagnosed yet is a lack of understanding of typical and atypical dog behavior. There needs to be a baseline before you know if your dog’s behavior is outside standard patterns for their breed and age. Until more research is done, professionals will likely not refer to these behaviors as a proof of autism.
Can dogs have autism? This question will be the basis of many new studies in the future. People love their dogs, and they want to take care of them in the best possible way. Many current studies are trying to figure out normal and abnormal behavior in dogs. These will help us develop tests that can diagnose autism in dogs more efficiently.
One of the most prominent ongoing studies comes from a collaboration between The American Humane Association, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It is currently titled, Canines, Kids, and Autism: Decoding Obsessive Behaviors in Canines and Autism in Children.
When this study and many like it are concluded, we will have a more definitive answer about dogs and autism. However, until it is diagnosed, you can still do many things for your canine that may be dealing with autism symptoms.
What Can You Do?
Why are you asking, can dogs have autism? It’s because you are seeing behaviors that cause you to worry. Even if your dog can’t be diagnosed with autism yet, what can still help them with the problems they are having. Treating the symptoms can help. Most of these treatments aren’t quick cures, but they can help make your dog happier and healthier.
If your dog is exhibiting compulsive behavior, you can take steps to help them. A veterinarian may prescribe specific meal plans that can help with the problem. Proper nutrition can make a dog feel better.
Extra exercise can be great for a dog. It helps relieve boredom, and it releases healthy hormones that can make your dog feel better. Also, find your dog a “job” that can help them feel useful. This can include finding dog treats, carrying their food and water on walks, and scent games.
Your dog can suffer from many forms of anxiety. One of the first steps to properly managing the problem is identifying triggers. In some cases, you can remove these triggers. If your dog doesn’t like socializing, avoid places with high concentrations of people and dogs. If your dog doesn’t like their crate, don’t use one, or find one they like better. Simple changes can help decrease your dog’s anxiety.
Often the triggers are something you and your dog have to live with. Thunderstorms, people knocking on the door, or visiting your home, and being left alone all have to happen sometimes. In these cases, training may be able to help. When a dog understands what they are supposed to do, some situations will become less stressful.
If training doesn’t work, all you can do is comfort your dog when they are in these situations. Finally you can look into medications, though these tend to be prescribed rarely.
Create a Safe Space
Make sure that there are places that a dog can retreat to that are entirely their own. This space can be a crate, a bed, or just a part of a room that is only for your dog. Try not to interact with your dog when they go to this place. This space allows dogs the opportunity to feel safe from certain stresses, and that may allow them to control their problems more healthily.
Even if the medical community does not currently diagnose autism, your dog could still be affected by it. But don’t worry, your dog can still be loving and amazing. You just may have to take some extra precautions. Always talk to your vet about any concerns you may have. Understand that sometimes your four-legged friend may not be able to express themselves fully, but they can still love you, and you can still love them.