One question I have encountered one so many times with dog owners is can dogs have autism? This is one subject that elicits strong emotions in many dog owners. Especially those who have seen the effect it can have on their human loved ones.
This concern has in recent times been a subject of rigorous study. And while opinions may vary between one veterinarian or researcher and the other, there are still basic facts that go on to suggest its existence.
In the course of this article, we will be exploring this concern, its causes, symptoms and how to handle dogs with autism.
Autism In Dogs Explained
Autism, known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), generally refers to a disorder that affects the development of the brain. As this happens, the affected object experiences defects in communication challenges with social interactions, and repetitive behavior.
One intriguing finding of the occurrence of dog autism is that done by veterinarians and pioneer in the study of obsessive-compulsive disorder in animals – Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
At the background of his findings is the theory that humans and other animals share similar neurochemistry. And as such their minds and emotions work in similar ways.
Even though his groundbreaking work in this area has many critics in the veterinary community, his new science approach which he developed and called One Medicine speaks volumes in the factor of the possibility of autism in animals. An in-depth look into his finding suggests that this condition can be seen in canines too.
Signs Of Autism In Dogs
This dog can display peculiar behaviors. These conducts are highly related to the ones autistic humans’ show, such as staring at stuff, avoiding people and objects, running or staying still without any reason. As they are irrationally afraid of some things, they usually don’t like new things, toys, people, and other pets.
2. Social Interactions
One of the common manifestations of autism in dogs is that they have trouble having social interactions with other people or dogs. There are times when your dog could ignore your call or feel weird whenever around other dogs.
Also, engaging in everyday situations common to dogs such as playing, eating and even going for a walk is something he/she rarely does. Even when it comes to expressing his/her feelings as other dogs, their actions are always weird. With autistic dogs, a show of personality or any sign of character becomes far from them.
Slightly related to their social disorders is that since an autistic dog doesn’t show those emotions correctly, you may find it difficult to know what the dog is thinking or feeling.
For this reason, you discover that they can get scared randomly. And as such avoid people and places that present any threat to them. They frequently and unexplainably may retreat and hide.
You can also observe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, such as repetitive and pointless actions. For instance, your dog can get mad or sad just because you put the food bowl three inches to the right.
4. Sensorial Response
Remember that autistic in humans is like that in dogs, and as is seen with humans autism makes you feel everything differently. Their reactions to things and situations are usually different from the norm. This is because they link physical and sensorial stimuli to wrong emotions. Just having their owners touch them in a gentle way can trigger an unusual reaction as if they were hurt by it.
This can be disheartening to dog owners that are naïve about the condition and maybe thinking they are doing something wrong. So generally, dogs with autism don’t act correctly.
As a result of your dog’s abnormal behavior, his/her still disposition can appear to be languid and indolent. You could also mistake your dog to be sick as he/she doesn’t show any interest in anything. And as such appears depressing. Their refusal to play or do anything fun can easily be tagged as lazy.
What Causes Autism in Dogs?
Dog autism is an idiopathic condition which is a scientific way of saying that the exact causes are currently unknown. But, scientists and veterinarians have agreed that it is no doubt that autism in dogs is possible.
Also, this condition doesn’t just come at some point in their life; it is congenital. This means that f your dog suffers from autism, they must have been born with it and inherited it from a past relative.
Scientists suggest that dogs with autism are a result of lacking crucial mirror neurons in their brains. The mirror neurons are neutrons responsible for aiding dogs to learn social norms. The name sterns from the fact that dogs come with the ability to mirror the behavior of other canines. And thus learn how to be social.
The implication of this is that your dog will be unable to develop the needed skills to build relationships without these neurons. According to Keysers, these neurons are “multimodal association neurons that increase their activity during the execution of certain actions and while hearing or seeing corresponding actions being performed by others.”
Studies show that canines also have these mirror neurons. As in humans, these mirror neurons play an important role in the process of bonding and other social behaviors.
Diagnosis of Autism in Dogs
While scientists have agreed that dogs can be autistic, it is important to understand as well that the amount of research that has been done about this subject is still limited.
As a result of this limitation, and until more research is completed, diagnosing this condition in individual dogs comes with a lot of considerations. It is not at all an easy process.
This is because, humanly speaking, our understanding of behaviors that should be considered typical and atypical is very limited. Also, many of the symptoms of this condition bear a close resemblance to those associated with other conditions. Such as anxiety disorders and pain. The best a vet can say is that a dog might have autism.
In order for your dog to be diagnosed for having autism, a good number of the symptoms as listed above must be displayed. From repetitive behavior and problems to problems with social interaction with people and/or other dogs.
How to Help Autistic Dogs
Every dog owner who suspects their dogs to be autistic should first understand that being autistic is a condition and not a disease. And as much as this condition comes with being born, there’s no cure available for it. It is genetic and in-built to their system. It can only be managed to palliate the symptoms associated with it.
Additionally, it also helps to try and understand that this type of dog will need a great deal of care and attention. Additionally, they are known for routine cravings. And as such anything outside of their normal daily routines is most likely to create fear and anxiety.
This implies that change in or around the owner or his/her house can be particularly hard on this kind of dogs. So it is recommended to gradually and carefully desensitize your dog to things it is impossible to avoid on a day to day basis.
Early socialization is also very important. This is particularly true in the first 16 weeks of their life. Minor things such as shifting furniture or moving the dog’s bed are likely to create an episode of anxiety that can cause the dog to be unsettled. As much as possible avoid possible triggers of this condition.
Medications that have proven helpful to the canine version include serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, such as anticonvulsant therapies and Prozac.
Final Words About Can A Dog Have Autism
If you have wondered if your dog might be autistic, by now you must have known that you aren’t alone. Whenever you think that your dog might be autistic, or if your dog displays behaviors that seem to be too associated with an autism-like condition, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your primary care veterinarian and have him/her evaluated.
Although you’re less likely to get a definitive answer, your vet is going to recommend opinion on the matter and any treatment options that will ensure your dog still enjoys a high quality of life!
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