Autism in Dogs: Myth or Reason for Concern?

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
It’s no secret that we share a lot of similarities with our four-legged best friends. But what about mental illnesses? Can dogs have autism?

Dogs are susceptible to various illnesses that affect their owners, such as diabetes, arthritis, glaucoma, or epilepsy. When it comes to mental health, the issue of shared conditions becomes a more complicated topic, as in canines, these problems are much harder, if not impossible, to diagnose.

In spite of that, after many studies, we now know that dogs can have disorders such as anxiety, OCD, or depression, same as their human companions. So, what about autism? According to scientists, canines can have autism-like symptoms, but reaching a definitive diagnosis is anything but a straightforward process. Here is what we know:

Definition and Symptoms of Autism

According to Mayo clinic, autism is a spectrum disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others, and includes obsessive and repetitive behaviors. In dogs, autism-like symptoms include:

  • repetitive behavior (often trance-like)
  • sudden aggressive episodes
  • tendency for phobias

A study published in a journal called Transitional Psychiatry revealed that dogs can present with symptoms consistent with autism. In this case, the subjects of the study were Bull Terriers, who were chosen for their breed-specific behavior of repetitive tail chasing. The researchers were able to draw parallels in behavioral symptoms, but what’s more fascinating is the presence of specific biomarkers in both the affected dogs and autistic children. Although it’s still early to say we have definitive proof that dogs can have autism, considering these findings- it is something worth looking into.

Vaccines- Should You Worry?

Lately, there has been considerable debate over autism in dogs, but for all the wrong reasons. It seems that some people believe that vaccines against serious diseases such as distemper, leptospirosis, canine influenza, and rabies, can somehow cause canine autism.

This, however, is absolutely untrue. Numerous scientific studies have , time and time again, proved that vaccines have no connection to autism, and the case is same with dogs. Not only that skipping on vaccinations won’t help your dog, but it can actually seriously harm them, because it leaves them vulnerable to various, often lethal, diseases.

The Verdict on Canine Autism

While there haven’t been any definitive studies that could prove that dogs can get autism, there are some indications that our furry babies can be affected by this disorder.

The research done on bull terriers has paved the way for more studies, and, hopefully, we’ll get some answers in the near future. Currently, all eyes are on a study named Canines, Kids and Autism: Decoding Obsessive Behaviors in Canines and Autism in Children will try to pinpoint genes responsible for obsessive-compulsive behaviors in purebred dogs. Considering that humans and canines share 84 percent of their DNA, success could help treatment of both affected children and dogs.

If your pooch is behaving atypically, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have autism. There are numerous health issues (both mental and physical) that could cause sudden onsets of aggression, as well as obsessive, and repetitive behaviors. Before you jump to any conclusions, it’s best to talk with your vet. With their help, you’ll be able to get to the bottom of your pet’s issues in no time.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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