Can A Dog Be Autistic?

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Ksenia Raykova/Shutterstock

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects humans and can be manifested in a variety of ways, most of which are related to challenges with social skills, communication, and interaction with the world itself. While the many sides of the autism spectrum are well understood and documented, there’s a lot that remains a mystery, such as the question if autism is specific to humans – or more precisely: can a dog be autistic?

Canine autism is still not officially recognized in veterinary medicine in the same way it is in humans, however, there are some behaviors in dogs that can resemble traits associated with autism in humans, leading some pet owners and veterinarians to use the term "autistic" in order to describe them more specifically. Here is all that you need to know about this complex topic.

Can a Dog Be Autistic?

Some dogs may exhibit behaviors that are similar to those seen in autistic individuals. For example, some dogs may exhibit repetitive behaviors. This might include excessive licking, tail chasing, pawing, or pacing. In fact, they get so repetitive that it quickly becomes abnormal. Besides all this, some “autistic” dogs can have difficulties with social interactions. In these cases, they might be less responsive to social cues, avoid eye contact, or prefer being alone. Similarly, some dogs can have overwhelming sensitivity to various stimuli. This means that certain dogs might be overly sensitive to sounds, lights, or touch – things that seem ordinary in most cases. 

These behaviors could be due to various factors, including genetic predispositions, developmental issues, or environmental influences. Some dogs may also be affected by canine-compulsive disorder (CCD). Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in humans, dogs with CCD engage in repetitive behaviors that are difficult to interrupt. This can contribute to autistic behaviors. The same goes for dogs with sensory processing disorders. In such cases, they might have abnormal sensory processing, making them overly reactive or unresponsive to certain stimuli. Ultimately, though not well-defined, certain neurodevelopmental issues could lead to behaviors reminiscent of autism. 

Either way, in the case that your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, it is important to seek professional help. Working with a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist can help you address problematic behaviors and deal with them efficiently. After all, autistic dogs can be as happy and normal as all other pets. Providing mental and physical stimulation through toys,  puzzles, and regular exercise is very important, however, as it ensures that they remain happy and active. 

You can also let others know that your doggo is just a little bit special. A  unique velcro patch for your pet’s harness will signify to others that your pet might not be as social as they expect and prevent uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. 

In the end, we need to accept the fact that canine autism is still very much an undefined issue. Research into canine behavior and neurology is ongoing, and our understanding of these issues continues to evolve. Some studies suggest that certain neurological or genetic conditions in dogs might have parallels to human autism, but more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions. In any case, patience, love, and understanding are needed for dogs with behavioral problems, and with just a little bit of extra work, they can be wonderful companions.

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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