Can pets be neurodivergent? National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month! In honor of this event, let’s take a step back and learn more about this widely misunderstood condition. It’s a time to promote acceptance, awareness, and understanding of those on the autism spectrum. 

Autism affects different individuals in subjective and individual ways, but it’s commonly known to have an effect on a person’s communication and social skills. Have you ever wondered if your pet could be on the autism spectrum? Or if pets benefit those who are affected by this condition? Let’s find out in this article! 

What is neurodiversity?

The word neurodiversity is used to describe the various and subjective nature of the human brain and its functioning. Specifically sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other related mental functions. Typically, the word is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorders. 

What is Autism?

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. It’s worth noting that the condition is very difficult to define, as it varies a lot from person to person. In summary, this condition affects one’s social and communication skills.

Can pets have Autism? 

The nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder is very complicated and subjective. Symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on the individual. There are stereotypical signs and symptoms that have been showcased in mainstream media, although those examples are extremely limiting and do not represent the range of symptoms and complications of this specific condition.

With the varying nature of the condition, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or if pets can be autistic. There are currently no studies that animals can be autistic, although there is a range of symptoms that might mimic the common signs of Autism instead. 

Dogs can be diagnosed with Autism, although the condition would be named Canine Dysfunctional Behavior (CDB). Researchers have found that dogs are born with this condition and our friends that experience CDB will have a harder time mirroring older dogs in social situations, just as humans with Autism have a tougher time navigating social scenarios. 

Cats with Autism are still being debated within the scientific community. Some sources cite that cats can, in fact, have autism, whereas others state that there’s simply not enough literature to come to a final conclusion. Although it is accepted that cats can show behavioral symptoms that are very similar to Autism. 

Behaviors exhibited by animals 

Of course, we can’t expect our furry friends to exhibit the same exact behaviors as we would see in textbooks for humans who are Autistic. There are other conditions that our pets might be experiencing, that can be easily confused with Autism. Here are a few behaviors that might relate to other conditions that your beloved pets might be going through. 

Dogs can have autism, but it’s called Canine Dysfunctional Behavior (CDB). Researchers have found that there is a link between tail-chasing behavior and CDB in dogs! Specifically in Bull Terriers. It was also found that it’s more prevalent in males than females, and the behavior is usually coupled with a trance-like response, as well as occasional aggression. Other conditions that might look similar to CDB would include Canine Anxiety, Neurological Diseases, or Canine Hypothyroidism. 

Cat’s normal behavior might make you question if they are Autistic at times. It may be from their excessive vocalization, socially withdrawn attitude, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and taste, but there is limited research on our feline friends and Autism. Despite this, researchers have found that our beloved kitty can suffer from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Can animals benefit those with Autism?

Research has found that both cats and dogs can benefit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As children with ASD can have a harder time with social situations, they struggle with isolation. Pets help them by providing stable companionship and also help them establish a routine, all while helping them with their emotional development too! According to a study cited by The Human Animal Bond Research Institute, pet dogs in families with children with autism were more likely to have reduced parental stress over the long term, and also a significant reduction in family difficulties. 

So, our furry friends can also experience autism! Although for our feline friends, the conclusions aren’t concrete yet, it’s concluded that our canine companions can, in fact, exhibit autism-like behaviors. Mental health in pets is also an important topic that all pawrents should be aware of! If you are suspecting that your beloved pets are in need of any help, please consult your veterinarian for further information and assistance.

This article is reviewed by the veterinarian from Small Animal Teaching Hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University (CUVET)

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