Can Dogs Have Autism?
Can dogs have Autism? Though there’s no simple diagnostic answer to that question, remaining open to the possibility that dogs can be Autistic can be a useful approach to treating troubling dog behaviors. remaining open to the possibility that dog behaviors can be Autistic while still keeping one foot firmly on the ground of reality-testing.
Autism is largely understood as a human neurodevelopmental disorder. What’s more, Autism isn’t a simple condition to understand much less diagnose, even in humans. And to top off the heap of qualifications like a big juicy Autism cherry, dogs can’t communicate their feelings in human language, which makes it hard to apply a human concept to an animal mind and receive reliably conclusive feedback about how it feels. These difficulties have complicated and slowed the research, despite significant interest in the apparent links between problematic dog behaviors and Austism.
In short, we are not yet able to say for certain whether dogs have Autism; ASD has not yet been clearly defined or diagnosed in like dogs. For that reason, it’s best to maintain a posture of openness to the possibility – but caution as to the certainty – that dogs can have Autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex human behavioral condition. We recognize it as a complex aggregate of difficulties in social interaction, communication challenges, and repetitive behaviors. Dogs can also exhibit some, or even all of this aggregate. But ascertaining why that may be is, for the time being, beyond our ken.
Despite the clear emotional connection, and the well-documented mirroring that dogs and humans display with one another, it’s important to recognize the essential differences between canine and human minds and bodies. While dogs may exhibit behavior that we believe resembles aspects of human autism, there is currently no empirically substantiated evidence of dog autism, and no medical or veterinary authority that recognizes dogs as mirroring this aggregate of symptoms we know as ASD. Therefore, at this moment, while we may feel, quite strongly perhaps even, that our dogs are autistic, there is no way to officially or credibly diagnose them with it.
However, despite the lack of medical recognition, it’s also important to maintain a stance of openness to the possibility that dogs indeed may have behaviors similar enough to human Autism to be considered Autistic. Simply writing off the possibility because no study has observed and catalogued the connection doesn’t in any way signify the lack of that connection. While it remains an unproven possibility that the many people who believe that dogs have Austism are misattributing the dog behaviors they observe to something specifically human, it’s also possible that the connection exists and we yet to find a way of proving it empirically.
There have been several studies attempting to identify this connection, and some researchers have come to believe that dogs do in fact mirror human behavior constellations reliably enough to diagnose those behaviors as the same. One such study published in 2017 in the Journal of Comparative Psychology stated “The domestic dog may be a promising model of complex human behavior, including core features of ASD”. Another opinion article, published in the journal Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science in 2019, argued that the symptoms considered Autistic in dogs “are functionally analogous to the human condition; and more likely [than rodents] to have similar etiology”.
That’s all well and good, but what are dog owners supposed to do when they see their dogs struggling with Autistic-seeming behaviors in their beloved pets? To a worried pet-owner, a diagnosis is beside the point: what we seek is relief. For relief, as pragmatists, we can experiment with treatments until we land on one that works. Beyond providing a roadmap for treatments, whether treatments for Autism are “for” humans with ASD or not is ultimately academic relative to the issue of whether they work (or don’t) for one particular dor or another.
So: if you observe behaviors in your dog that seem Autistic to you, talk to your vet about what you see. But it’s important to remember that veterinarians are scientists. Whether your vet is open to or dismisses the possibility that dogs can have Austism may say more about their relation to the yet-unexplained that it does about your dog’s behavior. So if you feel reassured by your vets’s response, all to the good. Follow his or her advice and hope for improvement. But if you find your vet’s response lacking in one way or another, don’t hesitate to be an advocate for your dog’s well-being and get a secondf opinion with anotheer vet, or better-yet, an animal behaviorist.
An animal behaviorist can help assess whether your dog’s behaviors are signs of a medical issue, anxiety, stress, a reasoanble or functional part of the dog’s behavior, or an aggregate of behavioral symptoms that is “Autism-like”. Whatever the end-result, what’s important is that you approach the evaluation of your dog’s behavior from a perspective that considers their specific needs, instincts, and communication methods rather than trying to fit them into diagnostic categories.
While some behaviors in dogs may appear similar to certain aspects of autism in humans, it’s important to remember that while it’s tempting to see ourselves in our dogs, and our dogs in ourselves, anthropomorphizing dogs can be misguided. Dogs may exhibit various behaviors for a range of reasons, including genetics, environment, training, or medical issues, and it’s important to consider their behavior from a perspective that is open t the possibility that dogs can have Autism, but recognizes the risks of . Some dogs may display behaviors that seem socially indifferent or repetitive, but these behaviors may have different underlying causes.