Autism is a condition that is characterized by tremendous difficulty in day-to-day communication and forming relationships with other people. It is a developmental syndrome that is usually diagnosed in children. In other words, it is a congenital condition which may become more pronounced with age.
There has been a lot of debate for years about whether or not dogs can develop autism, but scientists studying the mirroring neurons in the brains of canines have postulated that these missing neurons are responsible for autism in dogs, thereby vindicating the stand of the “dogs can have autism” group. There are some who stand on the fence with respect to this debate. They prefer to make it about semantics, calling it “autistic behavior” or “canine dysfunctional behavior” rather than autism. Regardless of semantics and where you stand on the issue though, it is a very real condition that all pet parents should be aware of. I have made a list of the top 6 warning signs that you should watch out for that may indicate that your dog has autism (or displays autistic behavior, depending on what you want to believe).
1. Social Awkwardness
This is one of the classic tell-tale signs of autism. Here, social awkwardness refers to the behavior of your dog in front of others – be it other dogs, other people or even you. If you are an owner of a pitbull lab mix, you know what I am talking about. If you feel that your dog is behaving awkwardly around other dogs, or is reluctant to come to you, then you may need to observe more closely. Of course, you must note that not all cases of social awkwardness are necessarily tell-tale signs of autism; it could just be that your dog is a little shy. However, shyness usually wears off after a period of time. If you see no improvement in your dog, then it would be prudent to take him to a vet, as it could be autism or some other medical condition.
2. Repetitive Behavior
If your dog exhibits behavior patterns that are repetitive, then you should definitely sit up and take notice. Repetitive behavior does not necessarily mean running around in circles or something of that sort. In this context, it means a fixed routine that is the same day in and day out. Again, if your pet has no other symptoms of autistic behavior, then it is more likely to be just a habit than autism. The key is to observe how rigid his behavioral patterns are.
3. Inability To Express Emotion
An inability to express emotion is a direct result of social awkwardness and communication issues. People and dogs with autism tend to struggle with communication any sort of emotion. There is no telling if they are happy, sad, frightened, overjoyed, depressed etc. They usually have a deadpan look that is virtually impossible to read.
4. Compulsive Behavior
Autistic dogs may exhibit compulsive behaviors. If say, your pet wants his food in a certain way all the time or puts away his toys even when you bring them out to play, then you should probe further. This classic OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) symptom could also be a warning sign of autism. The two are not mutually exclusive.
5. Limiting Behavior
A total lack of interest and enthusiasm could signal the presence of autism. For example, if your pet shows absolutely no interest in the toy you just bought for it, then it could very well be a result of autism. Sure, there may be the odd occasion where your pet is just uninterested because he doesn’t like what you bought or is preoccupied with other things; but if it is a pattern then it certainly necessitates a trip to the vet.
This goes hand-in-hand with a lack of enthusiasm and one may be confused for the other. Dogs with autism tend to be chronically fatigued. They show no inclination to prance around or play. This is accentuated and more pronounced with breeds that are known for their amazing energy levels.
Treatment For Autism In Dogs
Right, so the crux of this article was about how you can detect autism in dogs. I also want to shed some light on treatment options you can explore if your dog has autism.
Yes, it is the obvious choice and the logical first step. You will have to take your pet to the vet and see what he has to say. Remember, autism is NOT a disease, therefore there is no “cure”. Medication will improve the symptoms of autism, but it is not a permanent fix.
2. Exercise and Diet
This seems like the answer to a lot of things in life. Getting your pet to exercise will not only bring about behavioral changes after a while, it will also bring stress and anxiety levels down. Since anxiety and stress exacerbate autism to the nth degree, exercise kills a lot of birds with one stone. So does dieting and taking the right dog vitamins and supplements.
Autistic dogs may also have special dietary needs. You will need to consult a vet for specificities of your case.
3. Be Patient and Understanding
After a long day at work, it may be particularly hard to be patient and understanding of your dog’s condition. However, as a pet parent it is your duty to treat your dog just like you would your own child. Try to be as loving, caring and understanding as you can.
4. Provide a Secure And Safe Environment
As autistic dogs tend to be very touchy and can get startled at the smallest of disturbances, the onus is on you to prove a secure and safe space for them where they can go every time they feel the need to,
I must reiterate here – autism is NOT a disease. Watch out for the warning signs mentioned here and take your pet to the vet if you notice anything amiss. Owning an autistic dog can certainly get challenging at times, but understanding, love and affection will go a long way in handling the situation. For years and years, dogs have proven that they are man’s best friends. Now it is time for us to prove that we are also their best friends.