Photo: Wikipedia

Often dogs with canine dysfunctional behaviour show repetitive movements and actions such as circling around the room, chasing their tails for a long time, obsessive chewing or teeth grinding, lining up objects, among others.

They may exhibit trance-like behaviours or avoid eye contact and if your dog doesn’t like interacting with others, it may be a sign that they are an autistic dog.

According to a growing number of veterinarians, it is possible for dogs to suffer from Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From as early as 1966, veterinarians noted the occurrence of autism-like symptoms in dogs. 

Obsessive Compulsive Behaviours

Then a 2015 study done by leading animal behaviourist, Dr Nicholas Dodman and presented at the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists, found links between behaviours (like obsessive tail chasing) as a possible sign of canine autism.

Of 132 bull terriers studied (55 tail-chasing terriers and 77 non-tail-chasing terriers), the researchers found that tail chasing is most prevalent in male dogs. It’s often done during a trance-like state and can be considered a form of episodic aggression. These findings, coupled with the repetitive motor behaviour and a tendency for phobias, led them to conclude that tail-chasing could be a sign of canine autism. 

Dr Dodman also suggested genetic biomarkers may be similar in bull terriers who chase their tails and people with autism. While not definitive, the study indicated that this syndrome in dogs could be linked to a genetic condition called fragile X syndrome.

The characteristic long, bowed "downface" of bull terriers (often with high-arched hard palate) and their protruding ears mean that they have facial feature similar to people with fragile X syndrome.

More To Be Done

As there is only a limited amount of scientific research and studies done the link between dogs and autism at present, it is not enough to confirm whether individual dogs may indeed be autistic. More research is still required to be able to understand the conditions presented.

Causes of autism in dogs range from congenital (born with the disorder) to a lower count of mirror neurons which are important in learning social skills in dogs. If you feel that your dog may be autistic, supporting them as a paw parent will go a long way.

The first thing that you can do is to consult with your dog’s veterinarian. Together, it is best to try to find out what triggers their seemingly atypical behaviour and steer clear from these triggers.