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Can Cats Have Autism? Signs, Causes & Treatment

Cat owners often witness odd and strange behavior from cats. Because of their anti-social tendencies and odd behavior feline owners may ask if their cat has autism. Can cats have autism? We get into everything owners need to know.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: January 26, 2024 | 8 min read

Cat playing with a ball

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Cats are known for their unpredictable and, at times, odd behavior. Some of their behavior traits can seem similar to those of people affected with the neurological condition of autism. For owners, especially those who feel that their cats are exhibiting strange behavior, there can be a concern that their cat may be affected by a condition like autism. But can cats have autism?

Cats exhibiting sudden changes in their behavior or who seem to be developing differently from cats in the same litter or other cats in the home may cause us owners some concern. However, you should not worry that your cat has autism. While felines and humans can have some of the same health conditions and diseases, cats cannot have autism.

Feline’s brains do not work exactly the same as ours. Cats exhibiting odd behavior may simply be goofing around, or there may be something else going on.

Can Cats Have Autism?

The short answer to the question of whether or not cats can have autism is no. As of yet, no research has proven that cats can have autism. Though kitties have many behavioral traits similar to autism spectrum disorder, this specific condition does not affect cats.

The practice of giving human characteristics or attributes to an animal is called anthropomorphizing. Pet owners do this with their fur babies all the time. However, in the case of neurological diseases like autism and Down Syndrome, a cat’s behavior resembling these conditions is not an indicator of having them.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a neurological and developmental condition that affects humans. Along with affecting the way people with autism think, the disorder has many different behaviors and symptoms. These impact communication and social interaction with others.

Sensory abnormalities, repetitive behavior, and shorter attention span and focus are also possible. They can have physical symptoms like gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, seizures, anxiety, and depression.

Though people on the autism spectrum have difficulty in some areas, they have extreme strength in others. Some people on the spectrum are highly skilled in the areas of mathematics, music, art, and science. Autistic people tend to be extraordinarily capable auditory and visual learners.

7 Cat Behaviors That Resemble Autism

Sick cat under a blanket
Some breeds are far less social than others and are less interested in interacting with people.

Sometimes, a cat’s behavior may seem similar to how autistic people behave and interact with others. For example, autistic people often prefer to spend time alone rather than with other people. Felines also tend to like to be alone, but not for the same reason.

Anti-Social Behavior

Cats like to be alone because some have a genetic nature that prefers solitude. This is not because they have a condition like autism. It is simply a matter of their specific temperament, training, and living environment. Some cat’s behavior will include high social interaction and even seem clingy, and others will be extremely antisocial. A kitty’s desire to interact with humans and other animals has quite a wide range.

Vocalization

In some cases, excessive vocalization from a cat will mean that a cat is in distress or hurt. In many cases, a feline exhibiting erratic behavior, a reluctance to socialize, and excessive or lack of vocalization can all be attributed to a lack of socialization with other animals and humans.

Intense Focus Or Repetitive Behavior

Experienced cat owners know that it is quite easy for a kitty to become obsessed with a specific toy, spot in the house, piece of furniture, smell, or person. Kitties obsessed with a toy may simply just have a favorite. For example, suppose a cat gets overly excited whenever a laser pointer comes out. In that case, the repetitive behavior may mean that they really love chasing it and get extremely energetic and motivated when that specific toy comes out.

Delayed Response & Lack Of Focus

In felines, this behavior is not connected to autism. If a kitty is acting lethargic, lying around for days, uninterested in food, or exhibiting irregular behaviors, this might be a sign that something is off. Felines can suffer from separation anxiety, stress, and depression.

If your cat’s behavior is unusual, like a delayed response, lack of focus, depression, excessively repetitive behavior, or aggressiveness, it is a good idea to reach out to your veterinarian. These behaviors are sometimes indicators that there may be something seriously wrong, like organ failure, a serious disease, dehydration, or injury.

Overstimulation

Overstimulation can happen for various reasons. Something as simple as overeating, a drastic change in environment, new pets in the home, or even new people can trigger overstimulation behavior. Felines that are overstimulated may flatten their ears, start mouthing or fighting behavior, hissing, slight aggression, and dilated pupils. Some may even try to run away.

Separation Anxiety & Stress

Some cats may exhibit abnormal behavior in this way due to a lack of human attention, so owners should always pay attention and set aside a special time every day to bond with their kitty. Even though felines are highly independent creatures, they are social and need interaction, affection, and reassurance from their owners when they are home.

Separation anxiety is a noticeably big deal for some breeds of cats, so owners should always do their research before bringing home a kitty if they need to leave them to go to work. Most kitties will do okay for a few hours at a time. Some purr babies may not do well alone overnight. Still, some breeds are very needy and may start to get aggressive, suffer from separation anxiety, or exhibit destructive behavior if they are uncomfortable being left home alone.

Illness Or Injury

A kitty suddenly acting out, refusing to interact, exhibiting signs of aggression, being overly vocal or excited, or exhibiting other symptoms that are similar to the human neurological condition of autism may be suffering from illness or injury. It is important to check with your veterinarian to rule these causes out.

Eliminating stimulants or environmental factors that cats may respond negatively to is a good start. While some people may feel that a professional trainer is a waste of time or not necessary, felines are extraordinarily complex animals. Calling in an expert for help from time to time to learn behavior modification techniques, especially if a pet is exhibiting irregular or aggressive behavior, may be needed.

Sometimes, It’s Just Normal Cat Behavior

Cat laying on ground with vision loss and two colored eyes looking at the camera
Sometimes cats behave oddly, but it’s completely normal for them.

Though feline behavior is often odd, and while some of those behaviors may seem similar to the human condition of autism, in many cases, these are just normal behaviors for cats.

Some kitties may simply not like being touched or petted excessively and will bolt rather than be subjected to unwanted attention. Other cats might do strange things, like developing a habit of sucking on blankets. This is simply part of being a cat, and it does not mean that anything is going on with your pet or that they are affected by a condition like autism.

Signs Of A Special Needs Cat

Felines cannot get autism. But they can be born with a range of special needs. A special needs kitty will have very specific requirements for living and care sometimes because of a physical or mental disability. Mental disabilities are relatively uncommon in felines because most breeders will screen for and breed out these conditions.

Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity is a common condition that affects many cats. It involves sensory overstimulation in which felines will adversely react to different stimulants such as light touch and noise. Felines have much more sensitive senses than humans do, so something that may not be too loud or bothersome for us can be very impactful for kitties. Light, for example, if it is too bright, can cause a feline to have an adverse reaction.

Feline OCD

One condition humans suffer from is called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and it can develop in felines. It often shows up in erratic and frantic actions and repeated behaviors. Cats who partake in excessive grooming or who are obsessed with certain toys and treats may suffer from feline OCD. These behaviors are often a reaction to stress and are ways that cats have learned to self-soothe.

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS).

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS) Is a feeling condition similar to the human diagnosis of schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. Cats that suffer from FHS may exhibit behaviors remarkably similar to humans who have schizophrenia, including being highly sensitive to any stimulation, running away from being touched, excessive rolling on the floor, reacting violently to unseen threats similar to hallucinations, sudden bursts of high energy, and other extreme behaviors.

Cats that suffer from FHS may seem paranoid and seem overly skittish. The good news is that the appropriate treatment for FHS is with medication.

Physical Disabilities

Felines of any breed can be born with a range of physical disabilities or develop them over time. This can also cause them to be considered special needs cats. Some congenital defects like cleft palates are relatively rare. This condition is more likely to affect purebred Siamese kittens more often than any other cats. Appropriate treatment for cleft palate condition may include surgery to correct it. In many cases, kitties with cleft palate may not survive.

Kitties can sometimes be born with extra toes. A condition referred to as polydactyl. This condition can occur in any feline breed, yet it happens most often among Maine Coons. Not all toes are always functional in polydactyl kitties. Luckily, this condition will not cause any discomfort or other illness to a feline.

Blindness

Blindness is a disability that can significantly affect how a cat is able to go about their lives. Some kitties are born with blindness, or it can develop as they age. Blindness may be caused by diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes, and cancer, or it can be a result of illness or physical trauma. Felines affected by sudden blindness can experience extreme behavior changes, including disorientation, reluctance to socialize, and hesitation to explore and walk around.

Blindness in felines is a devastating diagnosis. Thankfully, cats are resilient creatures and can still live full lives with this condition. Cats have incredible senses of smell and hearing and can use these senses to compensate for a loss of sight. Kitties with blindness can use these senses along with loving support and appropriate treatment from their owners and doctors to live happy, full lives.

Cats Helping Autism Patients

Cats can be of benefit to some patients who are affected by autism. Research has shown that children with autism whose families adopt cats have seen several positive impacts from the cat being present in their lives. Children were shown to have increased empathy and fewer problem behaviors. Having cats also helped autistic children manage separation anxiety and showed improvement in social skills and behavior.

Felines may connect better with artistic children than dogs due to their calm nature and quiet demeanor. Because cats are far more reserved and content to stay still and quiet, they may appeal more to people with autism.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are plenty of questions about cats getting autism, so I’ve covered a few below. If I missed yours, let me know in the comments.

Can cats get Asperger’s?

No, cats cannot develop Asperger’s. Asperger’s is a condition included in the autism spectrum disorder range and is not a condition that felines can develop.

Can cats get Down’s Syndrome?

Cats cannot get Down’s Syndrome as it is a condition that is specific only to humans. Humans have 23 chromosomes in their DNA. Down’s Syndrome happens when a child is born having two sets of the 21st chromosome. Felines, on the other hand, have 19 chromosomes and, therefore, cannot develop Down’s Syndrome.

What makes a cat special needs?

A cat may be considered special needs for a variety of different health reasons. This can be due to a physical issue or extreme behavior concerns. Some kitties will suffer from severe anxiety, others can have incredibly sensitive digestive systems, and others may have long-term conditions like kidney disease.

Owners who are raising special needs felines may want to consider looking into cat insurance to help offset the costs of large medical bills and health care emergencies.

Keeping Your Cat Healthy

As a cat owner myself, I know there is a lot of work that goes into keeping our feline pals healthy. Good nutrition is one of the most important aspects, so healthy food made from top-notch ingredients is always a priority. Along with that, cats need plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Even though cats sleep much more than us, they still need daily exercise. Proper vet care, including preventive visits, is also a key factor in your cat’s overall health.

Why Trust Love Your Cat?

Danielle is a cat owner with over 30 years of experience. She has spent the last decade working as a professional writer, researcher, and educator. Danielle takes pride in keeping up to date with all the latest studies and progress in pet care and products. Her goal is to assist pet owners in providing the best care, nutrition, and quality of life for their pets.

A cat farting on their back on a bed.

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