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.
A feline’s behavior is a common concern among owners. 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 their owners some concern. Owners may wonder if their cat has something more going on than just being an unpredictable kitty.
Humans understand that cats are different animals than we are. They can suffer from some of the same conditions. Diabetes, obesity, orthopedic issues, hip and elbow dysplasia, cardiac disease, anxiety, kidney malfunction, and many more common health issues felines experience are also health concerns that humans face every day. So, it may seem logical for humans to wonder if their kitty is affected by autism, especially if they exhibit some of the same behaviors found in this neurological condition. We have the answers to whether or not cats can have autism and other information on different conditions that can affect felines.
- What Is Autism?
- Can Cats Have Autism?
- Cat Behavior That Resembles Autism
- Just Normal Behavior
- Signs Of A Special Needs Cat
- Cats Helping Autism Patients
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
What Is Autism?
Autism is a neurological and developmental condition that affects humans. The condition presents in four different ways: autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. There are many different subtypes of autism. Autism has a wide range of symptoms, and its severity can vary.
Along with affecting the way people with autism think, the disorder has many different behaviors and symptoms. These impact social communication and interaction with others and includes repetitive behaviors, affect sensory perception, impact attention span and focus, and can have physical symptoms like gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, seizures, anxiety, and depression. People with autism can be impacted slightly or quite severely, this disorder is a spectrum, and no two people with this condition are impacted precisely the same way.
Some behaviors associated with ASD include:
- Slow verbal response.
- Trouble following and holding conversations.
- Not making eye contact.
- Looking like one is not listening.
- Difficulty understanding other’s points of view and actions.
- Having trouble making friends and engaging in imaginative play with others.
- The tone of voice can be very distinctive and unlike those around them, sometimes sounding musical or animated.
- Trouble adjusting and interacting with others in social situations.
- Difficulty with changes in routine and behavior.
- Repetitive speech and behaviors.
- Intense or almost obsessive interest in extremely specific topics.
- Sensory input issues including being overly sensitive or under sensitive than others.
- Overly focused interests in specific objects or items.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- High irritability.
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. They can also remember great details about specific subjects for extremely long periods.
As of now, doctors do not know what causes autism specifically. Something happens when genes interact with various aspects of the environment that will affect a person’s development leading to autism spectrum disorder. There does seem to be a genetic link and a higher chance of having another child with autism if a sibling is on the spectrum. Low birth weight, older parents, and certain genetic conditions, including Down’s Syndrome, seem to increase the likelihood of a person developing ASD. Autism is often diagnosed in young children in their early developmental years but may be diagnosed later in life, in some cases well into adulthood.
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, felines cannot develop this disease that we know of. It is common for humans to believe that an animal’s behavior, like a cat’s unpredictability and quirkiness, is in some way related to human behaviors or conditions like autism.
The practice of giving human characteristics or attributes to an animal is called anthropomorphizing. We, silly humans, do this all the time. A simple example is the development of non-human characters that engage in human behaviors, such as Rocket the Raccoon, Groot the talking tree, Donald Duck, Mickey, and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Simba, the Cheshire Cat, and more classic characters. Other examples are Thomas the Tank Engine, all the animals in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” and many of the different characters in JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books.
Cat Behavior That Resembles Autism
Cats cannot develop autism. They can engage in a lot of behavior that seems similar to how people with this disorder behave and interact with others. One example of this is that 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. Autistic people prefer at times to be alone as it is often difficult for them to interact with other people and understand social cues and interactions with others.
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 cats will be very social, and others will be extremely antisocial. A kitty’s desire to interact with humans and other animals has quite a wide range.
Something that is often a symptom of autism is having a different level of verbal communication with other people. Sometimes this can mean a person will communicate very loudly at inappropriate times or may be overly sensitive to different noises and tones of voice. Other people may be completely nonverbal and interact in unusual ways.
A feline’s vocalization can also seem to be either lacking or excessive. Kitties often make loud sounds that seem odd to their owners. Again this is not due to a cat being autistic. Instead, it depends on their genetics, breed, individual personality, and environment. In some cases, excessive vocalization from a cat will mean that a cat is in distress or hurt. Owners should pay close attention to a very vocal cat suddenly being quiet or an incredibly quiet kitty suddenly being very vocal.
In many cases, a feline exhibiting erratic behavior, a reluctance to socialize, and excessive or a lack of vocalization can all be attributed to lacking socialization with other animals and humans.
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. Although this behavior is also found in people with autism, in felines, it is not a sign of a neurological condition. 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, it may just mean that they really love chasing it and get extremely energetic and motivated when that specific toy comes out.
Delayed Response and Lack of Focus
Sensory delays and varying levels of focus are often autism symptoms in humans. In felines, this behavior is not connected to autism. If a kitty is acting lethargic, laying around for days, uninterested in food, or exhibiting irregular behaviors, this might be a sign that something is off. A kitty could be suffering from some sort of discomfort, illness, wound, or other health issues. Felines can suffer from separation anxiety, stress, and depression. Hence, a lack of focus, delayed response to humans or additional stimulation, and lack of activity can signal that something is wrong, but it will not be caused by autism.
If your cat is exhibiting unusual behavior like a delayed response, lack of focus, depression, 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. It is best to get this behavior checked out as soon as possible to make sure that you can get your purr baby treatment if there is actually something seriously wrong.
Cats cannot get autism, but they can get overstimulated. 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.
Separation Anxiety & Stress
Some cats may exhibit abnormal behavior in this way for 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 do need interaction and affection from others. This is especially true for purr babies who are left alone all day while owners go to work. They can easily get lonely, depressed, and stressed out and need that 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. If a cat behaves in a concerning way and disease and injury have been ruled out, then owners need to take a look at training and other ways to modify their pet’s behavior.
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, especially if a pet is exhibiting irregular or aggressive behavior, is a wonderful way to help understand why a kitty might be behaving a certain way and make sure that their home environment is as happy and healthy as possible.
Just Normal Behavior
Though cats are prone to behavior humans may find irregular or abnormal, 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. Domestic felines are natural hunters and, in the wild, spend hours alone outside stalking prey. They are natural predators and have high prey drives, so they can get startled easily or maybe hyper-focused on stocking a grasshopper in the window for several hours.
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. Because humans do not entirely understand how the feline brain works, it can be tough to diagnose a mental disability or deficiency in a feline.
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. Kitties sensitive to touch will have a bad reaction or may avoid being touched.
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 may suffer from feline OCD. These behaviors are often a reaction to stress and are ways that cats have learned to self-soothe. OCD can also manifest in felines. Kitties being obsessed with specific treats or special toys is a common OCD behavior.
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 excitement similar to hyperactivity, seizures and other extreme behaviors.
Cats that suffer from FHS may seem paranoid and seem overly skittish. The good news is that with proper medical care, this condition is effectively treated with medication. Once diagnosed, veterinarians can prescribe medication to help stabilize a cat’s mood and manage seizures.
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. Cats born with this condition will need surgery to correct it and, in many cases, may not survive.
Kitties can 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 is a disability that can significantly affect how a cat is able to go about their lives. Some kitties are born with blindness. Blindness may be caused by diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes, and cancer, or it can be a result of illness or physical trauma. Cats can go blind in one or both eyes. Both scenarios significantly impact the level of care and attention a kitty will need. 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 from their owners and caregivers to live happy, full lives.
Cats Helping Autism Patients
Cats cannot develop or be diagnosed with autism. However, they have shown to 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. Kitties are also highly susceptible to sensory overload, touch, and sudden movements. This does not mean that every single feline will be beneficial for people with autism. Every kitty is different. This is promising news for both cat lovers and people looking to help positive treatment for the autism community.
Frequently Asked Questions
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. Kitties may exhibit behaviors and symptoms that mimic or a line with behavior in humans who are affected by Asperger’s. It is not possible for a feline to be diagnosed with Asperger’s or any other form of autism.
Can cats get Down’s Syndrome?
Cats cannot get Down’s Syndrome as it is a condition that is specific only to humans. Down’s Syndrome occurs when a human child is born with extra chromosomes. 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. It is possible for felines to be born with an extra chromosome. These kittens will not develop normally and may exhibit both physical abnormalities and slow mental development. This condition can be similar to Klinefelter’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 or developmental disability 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. Special needs cats often will need a heightened level of care, may need special food, and will need increased veterinary visits. Owners who are raising special needs cats may want to consider looking into feline insurance to help offset the costs of large medical bills and health care emergencies.
Humans often wonder if cats suffer from the same medical conditions that we do. While felines do often have some of the same major medical concerns that humans do, autism is not one of them. Kitties cannot develop autism, even if they exhibit behavior that would be a textbook diagnosis in a human. Though cats can exhibit behavioral traits similar to the behavior of humans with autism, it is not a condition that felines develop.
If owners are concerned about their cat’s physical or mental health, a reputable veterinarian is the best resource to turn to. They can help eliminate any serious medical concerns and connect you with a qualified, experienced cat trainer. Cat trainers are excellent resources who can help determine why a cat may be experiencing specific or troublesome behaviors and help owners come up with a behavior plan to address them.