Can Cats be Autistic? What Is Normal Behavior Of Cats?
Kathy Hoopmann has authored a humorous picture book on this subject called All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome. As the book points out, many of the symptoms of Aspergers such as a demand for sameness, aversion to eye contact, attachment to unusual objects and independence are very common traits in cats.
What we humans tend to forget is behavior that seems odd to us is actually fairly normal by cat standards. It’s when a cat is acting abnormal (for that particular cat) that one must worry.
Everything’s Perfectly Normal
Cat behavior in general can vary within breeds and with individuals. A Siamese might be overly vocal. A Persian might be intensely quiet. A Ragdoll might have no fear of danger. A Turkish Van might be clever yet clumsy. Cats in general don’t like eye contact because they perceive it as a threat. These traits could be signs of autism in humans, but are perfectly normal by cat standards.
It’s when your cat is acting abnormally by her standards that you have to worry. If a usually quiet cat is suddenly yowling constantly, she’s trying to tell you that something is very wrong. If a cat who usually likes cuddling suddenly wants to avoid you and hide, she could be in pain.
How social a cat is depends a lot on exposure to people in kittenhood. Some kittens are behind their littermates when it comes to physical and social development. This could be a hereditary defect. Hypothermia, infection, poor nutrition and trauma between the ages of two to nine weeks can result in “fading kitten syndrome”.
On the rare instance that such a kitten lives to adulthood, they may seem a little “off” compared to other cats. It’s not unusual for a cat to play favorites when it comes to socializing. They tend to prefer calm people who will wait for the cat to come to them.
Interaction With Other Cats
Cats can be territorial, making them seem antisocial when they won’t interact even with other cats. Truth is, cats are respecting each others’ personal space when they don’t interact. They have their own form of body language that they use to communicate with each other. This isn’t to say cats can’t bond with each other.
Littermates that are raised together may be inseparable to the point that splitting them up would just be emotional cruelty. A mother cat will walk through fire to protect her kittens. While cats aren’t known for monogamy, they may form a close bond with a mate. Nothing is cuter than watching two cats snuggle together.
Cats and Autistic Children
Cats can be useful therapy animals for autistic children. Cats are nothing but patient when it comes to listening. After all, they never interrupt or ask for explanations. Their soft fur makes them perfect buddies for children with tactile issues. Playing with a pet helps teach an autistic child about empathy, emotional bonding and motor skills.
The cat is non-threatening and doesn’t judge, encouraging the child to develop at his own pace. Previously non-verbal children may find themselves wanting to practice their conversation skills with Kitty.
The Capricious Cat
It is a bit of a paradox. Cats hate changes but they themselves are mercurial. A cat may have a favorite toy that they just can’t seem to leave alone. They may be so fascinated by an object they’ll keep trying to explore it, even if the results are less than desirable. This could mean a kitty who gets stuck in paper bags and drawers or shows up with a nose full of cactus needles.
Once something more interesting comes along, they might focus on that. Emphasis on “might”. That fancy new coffee table you just bought sure looks good to you, but Kitty might think it’s just the most hideous thing ever and it’s driving her crazy. (Keep in mind, those coffee table legs are right on her eye level at all times.) Cats are unpredictable. That’s why people love them.
How to Handle Your Weird but Wonderful Cat
Your cat needs love and encouragement to be the best kitty she can be. You need to pay attention to your cat to get a baseline of what’s normal for them. If a cat is acting in a way that is out of the ordinary, it means trouble and you have to figure out what it is. Mother cats always respond to their babies, so as a pet parent you must as well be caring and responsive.
Sometimes, all they want is their space and you have to allow them to have it. If you want Kitty to socialize, you must show her positive reinforcement. Let her know that interacting with people is a positive experience, but don’t force it.
In short, a cat cannot be diagnosed as autistic. The traits associated with autism in people can be perfectly normal for a cat. If a cat acts odd even by cat standards, it can be due to an inclement kittenhood or genetic defect or something that needs to be checked out. Cats have their likes and dislikes “And there’s no doing anything about it!” as T. S. Eliot said in his famous poem about the erratic Rum Tum Tugger.
If you have an autistic child, they may connect with a feline friend who may help them out of their shell. Your cat isn’t autistic, she’s just unique like any other cat.
- All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome Kathy Hoopmann Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006 ISBN 1843104814, 9781843104810
- Common Cat Behavior Issues American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- Normal Cat Behavior on cathealth.com
- A review of cat behavior in relation to disease risk and management options Christopher A. Lepczyk Cheryl A. Lohr David C. Duffy