Can cats have autism? This question might have crossed your mind out of nowhere or after observing your cat’s behavior when he is with other cats, and when he is alone.
One of the common traits of children with autism is anti-social behavior, not because they hate the people around them or they are not fond of social interactions, but because they have a different way of grasping things and information around them.
And as cat parents, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if our quiet and solitary cat is autistic, or if he is simply being a cat. But, in the first place, can cats have autism?
Cat owners of special-needs felines may also associate their pet’s behavior with cat autism. However, these two conditions are different. Generally, felines are labeled as special-needs cats if they have mental or physical disabilities.
What is Autism?
By merely looking at an autistic child, you cannot tell that he has autism; physically he is just like other children. And this is because autism doesn’t affect the physical features of a person.
Instead, autistic people or individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems with social interactions – the way they communicate and interact with other people – and generally on how they function in the community.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that causes significant impairment in a person’s social development, involves persistent challenges in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted/repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.
The symptoms experienced by ASD children may vary from one kid to another. This means that an ASD child that falls under one level of autism can exhibit different behaviors from most children at the other end of the spectrum.
Before 2013, doctors diagnosed autistic humans under the four subtypes of autism: autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
These conditions now fall under one umbrella term and that’s ASD. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has three different levels that correspond to the severity of the symptoms, and the degree of support needed by the affected human beings.
Can Cats Have Autism? Can They Be Autistic?
The straightforward answer to this is no.
But, how did we even think that cats can be autistic? Well, we can associate that with how most of us give our pet cats, dogs, or other animals with human-like qualities.
We would say that our cat mourns with us, understands us, celebrate with us, and other human-like emotions and inclinations to the point that sometimes we tend to forget that cats don’t perceive the world the way that we do.
Moreover, we may also assume that our cat is autistic if we have a basic background of autism whether by experience or exposure or by what we’ve learned in school or over the internet. People diagnosed with autism may avoid eye contact and would prefer to be alone.
They also have sensory issues that lead them to have a hard time understanding sensory stimuli such as sounds, lights, and noises.
And they may also have difficulty deciphering body language and may experience sensory overload or experience the sensory aspects of the world differently.
This includes being indifferent to pain, having an extreme fascination with light, and being easily overwhelmed with even the slightest noise. For a pet parent, all of these traits do ring a bell since these are also typical behaviors of a cat.
Although two cats may not exhibit the same feline behavior at the same time, these traits are all normal to them. Like ASD children, kittens or adult cats can also exhibit sensory overload and that is why sometimes they could be easily stoked even by the slightest touch.
Just like people diagnosed with autism, cats also adopt a pattern of behavior or a certain eating habit, and they may also have troubles adjusting when there’s a change in their daily routine.
Considering all of these similarities, it’s totally understandable why we may think that cats can be autistic. But still, while these traits may not appear as normal human behaviors, these may just be completely normal for cats.
Hence, the presence of these unlikely human traits in cats, which are typical of ASD, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have autism. Research shows that cats cannot get autism, but instead, our feline friends can be of help to those who do.
What Are Special Needs Cats?
Some people may also associate a special needs cat with people with autism. However, we should keep in mind, that cats with special needs are usually those with physical disabilities.
For example, some cats may only have three limbs, while others may be blind, deaf, or completely immobile.
Beyond physical limitations and disabilities, some special needs cats may also have mental impairments or neurological problems. These conditions may be congenital or may be due to accident, or illness.
Some cats may even have Down-Syndrome-like symptoms, such as unusually shaped facial features, wide-set eyes, poor sense of sight and hearing, and other unusual behaviors.
How Can Cats Exhibit Autistic Tendencies?
As mentioned earlier, some of the behaviors that are typical with cats may be similar to the trademark symptoms of autism in humans. And these symptoms usually revolve around social interaction, vocalization, sensory abnormalities, and intensity of focus or level of intelligence.
Lack of Social Interaction
Many cat breeds are naturally aloof or prefer to be alone most of the time, while others are more socially outgoing.
This may be part of their overall temperament, or this feline behavior can be influenced by the lack of social interaction growing up.
The more a kitty is exposed to humans, other cats, and animals, the more he will be social and friendly as he grows older.
Problems with verbal communication are common for both cats and children with autism. The use of excessive vocalization is also typical for autistic kids and this behavior is usually directed to a specific person.
If your cat only purrs, meows, and chirps in your presence, it doesn’t mean that he is autistic. If you have two cats in your household, it’s not unusual that one may be less vocal than the other.
Also, there are other breeds that are extremely talkative in nature than most cats, such as the Oriental Shorthair.
However, if you suspect that your cat’s behavior is caused by stress, or if your socially active and affectionate cat, just became less social all of a sudden, you may want to consult your vet’s expert opinion.
Lack of Focus or Sensory Abnormalities
Autistic people, whether kids or adults tend to exhibit sensory abnormalities. Some cats may also appear to have reduced sensory reaction, uncoordinated movements, or lack of focus, but we cannot associate these with autism. Instead, these symptoms might be indications that something is wrong.
Sensory abnormalities and/or lack of focus in cats may be due to several factors, such as the presence of wound infection, organ failure, depression, and other health issues.
While these are not signs that your cat has autism, these worrisome behaviors are enough reasons to take your cat to the vet.
Intensity of Focus or Level of Intelligence
Just like children with autism, cats could also show a different level of intelligence and intensity of focus or attachment to a particular object or routine. But again, the presence of these behaviors in cats doesn’t mean that he is autistic.
How to Calm Down Your Cat?
Being overstimulated is one of the trademark signs of autism, and this is just part of the normal behavior of a cat when he is overwhelmed with a lot of sensory stimuli from his environment.
Signs of overstimulation in cats to look out for are flat ears, dilated pupils, and biting gestures.
When cats are overstimulated, it can also lead them to hiss aggressively which is most often directed to the primary stimulus, but can also be redirected to others.
To prevent overstimulation in cats, it is best to provide them with enough outlets for their energies inside the house.
To do this, you can develop a scheduled time for play, cuddles, or social interaction with your kitty. You may use treat-dispensing toys, prey toys, and other stimulating cat toys that you can buy at your local pet store.
Allow your cat to be overstimulated during playtime, and let him exhaust his energy to the point that soothes him the most.
Cats and Children with Autism
Your cat may be introverted, noisy, or excessively attached to something or someone, but that doesn’t mean he is autistic.
Because again, cats cannot have autism, but they may be diagnosed with other diseases that can be associated with the behavior or symptoms that they are manifesting at a given time.
If you have doubts, or you suspect something unusual, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Finally, while cats cannot have autism, studies show that they, alongside dogs and other pets, can help autistic children. In particular, cats can help kids with autism communicate clearly and more effectively.
And it has also been shown that children, who interact with their pet upon waking up, tend to have a lower level of cortisol, which can only mean less stress for them as they start their day.
You might have a sigh of relief upon knowing that cats can’t get autism, and we’re sure that it feels even better realizing that your cat may even be heroes to those who do.
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