Can a Dog Have Down Syndrome?

Most of us are familiar with down syndrome and perhaps even know someone suffering from this genetic disorder. When considering health issues, there are often overlaps between humans and dogs. Conditions such as arthritis, mental illness, and cardiovascular diseases are among such health issues. 

What about down syndrome in dogs? It is not clear whether our furry companions can acquire down syndrome like humans. But, dogs can suffer from conditions that mimic symptoms associated with down syndrome.

In this article, we discuss in-depth about down syndrome in dogs and everything you need to know about genetic disorders in canines.

What Is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome in human beings is a genetic disease caused by having an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are collections of small genes in the body. They determine the formation of offspring during pregnancy and after birth. A normal baby is born with 23 sets of chromosomes. However, babies born with down syndrome have an extra chromosome called trisomy 21 or chromosome 21. Down syndrome may interfere with physical appearance as well as growth development. People suffering from this disorder may also present medical issues like:

  • Hearing loss
  • Cardiac problems
  • Sight loss

What About Down Syndrome in Dogs? 

Well, the simple answer is not exactly. We have some definite genetic differences from our furry companions. For example, human beings have 23 sets of chromosomes while puppies have 39 of them. Unlike humans, who have 47 chromosomes, dogs have 78 chromosomes which makes it difficult to rule out if they have down syndrome.

However, dogs can suffer from genetic abnormalities that may manifest symptoms and physical characteristics that mimic down syndrome in humans. For example, chromosomal disorder prevents organs from completely developing. Dogs born with the disorder have minimal chances of survival. Some fetuses may die in their mother’s womb, while those born don’t survive for days due to many health complications. 

In some rare cases, a puppy may be born and live up to five years. If a dog gets a chance to survive, down syndrome symptoms are visible much later in its life after a year or two.

How to Tell If My Dog Has Down Syndrome

It is not scientifically proven whether dogs can suffer from down syndrome. But, they can develop conditions that mimic down syndrome symptoms. Your puppy may display physical or medical issues suggesting chromosomal disorder.

Abnormal physical appearance can be visible after a year or two in a dog’s life. Physical symptoms may include:

  • Deformed or incomplete legs
  • Short neck
  • Small head
  • Flattened face
  • Eyes slanting upwards
  • Abnormal skin patches and shedding extremely

Dogs may also display clinical symptoms that mimic down syndrome, such as:

  • Congenital heart disease: Your dog may suffer from heart disease due to poor blood circulation 
  • Eyesight: Dogs born with Down syndrome have poor eyesight. They are at risk of developing cataracts. If you notice this symptom, take your puppy to a vet for further diagnosis.
  • Hearing: Your dog may be slow to follow orders because they cannot hear well. As a pet parent, don’t punish your puppy if he doesn’t follow orders. Instead, be patient and take time to understand your fur friend. 
  • Pain: Your dog may experience body aches due to undeveloped body organs. This may result in your dog howling, whining, and wailing more than usual.
  • Liver shunt: Undeveloped liver can result in bypassing of blood flow. This may cause fatigue, poor growth as well as mental delays.

The above conditions are sometimes confused for down syndrome. Consult your vet as soon as you notice any of these features for a clear diagnosis.

How to Care for a Dog with Down Syndrome Symptoms

Since it isn’t quite clear if dogs can suffer from down syndrome, when your dog is diagnosed with special needs, you need to provide them with a high level of care and keep them safe and happy. 

  • Schedule regular visits to the vet

Dogs with special needs require frequent checkups to ensure they are healthy. Ensure you see your vet regularly and follow through with any checkups, tests, or treatments. Regular pet visits ranging at about once every two or three months can extend the lifespan of your pet.

  • Proper nutrition

All canines need proper nutrition, and this is especially important for dogs with special needs. Ensure your dog eats a well-balanced diet so that their bodies can better function at the highest level.  

  • Safeguard the environment

Dogs with any developmental or intellectual delays need a safe environment to grow in. Ensure the space is easy to move around in and free from any potential hazards. Put in gates at the stairs to prevent your dog from falling and injuring themselves. To also help your pet endure any physical pain, if any, ensure your puppy’s sleeping area is well cushioned to protect their joints.

How to Train a Dog with Down Syndrome

A dog with a genetic syndrome often has abnormal growth and development, which can make exercise difficult. However, this doesn’t mean exercise should be avoided entirely. Proper training and extra precaution are crucial when handling and training such as a dog. Your dog may likely also suffer from heart, limb, and muscle problems; therefore, it is a good idea to consult a vet who can prescribe suitable exercise for your dog. 

Here are some low impact exercises that dogs with down syndrome symptoms can do:

  • Tug of war: Fairly common, there are tonnes of tug of war toys in the market. Choose a size that suits your dog and encourage them to pull it straight back. The game helps strengthen your dog’s leg muscles.
  • Walking: A regular short walk around the block or park is a great way to strengthen the muscles, bones, and heart of a dog with down syndrome symptoms.
  • Roll-over: Place a treat near your dog’s nose and entice them to get it. You can then move the treat in a circular motion to encourage your dog to move its body sideways. This is a light, fun exercise that is effective at strengthening muscles. 
  • Physioball exercise: This exercise aims at strengthening the hind legs. Place the ball in front of your dog and place their front legs on the physioball. 

Dog owners should be careful not to overdo these exercises. Be patient and take it one step at a time. Having the right toys can also make a significant difference in keeping your dog happy and getting them to burn off excess energy.

FAQs About Dogs with Down Syndrome

Can dogs be born with down syndrome?

No, down syndrome hasn’t been identified in dogs, only symptoms or genetic disorders that mimic the syndrome. There is no scientific proof of down syndrome in dogs.

What is the best dog for a child with down syndrome?

If you want the best dog around a child with down syndrome, then a Golden retriever stands out among other breeds. They are well known for their working skills in guiding the blind and search and rescue missions. Golden retrievers are very intelligent, loyal, and friendly, making them wonderful for kids who have down syndrome.

How long do dogs with down syndrome live?

Dogs with genetic syndromes or disorders have a low survival rate. In some cases, fetuses die in their mother’s womb. And if the puppy is born, it will have many health problems preventing the offspring from lasting for more than a few days. Yet, some puppies grow and live for up to five years. Also, when a mother detects an abnormality in her pup, she may kill it at an early age.

Can golden retrievers have down syndrome?

Generally, dogs can suffer from conditions that mimic down syndrome. Golden retrievers aren’t exempt from suffering from canine genetic disorders that can lead to chromosomal deficiency. 

In a nutshell….

If your dog is struggling with growth delays and cognitive issues, there could be a number of underlying health issues, including genetic abnormalities. It is also important to consider that your dog may simply be suffering from congenital heart or thyroid issues, growth hormone deficiency, and pituitary dwarfism, all of which have symptoms such as down syndrome. Always consult your vet for a proper diagnosis.

Dogs with special needs can live happily with their owners. However, since their brain development isn’t the same as regular dogs, they can sometimes become aggressive. Consult your vet for any natural solutions that can help soothe and calm your pup or dog. Remember to keep a close eye on your dog’s activities and teach your kids to play responsibly with their pets.

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