Gorilla baby with downs syndrome looking cute

Animals & Mental Diseases: Info About Dogs, Cats & Birds (+ Tips)

In Fun Facts by Morten Storgaard

Have you ever wondered whether your pet is suffering from a mental illness or maybe it has developed age-related mental conditions? This is quite possible as animals can respond to stress much like humans.

Can Animals Be Born Mentally Challenged?
Yes. But it’s hard to diagnose. Mouse and cats have been known to develop disorders similar to ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. Normally, these animals will not survive long in the wild. But when taken care of, pets can live well with mental disabilities.

Let’s start by looking at what can happen to our pets as they get older or as they get exposed to stress and unhealthy environments.

Examples Of Animals Being Mentally Challenged

This is actually not as uncommon as people think.

There are several examples of old cats and dogs who become forgetful or even disorientated over time. This could easily be examples of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other mental illnesses.

Veterinarians seem to agree that mental illnesses among pets often happens as a result of mistreatment from the owners.

But that is not always the case as some dogs become very old and may develop age-related diseases.

Other animals will age faster and not become as old as humans. So they might not live long enough in order to develop age-related mental problems. Or at least we will not be able to discover these problems in our pets as they will probably just die younger or sooner.

Mental problems with dogs

Happy dog with mental problems

Dogs can suffer from multiple mental illnesses.

Because dogs are easy to observe and good at communicating it’s pretty easy to discover a change in behavior.

  • Anxiety and stress
    Dogs can get stressed and develop anxiety when they are exposed to continuous noise or if they are transported over long distances. They can also develop these issues if they are left alone for longer periods of time.
    Dogs are social creatures and they need company in order to be well mentally.
  • Depression
    People have also observed depression-like behavior from dogs. They may lose their appetite or wind up in the corner not interested in communicating at all.
    This can also happen if the companion dies or if other pets in the house disappear. Dogs prefer simple routines (just like small kids) and they need good schedules that don’t change too often.
  • PTSD
    If a dog has been attacked or something else has stressed it out for a longer period it might also show signs similar to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Just like with humans, this will always be caused by something traumatic that happened to the dog.
    Whenever this happens you need to take it to the veterinarian to check whether it needs any sort of medication.
  • Autism
    Dogs can also show signs of autism. A study from 2015 among the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists found a connection between certain genes and autism-like behavior.
    Sometimes these dogs will continuously chase their own tails or they may show other behavioral traits that look like autism.
    They found the so-called “fragile X syndrome” in a majority of dogs showing this behavior. This is known to cause autism for 15-60 percent of humans with the same syndrome.

Police dogs and military dogs have been reported to show signs of stress and PTSD.

This is only natural as the poor animal has been exposed to high levels of stress and discomfort. It might have been in a war zone or helping the police during a demonstration, assaults, shootings or other violent behavior.

Mental problems with cats

Mentally ill kitten sitting on bed just staring

Cats can show similar changes and will also sometimes develop age-related mental conditions.

They may also develop stress and anxiety-related diseases when they get exposed to changes or stressful environments.

  • OCD
    Cats have sometimes been observed to show symptoms of OCD. This is also something people will often joke about among cat owners and it seems they have good reason to think so.
    This will typically happen among cats that lack company or if they are left all alone for a long time. They will start performing repetitive tasks like walking in circles or may it will lick its paws over and over again.
    It’s important to pay attention to frantic behavior and make sure the cat is not over-grooming itself to the point of exposure of bare skin. It may become frustrated and start licking and scratching itself.
    This will be a good time to visit the nearby veterinarian.!
  • Confused or Crazy
    Cats made also become confused, crazy or even angry and aggressive if they are exposed to stress. This can also happen if they are left alone for a long time. In this regard, they are not very different from dogs. They need a social company and they prefer to be around other animals once in a while.
    You shouldn’t leave your cats (or other pets) all alone while you go on vacation. If you’re leaving the house for a week or two you should make sure someone else is there to look after it.
    Or at least you can bring it to a kennel.
  • Eating Disorders
    Whenever would bring animals into our homes we need to make sure they have easy and predictable routines when it comes to eating. In the wild, animals will know when to hunt and also went to stop eating. But when we keep them in captivity we need to make sure they can figure out how much they should eat.
    If you leave your cat or dog alone with a whole bag of pet food it will probably not know when to stop eating. It will most likely eat way too much as it has not learned when to stop.

If you suspect that something is wrong you need to take your cat to a veterinarian and talk to them about what is going on.

They will most probably be able to guide you and maybe have some tips for you about how to help it get well.

Mental problems with birds

OCD illness among birds and fetherpicking (blue bird eastern)

Birds can also suffer from mental illnesses.

This will typically happen when the owner is leaving it alone for most of the day in a small cage. Birds need space and they need to be around other animals (preferably birds) during the day. Especially if you are not home during the day or if you are not playing with it and talking to it.

Here are some issues that have been known to happen with birds in captivity.

  • Repetitive behavior / ODC
    If the birds start picking its feathers over and over again it’s time to pay some attention. It might also sit still and move in repetitive patterns for many minutes.
    Researchers have found that Parrots who are placed in a room with a view of doors where people come and go are more prone to develop feather picking and other stress-related routines.
    It seems like birds need company but they don’t need a continuous stream of new people walking by all day. A familiar face is probably better than a stranger.
  • Continuous screeching
    This sort of behavior among birds is something that can become very stressful for the owner.
    If this happens you need to take it to the veterinarian and many times you won’t be able to treat this. But you should try to offer it more company and maybe a little more space if you can.
    Give it a peaceful atmosphere with some stimuli as well.

Parrots have shown behaviors that look like human mental disorders according to researchers from the University of Perdue in Indiana.

The mental conditions observed among Parrots are so similar to those among humans that they are looking into using parrots to learn more about human behavior.

Model animals are an important part in order to learn new things about psychology. 

Can Wild Animals Be Retarded?

Healthy Snow Leopard looking at the snow in nature

In wild nature, these creatures will often die an early death or become the prey of a predator as they are not able to take care of themselves or muster a fight or flight response.

Therefore we don’t see or hear about this in animal programs or literature.

If the baby animals are born with mental disabilities they will probably not survive the first year or two. There can be multiple reasons for this. Sometimes the mom will expel it from the nest or totally abandon the baby. This is the common thing among Pandas.

The panda mother will typically give birth to two little cups and the weakest one will not be given any attention at all.

As we know, one of the basic rules of nature is “survival of the fittest”.

Can Animals Be Autistic?

Yes, as we looked at above dogs can show clear signs of autism.

But we probably wouldn’t be able to discover it or diagnose it for most species.

The thing with autism is that we normally diagnose people after observing how they communicate with others. While animals are suddenly able to communicate they are very primitive when it comes to verbal communication.

We would also have to monitor how they behave among other animals and this is typically very hard as we don’t understand too much about how animals communicate.

Ad we are certainly not able to decipher what they are “saying” when they bark, tweet, miauu, etc.

Can Animals Have Down syndrome?

Yes.

Down Syndrome has been observed among Chimpanzees and Gorillas.

Gorilla baby with downs syndrome looking cute

As you might know, Down Syndrome is caused by an extra copy of a very specific chromosome (#21 for humans) so it’s pretty easy to diagnose.

Scientists have also been able to “create” mice with an extra set of the same gene that causes this disease among humans. These studies resulted in mice having the same features as humans with Down Syndrome.

Gorillas share around 98% of the same gene-pool as humans. They can also show similar mental and cognitive difficulties as humans diagnosed with Downs Syndrome.

However, these gene-related conditions are often mistaken for what they are not. They might be caused by cross-breeding and in-breeding instead of being a syndrome like Down Syndrome.

We tend to breed dogs and other pets over and over in order to create the perfect pet and sometimes things go wrong. This will often result in deformities like the nose of small bulldogs which again can cause a short lifespan for the dog.

Sources: Onlinepsychologydegree.info, petplace.com, perdue.edu, genome.gov

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