How to Tell if Your Dog Has Down Syndrome

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About one in every 700 babies in America are born with Down Syndrome, which is nearly 6,000 babies born each year in the United States, according to the CDC. This is the most common chromosomal condition in the country.

Dogs and humans share several similarities including some diseases but not all are entirely identical. The topic about Down Syndrome in dogs is indeed a big and controversial subject these days because most people don’t know what the disorder is and the symptoms that come with it if it occurs in your dog.

So, can dogs have Down Syndrome, and how do you know if your dog has it? Read on to learn what you need to know about Down Syndrome in dogs.

What is Down Syndrome?

Before we find out if dogs can have Down syndrome, lets first explore the symptoms of Down Syndrome and what it is.

Genes contain all kinds of information of the human body including hair color, eye color, and more. That’s why it was called the “building blocks” of life.

Down Syndrome (also known as Down’s Syndrome or Trisomy 21) is not some condition that is contagious; it is a congenital disease or birth defect caused by a genetic mutation. Genetic disorders like this happens due to an extra copy (full or partial copy) of chromosome 21–hence known as “Trisomy 21”  which affects the cognitive and physical development.

If a problem develops with any gene, it can cause a variety of medical issues. A genetic problem can develop from a mutation–an abnormal type of change, but different than the original genetic coding. Sometimes, genetic mutations are beneficial, but sometimes not.

Down syndrome occurs due to a genetic mutation. People born with this condition have an extra genetic material or extra chromosome. This disorder will last an individual’s entire life and there is currently no cure.

Dogs Have 39 chromosomes

Down Syndrome in Humans

People with Down syndrome have distinct physical features which may include:

  • A small head
  • A flattened face, particularly the bridge of the nose
  • Upwardly slanting almond-shaped eyes 
  • Small ears
  • A short neck
  • Protruding tongue
  • Tiny white spots on the iris or the colored part of the eyes
  • Poor muscle tone 
  • Stunted growth resulting in poor development

Sadly, this is not where its health issues end. People with Down syndrome are often suffer from:

  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Eye problems/ Poor eyesight
  • Ear infections
  • Hearing loss
  • Heart defects present at birth
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Skin problems
  • Thyroid issues

People with Down Syndrome life expectancy is shorter, averaging 50-60 years even with present-day health care.

Can a Dog Get Down Syndrome?

It is easy to recognize and diagnose Down Syndrome in humans. But what about in dogs?

Humans and dogs are different species, and as different species, we may have many similarities genetically but we also have certain distinct genetic differences. For instance, the set of chromosomes [1] in humans is 23, while dogs have 39. It means that the duplication of chromosome 21 would have different effects. 

People with Down Syndrome is categorized by 47 chromosome, including the 23 pairs of chromosomes and extra copy (full or partial copy) of chromosome 21. This extra genetic material causes the physical features and developmental changes of Down Syndrome.

It means that by default, dogs have 78 chromosomes making it impossible to diagnose them. Down Syndrome in dogs is not common but the chromosomal abnormality lead to early death in dogs. 

This is perhaps because the genetic testing needed to identify the condition is not done, and is believed not to exist. Dogs may also experience genetic abnormalities which may manifest in symptoms and some medical issues that resemble those of Down syndrome in humans.

Therefore, there is really no easy answer to the question, “Can dogs have Down Syndrome?” In canines, there are no cases like that. Even if it would occur, there is no way of knowing how it would affect them.

Many have speculated that tigers, apes, canines, and other animals can have clusters of genetic defects that at least similar to Down syndrome. The only official case of Down Syndrome was seen in chimpanzees (humans’ nearest relative) and genetically engineered mice.

Scientists did experiments and genetically engineered mice to have an extra chromosome. They carried out the same physical effects in mice as can be observed in humans Down syndrome.

This chromosomal abnormality occurs in about one in 700 babies in people, but it’s even rarer in canines. For dogs, there simply weren’t any recorded cases of genetic mutations or effects that would affect canines as they affect people due to the following reasons:

  • It simply doesn’t exist.
  • Such genetic abnormalities cause early death in a puppy.
  • There is no genetic testing that could identify dogs with the canine version of Down syndrome.

All of these theories are yet to be proven or disproven. For the meantime, all of us are open to using whichever definition we believe to be most likely.

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Down Syndrome-like Symptoms in Dogs

Dogs with Down Syndrome exhibit very unusual behaviors and dog owners usually don’t understand these behaviors.

If you notice your dog displaying Down Syndrome-like symptoms, it is essential that you have him checked by a vet. These are some of the more obvious symptoms of Down Syndrome in dogs and other health issues to look out for:

  • Abnormal facial features – Dogs with Down Syndrome have dwarf like features including a broad head, short neck,  upwardly slanting ears and eyes, small chin but large tongue, and a flattened face.
  • Hearing loss – Although Down syndrome is hard to notice in dogs, you will see that your dog is too slow to follow or react to commands.
  • Eye problems – Dogs with Down Syndrome may be at risk of developing a cataract in one of the eyes. Pet parents should look out for cloudiness in the eyes. If you notice cloudiness, it may indicate the formation of a cataract.
  • Bloody Discharge – Your dog may have other conditions causing him to have a bloody discharge from the rectum.
  • Behavioral issues – If your dog is suffering from Down syndrome, he may show certain odd traits such as shaking, howling, wailing, or whining and may also have challenges with tooth eruption. He may also be difficult to feed and tend to have a hard time controlling his bladder. Do note that some dogs struggling from difficult health issues could become aggressive. Keeping a close eye on his body language is vital in this scenario. If this behavior becomes worse, take your dog to your vet immediately.
  • Random pain – Dogs with Down Syndrome have abnormally developed internal organs and some body parts can be affected.

Dog's with down syndrome facial features

  • Developmental/mental/ growth delays– If your dog is suffering from cognitive delays, delayed tooth eruption, or slow growth eventually resulting in small stature, there could be a number of underlying health issues behind them.
  • Poor muscle tone and loose joints

Are There Other Conditions that Resembles Down Syndrome in Dogs?

While a genetic abnormality is possible, dogs with Down Syndrome may also have other health conditions including:

  • Congenital heart disease – Heart defects are common because in such cases, your dog has an abnormal circulatory system.
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism –  Your dog may have a malfunctioning thyroid leading to poor metabolism. Congenital hypothyroidism, which is similar to Down Syndrome, is caused by low or absent levels of thyroid hormone at birth and at early in life. Down Syndrome in dogs  may have a lower temperature compared to other dog breeds.
  • Pituitary Dwarfism-This autosomal disorder is caused by a growth hormone deficiency. In addition to a small physical stature, dogs like German Shepherds and other wolf hybrid breeds with pituitary dwarfism suffer from a host of health conditions including kidney failure. 
  • Congenital Hydrocephalus– This is a condition where cerebrospinal fluid builds up in a dog’s skull, putting pressure on its brain. Clinical signs associated with congenital hydrocephalus include spastic or abnormal walking, changes in behavior, and failure to potty train or learn basic commands.
  • Portosystemic Shunt–Portosystemic shunt is an abnormal vessel that allows blood from the intestine of the animal to bypass the liver and lead to liver failure.
  • Growth Hormone Deficiency

All of which could cause symptoms similar to Down syndrome. Again, the best course you can do for your furry pal if he’s displaying symptoms similar to Down syndrome or exhibiting the same health conditions is to get him to your vet for a proper diagnosis.

For dogs, the symptoms similar to Down Syndrome or the so-called Canine Down Syndrome is extremely rare. Should your dog live to be an adult, you may notice irregular features. 

Dog owners should look out for deformed or missing legs or short limbs. Down Syndrome in dogs can cause their nose to be dry and warm at all times.

Your dog may also have missing patches of fur or excessive shedding or shaking. If you suspect your dog is showing this behavior, do not be tempted to diagnose him on your own. Regular visits to your vet immediately to rule out your dog’s condition and catch other health conditions early.

What Can You Expect From a Special Dog

If a dog has Down Syndrome, it will not be able to have the same life as a normal dog. There may be a chance that your dog will have a shorter lifespan than usual.

They also cannot perform duties such as being guard dogs. Dogs with Down Syndrome may also suffer from bloody discharge from the rectum and owners should keep kids and sick family members away from it.

Taking Care of your Dog with Down Syndrome

Genetic mutations can’t be totally cured in dogs. For dogs with genetic disorders like Down syndrome, taking care of them is vital. Some remedies can be implemented to decrease the severity of symptoms and improve their quality of life.

The only way to care for your special needs dog is to feed him with a special diet. Offering your dog with proper diet such as high-quality dog foods rich in protein can help repair and strengthen wasted muscle.

Avoid foods containing preservatives, meat products, and fillers. In his condition, he will be more prone to allergic reactions from certain types of foods. You may be advised to put his food in a freezer first to have all allergens destroyed. Observe the labels pasted on your dog’s food properly and do extra effort for your special canine pal.

To help relieve thyroid issues in dogs suffering from Down Syndrome, you could offer your dog fresh water with a low amount of salt.

There are many medications and supplements to manage each. Be patient and understand that your dog needs special attention, special care, and love.

Your vet may recommend checkups and vitamins for your dog to ensure he stays healthy longer. Down Syndrome in dogs may cause finicky eating habits, so vitamins recommended by your veterinarian will help increase their appetite.

If you notice high amounts of hair loss, you will need to get him sunscreen to avoid sunburns. If your special canine friend hurts himself, clean the wounds as soon as you can to prevent skin infections.

A dog with a broad head

Canine Down Syndrome is similar to Down Syndrome in humans. Due to their poor eyesight, owners should avoid physical barriers as their dogs may injure themselves by bumping into furniture or certain objects. 

Dog-safe cleaning products may be recommended. Your vet should evaluate the symptoms to find out if there is an underlying health condition that might resemble this disease.

Special needs dogs require a comfortable sleeping area as their abilities and senses may not enable them to move around much. If your special dog is not potty-trained, you will want to keep other dogs from consuming its poo, as this could lead to bacterial infection.

When placed in the right home for special needs, your dog can lead a happy and improved quality of life. If you feel that you do not have the ability to care for a special needs dog, look for a rescue that caters to animals with special needs to ensure that it gets the care it requires.

Physical Exercises for Dogs Suffering from Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome in dogs can cause abnormalities in their growth and development. Proper exercises with precautions are required to avoid any second anomaly.

They may suffer from muscle, heart, and limb problems, so they cannot perform and withstand hard exercises. Work on some suitable physical training for your special need dog to ease the symptoms of Down Syndrome using the following:

Tug of war: Various tug of war toys for dogs comes in different sizes. You can select the right size for your dog and teach him to pull it straight back to help strengthen his leg muscles and improve poor muscle tone.

Walking: A short walk is also an effective way to support the muscles, bones,  and heart of dogs suffering from humans Down syndrome.

Roll-over: Tempt your pooch to eat the treat by putting it near the nose, then shift the treat in a clockwise and circular movement so he will move sideways. This exercise is easy and helps to build strong muscles.

Scratch dance: A pet dog will wriggle by dynamically scraping the upper and the lower end portions. It is the best exercise and fun activity for dogs suffering from Down syndrome.

Physioball exercise: Place a physioball under the dog’s front legs. This exercise also strengthens the hind legs.

What Pet Owners Should Know About A Dog’s with Down Syndrome

Down syndrome in dogs is a possibility and not a certainty. A pet parent should be familiar with all symptoms that resemble this condition in order to differentiate when the dog is suffering from other conditions such as cognitive dysfunction and when he is dealing with Down syndrome. You are advised to get a correct diagnosis of this genetic disorder from a professional vet.

While dogs’ Down Syndrome is not a common disorder, this is a dreadful one. So dog owners should take measures to prevent their special canine friend from having the aforementioned disorder and several other canine health issues.

If you have a dog with special needs, that is perfectly okay. While there may be no cure for Down syndrome in dogs, there are possible ways the condition can be managed. Because there is a reason, he is called “special,” embrace your dog and give him the care he needs to feel at his best. Find out more about other dog issues here.