How to tell your Dog has Down Syndrome

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If you have spent enough time around dogs, then perhaps you are already aware of the many similarities between the canine and the human species. The dark side of the similarities includes the diseases that affect both. These may include diabetes, certain types of cancers, congestive heart failure, among others. 

Down syndrome is among the most common chromosomal abnormalities in human beings. The question that begs is; can dogs also be affected by Down syndrome? Let’s find out.

What is Down Syndrome?

Before we find out if dogs can have Down syndrome, lets first explore the symptoms and what it is. Down syndrome is defined as a genetic disorder that occurs due to abnormal division of cells. The extra genetic material leads to developmental changes and features of this disorder. It then causes the face to flatten and eyes to slant. You may also notice mild to severe intellectual disabilities or delays in development. People who suffer from Down syndrome may have heart defects, hearing loss, or eye disease.


Can a Dog get Down Syndrome?

It is easy to recognize and diagnose this disorder in humans. But what about in dogs? Does it affect dogs too? It is estimated that at least 1 in every 700 babies in the US has Down syndrome. This cannot be said about dogs. Although it does affect them, it is rarer in dogs.

There are certain distinct genetic differences and similarities between humans and dogs. 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. This disorder is categorized by 47 chromosome, including the 23 sets and the extra chromosome 21.

It means that by default, dogs have 78 chromosomes making it impossible to diagnose them. The abnormalities 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 that resemble those of Down syndrome in humans.

Down Syndrome-like Symptoms in Dogs

If you notice signs of Down syndrome in your dog, it is essential that you have him checked by a vet. These are some of the more obvious symptoms to look out for:

  • Abnormal facial features such as a broadhead – You may notice dwarf like features including a short neck, small head, upwardly slanting ears and eyes, and a flat-like face.
  • Hearing problems – 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 – Your dog may be at risk of developing a cataract in one of the eyes. Look out for cloudiness in the eyes.
  • 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 howling, wailing, or whining. He may also be difficult to feed and tend to have a hard time controlling his bladder.
  • Random pain – Your dog may have abnormally developed internal organs.
  • Thyroid issues – Your dog may have a malfunctioning thyroid leading to poor metabolism. He may have a lower temperature compared to other dogs.
  • Developmental/mental delays
  • Congenital heart disease – This is common because in such cases, your dog has an abnormal circulatory system.


Diagnosing chromosomal abnormalities in dogs can be tough, especially because they can’t talk. Should your dog live to be an adult, you may notice irregular features. Mentally, he may exhibit slow motor functions. Conditions related to Down syndrome include hearing impairment, thyroid problems, poor eyesight, and congenital heart disease.

Because for canines, this is considered a rare disease, many times the dog will die soon after birth or gestation. He may die shortly after birth. It is considered unusual for a dog with Down syndrome to live more than just a few days. Look out for deformed or missing legs. If he has this disorder, his nose will be dry and warm at all times, and his face may appear flatter with eyes turned slightly upward. Your dog may also have missing patches of fur or excessive shedding. If you suspect your dog has this genetic disorder, do not be tempted to diagnose him on your own. Check with your vet to rule the condition out and catch other treatable diseases early.

Caring for your Dog with Down Syndrome

Down syndrome has no cure. The only way to care for your dog is to feed him with a special diet. 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. Dog-safe cleaning products may be recommended. Your vet should evaluate the symptoms to find out if there is an underlying condition that might resemble this disease.

There are many medications and supplements to manage each. Be patient and understand that your dog needs special attention and love. Your vet may recommend checkups and vitamins for your dog to ensure he stays healthy longer. If you notice high amounts of lost fur, you will need to get him sunscreen to avoid sunburns. When placed in the right home for special needs, your dog can lead a full and happy life. If you feel that you do not have the abilities 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.


What Pet Owners Should Know

Down syndrome is a possibility and not a certainty. A pet owner 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.

If you have a dog with special needs, that is perfectly okay. While there may be no cure for Down syndrome, 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.