Down syndrome is a medical condition that occurs because of a chromosome defect, said to affect 1 in 700 US babies annually. An extra copy of a chromosome is created, causing a multitude of effects that are often slightly different from one case to another, in terms of symptoms and severity.
We know that humans can have Down syndrome, but is Down Syndrome in dogs common? Can it even happen at all? Why don’t we find out?
- What is Down Syndrome?
- Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?
- Diagnosing Dogs with Down Syndrome
- How to Care for a Dog with Down Syndrome
- Online Vet and Emergency Fund
What is Down Syndrome?
The human body is made up of billions and billions of cells, each of which has different components. One of these components is called the nucleus, and it is where all your information is stored – the traits you genetically pick up from your parents. This information is stored on the body’s version of a flash drive – chromosomes inside the nucleus, of which there are 23 pairs (sets of two).
A human would usually have 46 chromosomes (23 sets of two), but someone with Down syndrome has 47. There are 23 sets of two plus an additional one – number 21.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, this can lead to a range of developmental changes, including a shortened lifespan, problems with the gastrointestinal system, growth and development issues, and physical disabilities such as downward-slanting eyes and a flattened facial structure.
Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?
No, dogs cannot have Down syndrome. That’s what scientists and researchers believe, anyway, but research is ongoing. Advancements in canine genetic testing are far behind that of human genetic testing, so it could be the case that Down syndrome is one day recognized as a genetic abnormality in dogs. As of today, however, it is not recognized as a canine condition.
Dogs have more chromosomes – 39 sets of two, or 78 altogether. If the number-21 chromosome were to be duplicated, as it is in humans with Down syndrome, it would result in a different outcome. That specific chromosome in dogs won’t be the same specific chromosome, responsible for the same things, in humans.
Because of this difference, dogs cannot get Down syndrome. (The exact same human version of it, anyway.)
Dogs can, however, experience medical conditions that look similar to Down syndrome.
Diagnosing Dogs with Down Syndrome
If a pup displays the traits commonly associated with Down syndrome, it could be the case that they are suffering from another type of genetic abnormality that is like Down syndrome in humans. These can include:
- Growth hormone deficiency;
- Congenital hyperthyroidism – diagnosed using a full panel of thyroid tests
- Portosystemic shunt;
- Congenital hydrocephalus – diagnosed using tests to find fluid on the brain;
- Pituitary dwarfism – detected via a hormone simulation test;
- Congenital heart disease – diagnosed using a range of tests, including x-rays, ECGs, and ultrasounds;
- Cognitive dysfunction, such as dementia.
These conditions are rare in dogs, which is a good thing – but it means that research is incomplete, diagnosis is difficult, and maintenance-style treatment is administered later than preferred.
Symptoms of genetic conditions like these are often obvious, very early on – with very clear signs by the time the pup has reached a year of age. You may notice that your pet is not training well, has mobility issues or other physical deformities, and/or seems ‘slower’ in mind than other dogs.
How to Care for a Dog with Down Syndrome
If your pup suffers from a congenital abnormality, it will have the condition from the moment it is born. It is not something that appears later. They will also have that condition until the very end of their lives.
Congenital and chromosomal disorders and abnormalities cannot be treated. They are lifelong and often require ongoing care and medication. This can include pain relief (including opioids), anti-inflammatory medication, antibiotics, allergy relief medication, steroids, and more.
As you can imagine, this is a very big commitment. It can also be an incredibly costly one. This is definitely the case if you don’t have pet insurance or some sort of pet health care coverage.
Serious abnormalities, such as Down syndrome-like conditions in dogs, not only cause changes to a dog’s appearance, but they can also have a debilitating effect on their quality of life. Treatment will be focused on keeping the pain down and trying to maintain a good quality of life.
It can take a long time and a lot of trial and error before a successful medication and treatment plan is created.
As well as treatment, you will need to consider altering your home to make it safer and more appropriate for your special needs pet. This safeguarding should be done in the same way you would baby-proof a home before you bring the newborn home – gates, cupboard and fridge locks, soft flooring, etc.
It’s also a good idea to invest in a pet camera, such as the Petcube Bites 2 Lite. With two-way audio, treat dispensary, record-and-playback, and motion/bark detection notifications, you can be sure that your pet is always protected and safe.
If you believe your dog is suffering from a Down syndrome-like condition, you should keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms below. Bear in mind that these conditions are rare, aren’t fully understood or studied, and each case is often quite different from the next.
- Deformed face or body;
- Training avoidance and slow/difficult learning;
- Allergies – all types;
- Urinating and defecating around the home – because they are unable to understand house training);
- Feeding issues, such as overeating, undereating, or eating things that are potentially dangerous;
- Thyroid problems, leading to temperature and metabolism regulation issues;
- Liver problems;
- Super sensitivity;
- Malfunctioning or weakened immune system;
- Aggression and other problems with behavior;
- Pain (which can lead to aggression);
- Exhaustion and exercise avoidance;
- Problems with hearing, potentially causing full or partial deafness;
- Problems with eyesight, potentially leading to cataracts;
- Baldness and over-shedding;
- Breathing difficulties due to flattened nose;
- Organ issues and failure due to underdevelopment or being too large for the body.
This list is by no means a comprehensive one. Pups with genetic abnormalities are a lot of maintenance and a massive commitment, and they can come with a wide range of symptoms that haven’t even been reported yet.
Sometimes, as unpleasant as it may seem, you must ask yourself whether a pup with this kind of condition has a good – or any – quality of life. It is wise to have this conversation with a vet you trust before you make any kind of decision.
If you’re thinking of adopting a special needs pooch, it pays to have some sort of emergency care in place. The Pet Emergency Fund is just that, offering up to 6 of your pampered pets $3,000 of emergency vet care, along with access to online vets around the clock.
This alternative to traditional pet insurance will give you complete peace of mind – your pet will be safe and well, and your bank balance won’t have to suffer.
Can dogs have autism or Down syndrome?
A dog can’t have Down syndrome, but it can have a range of genetic abnormalities that are similar. Autistic spectrum disorder (autism) in dogs is known as CDB, or canine dysfunctional behavior.
What does a puppy with Down syndrome look like?
If your puppy has a genetic abnormality, you will likely notice it quite quickly. The body, or parts of it, may not seem in proportion, or the face might look different compared to the other pups in the litter. Development of the pup will also be slower than litter mates.