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Can Cats Be Autistic? Here’s What You Need to Know

One of the things that we love most about our cats is how much like us they often are. Whether it’s the need for affection and companionship or a deep desire to play, cats and humans have much in common.

This causes people to look for connections that may or may not be there. One such connection is behavioral conditions found in humans; once you’re familiar with these conditions and their symptoms, you may start seeing them everywhere — even in your cat.

Many cat owners have wondered if their kitty can be autistic. Indeed, there is some overlap between behaviors found on the autism spectrum and those often exhibited by cats, but does that truly mean that cats can be autistic?

Read on to find out.

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What is Autism, Exactly?

Autism isn’t one single condition; rather, it represents a range of conditions marked by issues with speech, social skills, nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. There can be a huge difference in the type and severity of those issues, however, and one person’s symptoms may be radically different from another’s.

This is why many experts prefer the term “autism spectrum” (or the clinical term, “autism spectrum disorder”) to “autistic.” Autism isn’t a cut-and-dry disorder, and some people only have to deal with slight issues, while others may need significant care their entire lives.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability, and it affects a person’s learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities. There usually aren’t any physical clues that someone may be on the spectrum, which makes it difficult to diagnose and can cause issues for those on the spectrum, as many people have no idea that the person whom they’re talking to may be dealing with behavioral challenges.

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Image Credit: Pixabay

There are quite a few behaviors that may be present in someone on the spectrum — too many to discuss with any depth in this short article — but here are a few that can often be found in cats as well:

  • Having trouble relating to others
  • Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Not wanting to be held, touched, or cuddled
  • Being interested in others but unable to communicate or play effectively with them
  • Repeating the same actions over and over again
  • Difficulty adjusting to changes in routine

For more information about Autism, please visit Autism Parenting Magazine.

When it comes to the question of whether cats can be autistic, let’s see what the science says.

Can Cats Be on the Spectrum?

Autism spectrum disorder is a mental condition, and while cats can suffer from mental conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is currently no evidence that suggests that cats can be on the autism spectrum. Instead, most of the seemingly autistic behaviors that felines exhibit are just cats being cats.

It seems that most of the mental issues experienced by cats are directly linked to physical causes, such as injury, illnesses, or birth defects. Autism, on the other hand, is largely linked to genetic risk factors, although environmental risk factors (such as complications during pregnancy) can also play a role.

It’s important to understand as well that your cat’s behavior toward you, other people, and other animals comes with different expectations than inter-human behavior. It makes sense that a cat might be standoffish and aloof toward a strange human; after all, they could be a potential threat.

Many cats can get away with behavior like this, even if they tend to lash out violently, because they’re cute and humans expect that behavior from them. If a person acts this way toward other people, however, this behavior will be labeled aberrant and attempts will be made to correct it.

As a result, there are more consequences for autistic behavior in humans than in animals. A person who doesn’t like to make eye contact or struggles to communicate with others could be at a major disadvantage in life; a cat who acts that way may just be considered a fine representative of their species.

What About Enhanced Intelligence?

One potential by-product of being on the autism spectrum is enhanced abilities in fields like math or music. While this brilliance is relatively rare and often dramatically overstated in popular culture, it’s usually one of the first things that many people think of when they think about autism.

Some of those same people will notice their cats performing amazing feats of intelligence and assume that they must have an autistic cat on their hands.

All it explains, however, is that cats are intelligent creatures (and often food-motivated). Some breeds, such as Abyssinians and Birmans, are especially known for being smart, so if you have either of those, you may often be impressed by their brains.

That doesn’t make them autistic, though, even when paired with a dislike for affection or difficulties communicating.

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Image Credit: Anton Akhmatov, Shutterstock

What About Repetitive Behaviors?

Some people on the autism spectrum are prone to exhibiting repetitive behaviors, such as fidgeting with objects, rocking their body, or strictly adhering to certain traits and rituals. They can also become fixated on certain interests, such as train schedules or sports statistics.

These behaviors may sound familiar if you own a cat. Some cats are prone to obsessive behaviors like overgrooming, sucking on fabric, and chasing objects that may or may not be visible to us.

These behaviors do not mean your cat is on the autism spectrum, however. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is something that can affect cats, as well as humans, and it’s typically what causes extreme repetitive behavior in cats. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be caused by anything from stress to chasing laser pointers.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder in cats can be a serious issue, and it’s definitely something that you should talk to your vet about. It’s not a sign of autism, however.

You might also be interested in: Can Cats Have Down Syndrome?

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What’s the Verdict? Can Cats Have Autism?

While cats can often display some of the same behaviors found by people on the autism spectrum, there’s no reason to think that they suffer from the disorder. Instead, those behaviors are just signs that your cat is being themselves.

Unless your cat’s behaviors are causing them (or you) physical or emotional harm, there’s nothing to worry about. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t check in on the other furry members of your household, however, because there is some evidence that dogs can be autistic.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay