Can a Dog Have Mental Retardation? — What You Should Know

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Mental illness is a common issue among people, and yes, dogs too! It is a big misconception that dogs cannot suffer from mental problems, but this is not the case. Many dogs experience mental issues without their owners realizing it.

You may see behavior changes in your dog sometimes, like being abnormally quiet or overly anxious during all or part of the day. Other odd behaviors dogs exhibit can be cause for mental or neurological disorders, depending on the circumstances.

So, what are some things you should know about dogs with mental retardation? Here, we will break down the different types of mental health issues in dogs, their causes, testing for mental disorders, and what to do if your dog is diagnosed with a condition.

Types of mental health issues in dogs

Humans are not the only ones who suffer from mental illness. Canines are susceptible to mental health issues too, and sometimes, it can be tricky knowing what to look out for the signs and symptoms. Both humans and dogs have similar brain structures, so it comes as no surprise that we can both suffer from mental illnesses.

Let’s take a look at the most common mental health issues found in dogs.

Puppy playing

Social Anxiety

When dogs deal with isolation, abuse, or don’t have a stable home can suffer from social anxiety. This anxiety is usually formed when they’re younger and can leave lasting impacts on adulthood. Social anxiety in dogs can lead to aggression and anxiety towards other dogs and humans.

Dogs born into unstable environments are more likely to have social anxiety because they don’t develop the social capabilities to interact with others (either dog, humans, or both). Phobias and other fears can form due to the lack of exposure to other people and animals. It’s unfamiliar territory, and therefore, can be hard to navigate. Dogs can resort to isolation or aggression when they have social anxiety.

Some symptoms include: 

  • Aggression, like biting or growling
  • Panting
  • Shivering
  • Drooling

What are some ways to alleviate or prevent social anxiety in your dog? First, the best way to avoid this is to let your dog socialize when they are younger. And yes — with both humans and other puppies. This socialization will help them create social skills at a young age.

Other ways to reduce your dog’s social anxiety include outside comforts like a weighted blanket designed for dogs, dog classes that get them adjusted to other dogs, or prescribed medication if need be.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

We all know humans can have PTSD, but have you ever heard of a dog suffering from it too? Whether or not people realize it, PTSD is common among abused or isolated dogs. If a dog has suffered through a traumatic event, such as a human can, it can also develop PTSD.

When a dog goes through a traumatic event, those memories hardwire into its brain. This event means if the dog is subjected to a similar environment as the trauma took place, they can be scared the event can happen again. This trauma can lead to aggression, anxiety, and defensiveness.

Most commonly, PTSD in dogs results in anxiety and aggression. Like social anxiety, they can exhibit the additional following symptoms:

  • Shivering
  • Barking
  • Attempts at escaping the environment

For something more intense such as PTSD, a veterinarian should prescribe medication to ease their anxiety. Additionally, offering comfort to your dog is always best to alleviate their nerves.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

A different type of mental issue is cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Unlike the other mental problems we discussed, this condition results from changes in the brain due to age. And just like humans, older dogs can have neurological disorders like dementia or other debilitating issues. Many refer to this as mental retardation in dogs.

Dogs that experience cognitive dysfunction syndrome may have the following symptoms:

  • Inability to think or recognize familiar people/things
  • Non-responsive to commands or learned behaviors
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Aggression
  • Little appetite
  • Odd vocalization or behaviors towards people, other animals, or objects
    Possible deafness (reduced hearing)

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is not curable but can alleviate with medication and comfort for your pup. To determine if your dog has CDS, your veterinarian will run x-rays, blood tests, eyesight tests, and other measures as seen fit. It is imperative to talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s symptoms to prevent mistaking them for other mental disorders.

Other disorders can be separation anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What causes mental illnesses and neurological disorders in dogs?
Both mental illness and neurological disorders have their reasons for occurring in dogs. Depending on your dog’s past experiences and what their medical history is like, their mental and neurological disorders can vary. But for the most part, we can decipher how they generally come about.

Mental illnesses and disorders in dogs commonly occur from a traumatic event in their life. For example, as discussed above, anxiety and PTSD come from isolation, abuse, or unstable homes. Something in their lives, mainly from birth, can dramatically alter their ability to function.

Neurological disorders stem from medical trauma to the brain. For example, puppies that experience a lack of oxygen can severely damage their cognitive development, thus resulting in a mentally handicapped dog. Most neurological issues arise from brain damage at birth, and commonly, it comes from a cutoff of oxygen during delivery. Low oxygen can cause intellectual disabilities, mental retardation, and other issues.

Other reasons for neurological disorders come from accidents, eating, drinking, breathing in toxic substances, or heart attacks. In particular, dogs who ingest toxic materials will often suffer kidney and liver damage well before those substances can hurt their brain.

These medical issues can result in neurological disorders that can last a lifetime, leaving your dog mentally handicapped. If you think your dog is suffering from mental or neurological conditions, check with your veterinarian to rule out other possible issues.

Testing for mental and neurological disorders in canines

It can be challenging to test for mental and neurological disorders in dogs. Why is it so challenging to assess dogs for these conditions? CDS is the only disorder your veterinarian can definitively diagnose, covering many symptoms your dog can experience. If your vet can rule out CDS, it lets them figure out what is going on with your pup.

Sick Dog

Here are the three main tests to rule out CDS:

Radiographs: X-rays test more than fractures. They can show signs of tumors, enlarged organs, or symptoms of heart conditions. As they grow older, it is best to get x-rays once a year to check for any dogs’ problems. For example, if your dog isn’t eating or drinking as it should, it might be from a different issue besides CDS, especially if they’re relatively young.

Eyesight tests: Eyesight is a tell-tale sign that a dog is getting older (most of the time). As dogs and humans mature, our eyesight is not as strong as it once was. For dogs, testing their eyesight can help differentiate other issues from CDS. If your dog has poor vision but checks well with other tests and physicals, then it could be an issue solely with their eyes, such as an infection, cancer, or abrasions. But, if they have poor eyesight without these accompanying issues, it could result from CDS.

Bloodwork: A great way to see what’s going on with your pup is getting bloodwork. Annual blood tests can tell you a lot about your dog’s health. This bloodwork is essential in knowing your dog’s other issues, such as cancer, diabetes, heart problems, or other ailments that can lead to adverse behavior or symptoms. Check with your local veterinarian to see if it’s time for your dog’s annual bloodwork to be completed.

What to do if your dog suffers from mental illness

If your dog has a mental or neurological disorder, it’s essential to follow the medical advice from your veterinarian. Medicine, therapies, and home care techniques can help your dog’s symptoms. These techniques do not guarantee recovery from their mental or neurological disorders but can help them have a positive quality of life.

Most of the time, we refer to mentally retarded dogs as those who are older. There’s a difference in how we should approach different needs of dogs based on what mental issues they have. Dogs with mental retardation or cognitive dysfunction syndrome will need other treatment courses than dogs with mental problems (like anxiety or PTSD). For these reasons, if your dog has any of the symptoms we discussed, you should check with your vet to eliminate the possibility of CDS.

If your dog suffers from mental illness or retardation, the best thing to do is to be there for them. Give your dogs the love, attention, and support they deserve. You are all they have in this life – so, go ahead and give them that treat they have been dying to enjoy all day!