When it comes to Down syndrome, we all know for a fact that this is a genetic disorder that affects many people around the world, with approximately 600,000 people in the United States alone that are living with Down syndrome as of this writing.
And, while the majority of us are fairly familiar with what Down syndrome is and how it affects us humans, many of us have asked ourselves at least once before whether or not there’s anything such as a dog with Down syndrome.
This is a very controversial topic among the community of dog owners because of the fact that there isn’t enough research on it and different people have different sides to the story, however we’ll be doing our best to cover everything you should know about it in this article.
Introduction To Down Syndrome
Before we talk about whether or not there is anything such as Down syndrome in dogs, let’s do a quick review about what Down syndrome really is to begin with (without getting into too much scientific details, because let’s face it, no one’s here for a biology lesson!).
In our bodies, each cell of ours has a nucleus that contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, where we take one of each of these two chromosomes from one of our two parents.
In order for our bodies to not have any defects and be able to function the way any human body should, these 23 pairs of chromosomes have to work together in synchronization.
If they can’t work together properly, or if one of these pairs is abnormal in some way or has a defect, something abnormal with our bodies will be apparent.
Humans with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome in the pair #21 of chromosomes, where every other pair of chromosomes are 2 chromosomes, except for pair #21 of chromosomes, where 3 chromosomes can be found.
Just one extra chromosome is enough to cause radical changes in how we look and how our bodies function, albeit to somewhat varying degrees between one person and another, which is exactly what happens with anyone that’s affected by Down syndrome.
Some of the most unique physical traits that distinguishes humans that have Down syndrome from others who don’t are listed below.
- Unique broad and flat face
- Slanted eyes
- Short neck
- Small ears
- Small chin
- Large tongue
- Warm and dry nose to the touch, and broad to the look
- Skin patches
- Hair loss
- Stunted growth and fairly slow development process
- Low muscle mass
- Abnormal legs/hips
- Lower than average height
- Problems in ability to speak clearly
- Problems in short term memory
Moreover, and besides the unique physical appearance traits that sets them apart from others, people who are born with Down syndrome will also experience slow mental development as they age, and will stay at a relatively lower intellectual level than other people even when they become full grown adults.
When compared to other full grown adults their age, people with Down syndrome are often found to have fairly lower IQ levels than people who aren’t born with this genetic defect, with maximum IQ levels being 70 for those who are lucky enough to only have mild Down syndrome.
In some more serious cases of this genetic defect, IQ levels can be as low as 20.
People who are born with Down syndrome are also much more likely to suffer from specific health problems down the line in life, most common of which are:
- Weak eye sight
- Cardiovascular disease
- Digestive problems
- Inability to reproduce
As if all of that wasn’t enough, people affected by the Down syndrome gene defect also have much shorter lifespans, with their life expectancy averaging no more than 50-60 years in general.
Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?
Unfortunately, and up until now, there’s still no definitive answer to this question.
Up until this day in time, not much research on dog’s genes has been performed in order to come up with a definite answer about this topic.
A whole lot of research has been done on the genes of humans in order to know everything there is to know about Down syndrome in humans, but not nearly as much research has been done on the genes of dogs in order to be able to determine whether or not dogs can truly be affected by Down syndrome or not.
Even though many dogs out there do have the same physical appearance as humans that have the Down syndrome genetic defect, and while it has indeed been proven that dogs can very well be born with certain genetic defects, it hasn’t been proven yet that these genetic defects are the same ones that lead to humans being born with Down syndrome.
Some people argue that dogs, along with other animals, do indeed have genetic defects identical to those found in human beings that have Down syndrome, while other people argue that these genetic defects are very similar to each other but not identical.
If the theory of the first group of people that say similar, but not identical, genetic defects can be found in dogs and human beings is correct, then any form of Down syndrome found in dogs can’t be called the same Down syndrome found in humans, because these two should be identical in every little detail.
Does My Dog Have Down Syndrome?
If you’re in doubt, the best person able to help you with finding out whether or not your dog has Down syndrome is your veterinarian, any other non-professional opinions should be discredited when it comes to such a delicate and scientific topic.
Even then, if you were to ask a few veterinarians about their opinions about Down syndrome in dogs and whether or not your dog has it, you’re bound to get a few different opinions on the subject because of the lack of enough research that we talked about above.
It’s an incredibly tough job for any veterinarian to be able to tell you with complete confidence and for sure that your dog is indeed affected by Down syndrome.
However, if you have doubts that your dog has Down syndrome, you should ask about it and not just forget about it.
If you notice any of the following symptoms in your dog, ask your veterinarian what they may indicate.
– Them facing difficulty in hearing what you have to say (make sure they aren’t ignoring you though, that could just be a problem with them being stubborn)
– Them not being able to see clearly
– Problems with their thyroid, which should be checked if you notice unusual weight loss/weight gain and/or sudden changes in body temperature
– Them liking to be left alone most of the time, and not being interested in playing with any toys you buy them or interacting with their owner, other family members or other household pets
– Relatively smaller head when compared to other dogs of the same breed
– Excessive hair shedding and missing patches on coat
What Do I Do If My Dog Has Down Syndrome?
If you strongly suspect that your dog has Down syndrome, or you received confirmation from a professional in the veterinary space about this, then there’s not really much you can do to help your dog to change that situation in terms of medicine.
However, what you can do to ensure that your dog goes on to live a healthy and happy life despite the fact that they have Down syndrome is treat them like the special dogs they are and take extra care of them when it comes to a few issues which we will be discussing in this section.
High Protein Diet
The first thing you want to make sure you do if your dog has Down syndrome is design a diet for them (after consulting your veterinarian) that’s very high in protein levels.
Because of the fact that dogs that have Down syndrome have much more fragile and weaker muscles than dogs who don’t have this genetic defect, you’re going to have to make sure they’re getting all the dietary protein they need in order to keep hold of whatever muscle mass they have, and even strengthen it if possible.
What goes hand in hand with a high protein diet in order to ensure preservation of lean muscle mass and strengthening it? Adequate levels of physical activity and exercise!
If your dog has Down syndrome, the need for exercising them (if you weren’t convinced about exercising a dog in the first place) should have just multiplied 10 fold in your mind right now, because if there’s anything that will help them live a healthier and longer life, it’s exercise.
Anything from taking them out on walks in the neighborhood or the dog park, to training them for stuff like agility training, playing a round of their favorite game with them (tug of war, Frisbee, fetch), teaching them new tricks, or whatever else you have in mind, the point is to keep this dog as active as possible throughout the day.
With that being said, you have to be very careful about the fact that dogs with Down syndrome have a much higher chance of being affected by heart disease, meaning that you have to talk to your veterinarian about any exercise routine you plan to have your dog stick to beforehand.
Dogs that suffer from heart disease and are exercised beyond their capability can die from heart complications.
Tests, Tests, And More Tests
Because of the fact that dogs with Down syndrome are much more prone than other dogs to suffer from a whole host of health problems in their lifetime, regular veterinary checkups (much more regular than any other dog should have) are crucial to make sure that your dog’s health is in check at all times and nothing serious is slowly developing.
Also, and with every regular checkup, your veterinarian will be able to tell whether or not your dog needs any special medications or dosage regulations for any medication they’re currently taking.
This is crucial to ensure the well-being of your dog over time and the progress of any health complication they are suffering from.
Specific Dog Food
Besides going over with your veterinarian about a high protein diet you should supply your dog with in order to strengthen their muscle mass, you should also consult with your veterinarian about the best dog food brand you could give your dog that won’t result in any allergies.
Dogs with down syndrome are more prone than other dogs that don’t have this genetic defect to suffer from allergies, one of which is food allergies, so talk to your veterinarian about this to make sure you keep these allergies away.
As a responsible dog owner, you should also educate yourself about ingredients in dog food that cause allergies, so the next time you’re out shopping for some dog food for Fido, you know what brands to discredit immediately because of some ingredients they have.
What To Expect From A Down Syndrome Dog
With a dog that’s affected by Down syndrome being as special as they are, they also have a few special things that separate them from other dogs that aren’t affected by Down syndrome.
First off, and just like humans that are affected by Down syndrome, dogs affected by this genetic defect will have significantly shorter lifespans than dogs that aren’t affected by it.
That’s just the way it is and we’re going to have to accept the bitter reality of it.
Moreover, and just like humans affected by Down syndrome have significantly lower IQ levels than humans that aren’t, dogs affected by Down syndrome are significantly less intellectual than dogs that aren’t.
This means that when you’re performing training with these dogs, such as obedience training and potty training, you’re going to have to put in much more effort and time to see results than you would with other dogs because of the difference in intellectual abilities, that’s if you ever manage to see the desired results at all.
Most dogs that have Down syndrome just sadly don’t have the required IQ levels to be able to process what they’re being taught during these training sessions.
Also, for certain dog breeds that are known to excel in certain tasks (such as hunting dogs, guard dogs, watchdogs) or dogs that are known to excel in certain competitions, a dog from these breeds that has Down syndrome will probably not excel in these tasks and activities nearly as much.
Again, this all ties back to the lower intellectual abilities and much weaker physical capabilities.
Last but not least, when talking about a dog with Down syndrome, you’re going to have to prepare yourself to pay much more money down the line than you would have on a dog that doesn’t have this genetic defect.
Because you’re going to have to take them to the veterinarian for checkups and tests much more often, buy them much more high-quality dog food brands that take into consideration things like food allergies and buy them a whole lot more medication for treatment of different health problems, these will all add up in sizable costs down the road and you should think about that very carefully.
A Note About Interacting With A Dog With Down Syndrome
At first, you may think that dogs with Down syndrome will be very difficult when it comes to interacting with other humans and animals, but that’s not the case.
Just like other dogs that don’t have Down syndrome, if they’re properly socialized from a young age, these dogs will grow up to be some of the most friendly and playful dogs that love to be around young kids and other pets that will enjoy their company as well.
You don’t have to worry about your dog exhibiting any kind of aggression towards young kids of other pets at home if they have Down syndrome, as long as they have been properly socialized, which is the case for every dog out there as well.
This means that you can feel more than confident about getting another dog home to make friends with them, as the two will become best buddies in no time, and the dog with Down syndrome will be very thankful to you for giving them the much needed company they thrive for.
A Note About Reproduction In Dogs With Down Syndrome
Reproduction in life is a very beautiful thing, be it among humans or among any two animals out there, the gift of life is just one of the most beautiful things we’ll ever see.
Unfortunately, the majority of dogs with Down syndrome won’t be able to reproduce because they, most of the times, are infertile.
If you have a dog with Down syndrome, have them checked and it turns out they can indeed reproduce, there’s something you should know before you do that.
Dogs with Down syndrome that reproduce almost always pass this genetic defect to their offspring.
So while we don’t allow ourselves to tell anyone whether or not they’re allowed to breed their dog with Down syndrome, we do want to make this point very clear, and we do want anyone who’s reading this to understand that by breeding this dog, they’re more than likely going to be bringing into life another dog that’s affected by Down syndrome and all the health problems that come with it.
We would also like to point out the saddening fact that unlike human fetuses that develop Down syndrome before they are born, the majority of puppies that develop Down syndrome rarely survive after they are born (and that’s if they are born alive in the first place), because of the fact that their organs unfortunately never get the chance to develop properly.
Human babies with down syndrome will, most of the times, survive just fine after birth, but the majority of puppies that develop Down syndrome die before they ever see the light of day.
Other times, and if the puppy with Down syndrome actually manages to survive birth, their mother will take matters into its own hands to kill them because it can tell that this special dog is different than the rest of the litter and refuses to accept that.
As ugly and brutal as that sounds, this is animal instincts 101 and we can’t do anything about it.
Conclusion On Dogs With Down Syndrome
As we said in this article, because this is such a delicate topic that hasn’t had nearly as much research done to it to come up with a definitive answer, you may possibly never get the answer you’re looking for about whether or not your dog has Down syndrome.
However, that should never affect the relationship you have with your dog, how you feel about them or how you treat them, as they’re still the same old dog you used to wholeheartedly love back when they were a little puppy, and one that you should continue to love the same way.
Dogs with Down syndrome will still be able to play with you just like any other dog, will still show you the same amount of love and affection any other dog will show you, and will be the loyal companion you’ve always dreamed of, just like any other dog that doesn’t have the same genetic defects will.
How they look on the outside and a few physical and intellectual problems here and there should never affect any of that, especially when you consider that they had no say in all of this and couldn’t control any of it, so none of this is their fault whatsoever.