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Can cats have autism? What you need to know

Answers to some common questions about unusual feline behavior

Can cats have autism? This is a question that might have crossed your mind as you try to decipher your cat’s behavior patterns. Although diagnosis is centered on human behavior, many pet lovers and experts have discovered similarities between special-needs cats and people with autism. Still, cats are typically only labeled as special needs if they have a physical or mental disability.

There are several behaviors in cats that are similar to those found in humans on the autism spectrum. These include:

  • Not wanting to be held or touched
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeating the same actions

If this all sounds new, don’t worry. We’ll go over important terms and answer common questions regarding autism in cats.

Cat with blue eyes staring into distance

What is autism?

Autism is a spectrum of behaviors affecting a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. This means a person on one end of the spectrum may exhibit different behaviors than someone on the other.

The most common traits in people with autism are difficulty adjusting to change, difficulty processing outside stimuli (sounds, noises, lights), desire for organized, predictable routines and situations, and repeating sounds or motions. People with autism also prefer to be alone, often passing up opportunities to play or work in a group. Lastly, people with autism tend to get very interested in a specific subject or activity and will often obsess about this topic.

Cat with yellow flower

Can cats have autism?

In a nutshell, cats can’t have autism, but they can be diagnosed with other conditions, and like humans and other animals, some cats have special needs. However, remember that most of these needs stem from physical disabilities or old age. For instance, some cats only have two or three limbs, classifying them as special needs.

Other common special-needs conditions are blindness, deafness, and complete immobility. Beyond physical disabilities, some special-needs cats have mental impairments. These conditions may result from birth defects, accidents, or illness. Some cats even have Down syndrome-type symptoms, including wide-set eyes, poor hearing, poor vision, unusual facial features, and uncommon behavior. In this case, check in with your vet to find the exact causes and how to properly care for your fur baby with special needs.

Cat eats some catnip from a window sill

What cat behaviors are similar to those of autism?

When you think about it, cats do exhibit some traits common in people on the spectrum. They get obsessed with catching certain things. They enjoy their alone time. They may get easily overstimulated or spooked by loud noises, bright lights, and even too much affection. Cats also enjoy routine and are highly intelligent.

Cats might also make strange noises that lead some owners to deduce that their pet has autism. This is unlikely because cats make a wide range of noises for different reasons. Moreover, these noises differ between breeds.

Nevertheless, these are typical cat behaviors, and research concludes that cats cannot have autism.

If your cat is acting very strange, or you suspect something is up, a call with the vet or a wellness checkup is always beneficial. Your veterinarian might be able to identify some lurking issues that explain your cat’s behavior.

Relaxed cat sleeping in a cat bed

How can I calm down my cat?

Some cats get overstimulated — a hallmark of an autistic diagnosis. Some signs of overstimulation are dilated pupils, flat ears, and biting motions. Overstimulation can also be the usual reason behind aggressive cat hissing. One way to prevent overstimulation is to give your cat enough safe outlets indoors. If your cat escapes looking for entertainment, they might instead find themselves overwhelmed by the outside world.

Interact with your cat regularly. Make time each day for dedicated playtime. Use engaging items like lights, chase the prey toys, and treat-dispensing toys for a set amount of time. (If you let your cat play endlessly, they might become overstimulated, obsessed, or restless.)

If your cat has reached their boiling point, let them be so they can soothe themselves. When they come to you seeking comfort, simply stay by their side and wait until they are ready to initiate contact or play.

Another great habit is to keep your cat’s routine very regular. This reduces any anxiety from irregular schedules or sudden changes.

Striped cat playing with a toy

Supporting your unique cat

If you’re considering bringing home a cat with some unique behaviors, it’s important to ensure your whole family is on board. Everyone must work together to create a supportive environment for your cat. This may involve some adjustments, like giving your cat access to his own spaces in the house where he won’t be disturbed and resisting some of the habits you might have developed with other cats, like patting your cat as you walk past him.

Orange cat in a white fleece bed

In conclusion

A cat behaviorist may help you better understand why your cat does some of the things he does. A behaviorist has extensive training in and knowledge of cat behavior and can help provide some solutions for behavior issues that you might be experiencing with your cat. Your veterinarian should be able to refer you to a qualified local cat behaviorist.

Your cat might be introverted, very smart, and obsessed with toys, but this doesn’t make them autistic. Additionally, they might have physical abnormalities that prevent them from participating in typical activities. These special-needs cats require lots of nurturing and care, but with you as their pet parent, they’re in good hands.

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