Is cat autism really a thing?

Cats are unusual, particular animals, and they have many behaviors and habits that can appear strange to humans. Some cats have more extreme preferences and behaviors than others, and in some cases, these cats are referred to as autistic. Autism is well known in humans, but while people may call their cats autistic, is that a real diagnosis? The topic of autism in cats is gaining attention, but here’s what you need to know about this diagnosis.

Cat curled up under a soft blanket
JityPix/Pixabay

Understanding autism

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disability. This lifelong disability often appears during childhood, and it occurs in varying degrees. Autism can look different in different people, but early diagnosis can help people with autism get the services and support they need.

Autism affects a person’s communication, relationships, and social interaction. Common autism symptoms can include nonverbal or atypical speech patterns, difficulty making friends, unusual sensitivity to stimuli like noises and lights, and repeated behavior like intense repetitive movements or strict adherence to routines. People with autism may choose to spend time by themselves, may not engage with others, may prefer structured schedules, and may be highly interested in one topic or toy.

Is autism in cats real?

Autism is a diagnosis for humans who have this specific disorder, and cats can’t officially be diagnosed with autism. In fact, many of the symptoms of autism in a human can be normal behavior for cats. A cat who may be standoffish, who doesn’t develop strong relationships with humans or other cats, and who performs repetitive movements like circling before lying down is, in many cases, displaying perfectly normal cat behavior. It’s also typical for cats to develop fascinations with one certain toy, or for them to seek out some quiet time alone.

Some cats who are called autistic simply don’t form strong bonds with humans. There can be many reasons for this. Some cats just don’t enjoy human companionship, while others may have had bad past experiences with humans, and the lack of bonding comes from a lack of trust. With time, you may be able to earn a cat’s trust and develop a relationship, but some cats may just never bond with a human.

What may appear to be autistic cat symptoms can also be the result of mental impairment or physical disabilities. An illness, accident, or even birth defect can leave a cat with unusual behavior and habits. To better understand these issues, it’s important to work closely with your vet. Depending on your cat’s symptoms and background, your vet might refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist, for further workup and diagnostics. Understanding your cat’s unique needs can help you ensure he gets the care he needs.

Supporting your unique cat

If you’re considering bringing home a cat with some unique behaviors, then it’s important to make certain your whole family is on board. All your family members will need to be invested in creating 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.

A cat behaviorist may be able to 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 they 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.

Remember, too, that being unique isn’t a bad thing. Lots of cats have quirks and unusual behaviors. As long as you ensure that your cat is happy and his quirks aren’t affecting his well-being, those idiosyncrasies don’t have to be a big deal. If you accept your cat for who he is — an individual — and embrace the fact that his quirks make him special, you can give your cat a loving home where he is accepted and loved. Your cat may not have autism, but with some veterinary help, you can understand any factors that might be contributing to your cat’s behavior and love him for the unique kitty that he is.

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