Does Down Syndrome in Dogs Exist? A 101 Guide!

Did you know that Down syndrome in dogs exists? This article will let you know the reasons, symptoms, and treatment in cases of Down syndrome in dogs.

What is Down Syndrome?

The National, Down Syndrome Society, explains that Down syndrome is a condition that develops when an extra copy of chromosome 21, apart from the regular 46 chromosomes, is found in the body’s genetic material. This genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division is also referred to as ‘Trisomy 21’.

Research shows that babies with Down syndrome occur in one in 700 ratios in the United States, making it a common chromosomal condition.

The physical features associated with Down syndrome include:

1) A flat face

2) Slow mental and physical growth (mentality of a child)

3) Short neck

4) Small ears

5) Tongue sticking out of the mouth

6) Small white spots on the eye (iris)

7) Small hands and legs

8) Loose joints

9) Short height

10) Line across the pal of one’s hand (palmar crease)

down syndrome in dogs
By karelnoppe/ Copyright 2021.

Apart from Trisomy 21, the other kinds of Down syndrome with chromosomal abnormalities are Mosaic Down syndrome (when a mix of cells has an extra chromosome) and Translocation (the additional chromosome attached to a regular one like chromosome 14). These two cases occur less frequently.

Medically, the causes of Down syndrome haven’t been determined, except for the maternal age factor. In any case, it can occur from the mother or the father.

Those diagnosed with this condition have a shorter life expectancy, falling in the range of 50-60 years.

1) Does Down Syndrome in Dogs Exist?

Current research points out that this specific genetic disorder of humans does not exist in dogs due to the main difference that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, while dogs have 39 pairs. So, any kind of duplication would have different outcomes for both species.

Dogs do have genetic disorders sharing symptoms with Down syndrome in humans like:

1) Smaller face and head

2) Stunted muscle growth and cognition

3) Poor eyesight and hearing

4) Physical deformities

Some dogs suffering from a chromosomal abnormality do die at an earlier age. This makes one wonder if this genetic disorder in dogs exists or not.

Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?

2) Features of Down Syndrome in Dogs Suffering From Genetic Disorders

Although genetic testing undertaken for dogs hasn’t been sufficient, there is enough evidence to show that Veterinary testing isn’t that advanced – almost 300 genetic disorders have been found in dogs, and these genetic abnormalities usually have no cure.

However, puppies of 1 to 2 years start showing physical abnormalities like:

1) poor physical development of body parts

2) abnormally developed internal organs – like joints underdeveloped.

Since this occurs early, it can be labelled under genetic abnormalities of Down syndrome.

Any abnormality caused later on in dogs, even matching Down syndrome symptoms like poor muscle tone, can be due to other factors as well:

1) kind of environment

2) medications and diet

3) Traumatic events

This isn’t genetic, so it cannot be linked to Down syndrome in dogs.

Symptoms of a Genetic Disorder That Matches Down Syndrome in Dogs

Even though the condition of Down syndrome in dogs hasn’t been confirmed with proper evidence, there are distinct physical features that might indicate so:

1) Dwarf-Like or Deformed Features

2122121 dog
Courtesy: unlimphotos

These kinds of features generally include:

1) Short neck

2) Flat face

3) Small head

4) Upward-inclined eyes

5) Abnormal ear size

6) Warm and dry noses

7) Extreme hair loss and shedding

8) Abnormal skin patches

9) Deformed or incomplete legs

10) Poor muscle tone

2) Poor Eyesight

7807412 dog in the night
Courtesy: unlimphotos

A Down syndrome dog is poorly developed, including weak eyesight. If cloudiness occurs in both eyes, it means cataracts.

3) Bad Hearing

Down syndrome in dogs is also cognitively slow, so they react relatively slowly to cues, unlike other dogs. This might also be due to weak hearing.

4) Heart Problems

A Down syndrome dog might also have congenital heart disease, which means abnormal working of the heart due to congenital disabilities.

Other effects are an abnormal circulatory system and many other heart problems.

5) Unusual Organ Development

Down syndrome in dogs can also include random pain in any part of the body.

This is caused due to abnormal organ development and restricted bone growth.

6) Rectal Discharges

Down syndrome in dogs can cause symptoms like bad digestion and elimination, which leads to a bloody rectum discharge.

7) Skin issues

7807396 dog in the night

Down syndrome in dogs includes skin problems due to impaired liver function and a weak immune system. This might cause heavy shedding of fur or missing fur patches.

Sensitivity to minor smells like household scents and irritants is also common, which might further cause other allergies.

8) Thyroid Problem

Down syndrome in dogs occurs even in case of malfunctioning thyroid, which can further cause problems in metabolism.

Dogs having thyroid problems have a relatively lower temperature than healthy ones.

7893816 dog
Courtesy: unlimphotos

9) Odd Behaviours

Down syndrome in dogs may also occur in the form of odd traits like wailing, howling, or whining continuously.

Grooming them would also be a problem, as they may cause trouble while feeding and potty training.

3) Other Medical Conditions That Match Down Syndrome in Dogs

Symptoms of Down syndrome in dogs, as confirmed by the veterinarian with testing, might also have the following conditions:

3.1) Pituitary Dwarfism

Pituitary Dwarfism is caused by a growth hormone deficiency and is an inherited condition.

Symptoms of this growth hormone deficiency that matches Down syndrome in dogs include:

1) Small body size

2) Delayed growth

3) Puppy skin or coating

4) Darker skin

5) Slow tooth development

6) Improper function of the thyroid, reproductive system, and adrenal glands

7) Shorten lifespan due to problems like kidney failure

Usually, German Shepherds and some wolf hybrids have this kind of dwarfism.

These pet owners can get a growth hormone stimulation test conducted for their dogs to confirm the condition.

Dwarf German Shepherd: What Causes a GSD To Be Born With Dwarfism?

3.2) Congestive Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease develops over time as a health condition. Environmental factors are a major cause of this.

Symptoms of this condition matching Down syndrome in dogs are:

1) Coughing due to excess fluid in the lungs

2) Damaged heart valves (which further cause heart murmurs that vary from safe to unsafe that are extremely loud)

Dog breeds that have frequent heart murmurs:

  • Dachshund
  • Poodle
  • Golden retrievers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • King Charles Cavalier
  • Boxers
  • Dobermans (especially males)

3) Excess fluid in the abdomen might lead to a potbelly (which can further cause difficulty in breathing and a less active life)

Dogs having such heart diseases can be tested through these means: Physical examination, Electrocardiogram (ECG), X-ray, and Echocardiogram 1(ultrasound of the heart).

The important thing to note is symptoms vary in severity, some may not be of any harm while some can be dangerous to the dog’s health. Getting veterinary advice is a good option for diagnosis.

Congestive Heart Failure & Enlarged Heart in Dogs

3.3) Congenital Hypothyroidism

This condition means a serious deficiency of thyroid hormones, which can occur, from birth to early life.

Hypothyroidism is a common endocrine disorder in dogs that can affect organ growth, function, and metabolism.

The cause of this condition is the lack of T3 and T4 hormones, which lowers a dog’s metabolic rate, controls energy regulation and causes physical symptoms like that of Down syndrome.

Down syndrome-like symptoms of this condition include:

1) Abnormal facial features like a broadhead

2) Stunted growth which leads to a small stature

3) Large protruding tongue

4) Small limbs

5) Irregular walking manner

6) Poor muscle wasting or muscle tone

7) Bad cognitive functions

8) Slow opening of eyes and ears

9) Hearing problems

10) Slow tooth eruption

Dog breeds with this condition
  • Golden retriever
  • Doberman
  • Irish Setter
  • Dachshund
  • Airedale Terrier.

The diagnosis in dogs can only be confirmed, with a full thyroid panel. The pet owner has to ensure all thyroid tests are conducted. 

How To Diagnose Hypothyroidism In Dogs | The Diagnosis Of Canine Hypothyroidism

3.4) Congenital Hydrocephalus

This condition in dogs occurs due to an unusual amount of fluid on the brain, which starts at birth – puppies 6 months old are diagnosed with this condition.

Symptoms of this condition that are similar to Down syndrome in dogs

1) Apple-shaped/domed skull

2) Wide eyes

3) Slow growth

4) Lack of coordination

5) Difficult to train

6) Less likely to drink and eat much

7) Occasional erratic behaviour

Most common dog breeds with this condition

  • Boston Terrier
  • English bulldog
  • Chihuahua
  • Pekingese
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Poodle

These breeds are smaller, snub-nosed, and liable to have hydrocephalus2. The diagnosis of this condition can be done with an ultrasound.

Hydrocephalus in Dogs | Wag!

3.5) Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

This dysfunction occurs commonly in dogs and is a progressive disease. Most likely, older dogs are prone to develop this condition.

People can overlook this condition in dogs due to the following reasons:

1) It develops slowly, so it doesn’t seem abnormal

2) Any kind of odd behaviour in old dogs is normalized as part of their aging process.

Symptoms similar to Down syndrome in dogs

1) Disorientation or staring and getting lost in the general surroundings, confusion, and continual pacing.

2) Reduced interactions

4) Sleep changes like irregular or no sleep pattern

5) Training is of no use anymore as the dogs might forget or not respond to tasks and commands

6) Reduced Activity, although restless behaviour and obsessive-compulsive habits become common

The important part to note here is dementia in older dogs should not be confused with Down syndrome in dogs, as only a genetic cognitive problem would fall under this category.

What Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Can Look Like

4) Taking Care of Dogs Who Might Have Down Syndrome and Any Genetic Abnormality

A special needs dog will need extra care and a safe environment to survive a content life like a healthy dog.

Here are some steps you could take to ensure the safety of your pet’s health:

4.1) Regular Visits with the Vet

Special dogs would require more checkups than healthy dogs, so schedule an appointment with the vet regularly and follow through with any tests, check-ups, or treatments, if recommended.

4.2) Ensure a Safe Environment

If your dog experiences developmental or intellectual lags, the environment in which it grows needs to be safe.

Let your dog move around freely, without any harmful obstacles, and take precautions like putting gates near stairs, to prevent your dog from any injuries.

4.3) Provide a Healthy Diet 

To avoid health issues, the main thing to ensure is proper nutrition, especially for a special dog.

Feed your pet a well-balanced diet, that will give them the nutrients to function at their possible potential.

All pet owners need to make sure their special needs dogs get extra care and love to lead a healthy life. Just be good to them, and they will reciprocate the same.

5) Health Care for Down Syndrome in Dogs

Once you start the treatment to address your pet’s health issues, a veterinarian might prescribe certain drugs, for genetic disorders and Down syndrome in dogs.

The important thing to note is these drugs do not further compromise your dog’s health. These are some of the medications you could avoid:

How to Care for a Down Syndrome Dog

5.1) Non – Steroidal Anti – Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Health issues of a special needs dog might include acute to chronic pain and inflammation, for which NSAIDs 3are prescribed.

However, using this medication long-term can cause cartilage damage, which in turn will lead to more joint problems.

Other long-term side effects include a slow healing process and fast joint degeneration.

Examples of these medications include Aspirin, Deramaxx, Rimadyl, Metacam, and Galliprant.

These drugs are not 100% safe, they also cause many human deaths with problems like GI bleeding, and kidney and liver failure. For a dog, these outcomes are worse.

Here are some precautions you can take for the same.

5.2) Opioids

Another drug used to relieve pain in dogs is Opioids 4(like morphine), more specifically, these are used as a treatment for acute pain in many animals, from cats to dogs.

Their effect is relieving pain through the central nervous system, which causes severe side effects like Sedation or sluggishness, mood changes, and respiratory depression, which might even lead to death.

The effect of Opioids also depends on factors like – the pain threshold of dogs, present health conditions, and administration of drugs for other health issues. So, the dosage will also differ accordingly.

5.3) Pain Drugs that are Not Effective

A problem that is being raised with pain medications is the trend of new drugs that aren’t prescribed for pain or the ‘off label’ ones like Gabapentin which is an anticonvulsant drug.

Another problem is the use of multiple drugs simultaneously, which are not proven to be effective and may have many side effects.

5.4) Antibiotics

Antibiotics are used to prevent bacteria formation and eliminate infection. But, prescribing them for all health issues is not advised.

Although they might kill bacteria in a dog’s gut, their long-term usage might weaken a dog’s immune system, reducing the ability to resist diseases.

Many times, antibiotics are also not effective for bacteria and they might end up suppressing the actual disease. So, these are advised to be used with caution on your pets.

5.5) Drugs Prescribed for Allergy

Special dogs might also encounter skin issues for which allergy drugs like Apoquel and Cytopoint are prescribed.

These drugs have long-term side effects like suppressing the immune system, and certain short-term ones that cause the reverse effect like itchy skin.

5.6) Steroids

Steroids 5are prescribed to manage allergies and inflammatory, and auto-immune conditions.

The side effects include a weaker immune system and inflammation of the pet’s body. This is specifically advised not to be taken in case of Down syndrome in dogs.

6) Natural Ways to Recover From Down Syndrome in Dogs

As we have seen, medications have side effects that might further deteriorate your dog’s health. The better solution is to limit toxins and harmful treatments by switching to natural practices like:

6.1) Dietary Changes

Special dogs or dogs with Down syndrome have poor development, which causes muscle wasting and weakness as common symptoms.

Feeding a raw diet like meats, eggs, dairy products, fresh fruits, and vegetables might provide high protein intake, nutrients, and amino acids that might strengthen muscles and be beneficial for the overall health of a special needs dog.

Digestive enzymes and probiotics can help absorb the necessary nutrients in case of digestion problems.

In case of a lack of appetite, natural stimulants like fresh or dried herbs can be given to a Down syndrome dog. Garlic, bone broth, and green tripe are other nutritious choices.

Note: Make sure the diet chosen for dogs with Down syndrome fits their physiology.

Here are some additional tips for a raw diet.

6.2) Minimal or No Vaccination

Vaccination is meant for an average dog, not a sick or impaired dog, as it might worsen their condition.

The side effects of vaccination that affect dogs include mild reactions like soreness or lethargy, anaphylactic shock, and autoimmune diseases that might lead to death.

Vaccines also include multiple additives, toxins, and heavy metals that can harm a dog’s body.

Vaccinosis or health issues like inflammation and reactions may also cause chronic health problems, including changes in behaviour and skin issues. Check out this article for more details on the condition. 

Once a puppy begins to grow, avoid vaccinations and let them develop natural immunity. If older dogs are already vaccinated once, that should be enough.

6.3) Detoxing

There are certain cases when you must conduct regular detoxes for your dog, like if there are many medications prescribed, in case of vaccination, and hazardous environments.

A regular detox can ensure a clean liver, skin, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. The detoxing kit can include the following items:

1) Antioxidants (like Vitamin C)

2) Glutathione (made of amino acids)

3) High protein diet

4) B- Complex Vitamins (for higher energy levels)

5) Green tea, Grape seed extract, and quercetin (Bioflavonoids)

6) Springwater

7) Prebiotics and Probiotics (for the gastrointestinal system)

8) Milk Thistle (for liver support)

9) A detox bath (for skin issues and kidney dysfunction)

6.4) Protect Dog’s Gut Health

A healthy gut is essential to produce enzymes and digestion hormones that can help Down syndrome in dogs, especially to fight diseases.

A healthy mix of probiotics can ensure the smooth working of a dog’s gut, helping fight infection, unlike antibiotics that harm a dog’s microbiome.

Here are other alternatives for antibiotics.

6.5) Keep Homeopathy an Open Option

The best thing about homeopathy is that it can be prescribed according to the condition and health of your dog.

It is a non-invasive treatment that can help with pain, digestion, orthopedic problems, and hormone deficiencies.

There are different methods of homeopathy that you choose on your own: like a dry dose or a wet dose. Another critical point is to know how often the remedy is required and any changes occurring in dogs. Check this article for more details.

If you choose homeopathy, you can eliminate drug treatment with severe side effects. This way, you will be able to improve your pet’s underlying problems and overall health.

6.6) Control Inflammation

There are many causes of inflammation in dogs, from infectious diseases to stressful conditions. There are many types: from a particular area of the body to general inflammation.

In such cases, the alternatives to steroids could be more natural ways of treatment like changing to a healthier diet, protecting gut health, and taking natural supplements.

7) How to Care for a Down Syndrome Dog as an Owner?

How to Care for a Down Syndrome Dog: A Comprehensive Guide

Health issues for a special dog or dog with Down syndrome can be managed with an effective plan where the dog owner has to work together with the dog. Here are some ways:

7.1) Regular Exercise

As slow physical development is a symptom of Down syndrome in dogs, efforts have to be taken to ensure your pets are more active. This will help in strengthening their heart and also get proper rest.

Some of the activities that can be tried out according to your dog’s physical health are:

1) Tug of War (this might help strengthen muscles)

2) Walking (will support bone weight, muscles, and heart for dogs with Down syndrome)

3) Rollover (helps to build strong muscles)

4) Scratch dance (Regular movement of upper and lower portions of the body can help develop overall health)

However, the critical thing to keep in mind is that a dog’s physical and mental exercise needs to be timed and practiced according to their potential, don’t let them overdo it, as it may cause more problems.

7.2) Regular Health Care

When a special needs puppy starts growing, so do its health issues. Getting early checkups done with the vet can help deal with any chronic issues that your dog might develop.

Remember, any long-term condition that may develop can be managed with proper healthcare at an early stage.

7.3) Care with Fertility and Neutering issues

 Down syndrome in dogs or not, dogs with genetic defects must not breed. Sterilizing a male dog can cause further developmental issues, while pregnancy for a female dog might risk their life.

So, a vet’s advice is to be taken even if your dog shows positive health before breeding.

7.4) Provide a Healthy Environment

Specific measures that you can take to provide a safe home environment are:

1) Make dog-friendly areas, especially for those who have a poor vision

2) Baby gates for puppies, so they do not fall

3) Keep food and water in the same place, as well as use dog-friendly furniture to train your dog better.

5) Keep non-toxic cleaning supplies that will help with Down syndrome in dogs, especially for frequent cleanups.

7.5) Expect to Deal With Challenging Behavior

Fear and anxiety are two main symptoms of dogs that might have Down syndrome. This starts with their general surroundings and extends to everything they encounter. They can also be challenging to train and have separation anxiety.

So, the vital thing for special dogs is plenty of understanding and patience. Please support them in the best way you can; they will learn to trust and rely on you.

8) Final Noe – How to Prepare Yourself for a Down Syndrome Dog?

As noted in this article, taking care of special dogs is not easy, but they can live a normal life with plenty of support and love.

As a dog owner, you will have to ensure that your human circle supports your special dog. Remember, the special treatment also comes with extra costs, so make an annual budget.

Every Down syndrome or special needs dog is different, and some might love interacting while others isolate themselves. Make sure you know their condition entirely and build a strong foundation for an everyday and happy life.

If you liked this article, check this article out to learn more about Down syndrome.  

To learn Fun Facts about the Nervous System, click here.

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  4. Kerrigan, Sarah, and Bruce A. Goldberger. “Opioids.” Principles of forensic toxicology (2020): 347-369. ↩︎
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