Autism and mental health, in general, have been hot topics in recent years. More and more people are becoming aware of what autism truly is and how to recognize it.
But what about autism in cats? Can cats be autistic?
Undeniably, cats are very peculiar creatures. These cute kitties are arguably more mysterious and unpredictable than dogs.
One could even argue that a cat’s behavior is more unpredictable than a pet chinchilla, parrot, or fish!
Indeed, underneath the adorable looks of these felines sit some quirks that make them seem outright autistic. But what exactly is the truth behind autism in cats? Let’s investigate!
What Is Autism?
According to the Centers for Disease and Disorder (CDC), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a type of developmental disability. This condition affects the socialization and communication skills of people who have it.
There are five known types of autism. These include Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, Kanner’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder.
Typically, ASD is diagnosed in the early stages of life. Children with autism may exhibit unconventional behaviors and peculiar traits.
One thing to know about ASD is that it affects patients differently. Sometimes, the signs of ASD in children differ from signs in adults.
Moreover, autism is often not accompanied by physical clues. Meaning, this condition is not right away evident to others.
Here are some of the common signs of ASD:
- Trouble in communicating effectively
- Avoiding eye contact and physical contact
- Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive behaviors
- Highly interested in childish things
- Over fascination with blinking lights and moving objects
- Peculiar and repetitive speech patterns
- Very high intelligence quotient
- Indifference to pain
- Overly stressed with routine changes
These are just some of the most common signs of autism spectrum disorder. A person does not have to have all of these to be clinically diagnosed with ASD. Some autistic people show fewer symptoms than others.
To clarify, all that we have talked about so far only applies to human beings. In other words, ASD is a developmental disability only diagnosed in humans, not in cats nor other animals.
Interestingly, however, some telltale signs of ASD are commonplace with cats.
For instance, a kitty can be extremely intelligent, fascinated with laser lights and moving toys, and can be unresponsive at times.
But are these observations enough to say a cat’s behavior is autistic? Or is this merely a case of anthropomorphizing?
Can Cats Be Autistic?
Technically speaking, no, cats cannot be autistic. In fact, the term “autistic cat” is scientifically inaccurate.
Sure, cats can mimic the symptoms of ASD in humans, but they can never be genuinely diagnosed with autism (well, at least not yet!).
The reason behind this lies in the context of ASD as a disability. Indeed, autism is a well-studied condition, and experts know a lot about it. However, what we know about it is exclusive to us, humans.
There is no condition in cats in veterinary medicine books that is precisely the same as ASD in humans.
In the future, as science progresses, there may be a proper analogous condition to autism. But as for now, autism is exclusive to humans.
Some conditions that may show the same signs in cats are anxiety and compulsive disorders. Like ASD, these disorders are characterized by unconventional behaviors and peculiar traits.
A cat with anxiety or compulsive disorders will exhibit any of the following signs:
- Repetitive behavior such as meowing
- Compulsive pacing
- Fascination to lights and moving objects
- Chewing fabric and other inedible materials
- Repeating behaviors
As you can see, some of these signs are very similar to ASD. However, a kitty showing any of these signs is not an autistic cat.
Undeniably, some cats may seem autistic compared to other cats. But in the true sense of the word, these cats are not.
Sometimes, “autistic cats” are those who are experiencing anxiety or compulsive disorders. However, they are simply being cats on most occasions, and nothing is truly wrong with them!
One could even say that we merely attribute human characteristics to these kitties, and they are probably right.
Sadly, many cat owners are misinformed about cat behavior. Some cat parents consider these quirks to be mental disorders.
That said, the term “autistic cat” is still thrown around in the pet community quite often. While a cat is never truly autistic, people informally use the term “autistic cat” to refer to kitties with noticeable quirks.
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What Are the Signs of an Autistic Cat?
Autistic cats are those with peculiar behavior that mimic ASD in humans. These kitties are not truly autistic per se, but they are quirky enough to seem like they are.
There are a couple of things that make a kitty appear autistic. Among these are anti-social behavior, sensory abnormalities, and repetitive meowing.
Some cats will exhibit all of these signs, while other cats won’t show any. This is expected as no two cats are entirely alike. As cat owners, we must stay informed about these, so let’s talk about it in more detail.
Vocalization is one area that is often affected by ASD. For example, most children diagnosed with autism can have tendencies to refuse vocalization. Stuttering and choppy speech are usually common in autistic children.
On the flip side, other ASD patients exhibit excessive vocalization. However, this is often involuntary and not directed to anyone.
All these symptoms may already sound familiar to most cat owners. In fact, it is arguable that these are parts of a cat’s normal behavior!
Some cats are outright silent, while others can be obnoxiously talkative! But does this mean your cat is autistic?
While it may be tempting to think that you have an autistic cat, chances are, your cat is normal. Regardless of whether your cat is a quiet cat or a talkative cat, there’s a good chance that it is simply being itself!
Here’s an insightful video explaining cat vocalization and why some cats meow excessively:
One trait in cats that resembles autism is an anti-social disposition. Now, it is important not to confuse this trait with independence as they are totally different.
An independent cat is a cat in its natural habitat. This is a cat that roams around by itself, eats when it’s time, grooms itself as it sees fit, and enjoys its own company.
Aside from cuteness, independence is what cats are best known for. Indeed, most cats behave this way, but an anti-social disposition is not typical feline behavior.
Naturally, a cat will crave social interaction, especially if it is an affectionate cat. But this is not the case with anti-social cats.
An anti-social cat isn’t just independent; instead, it is uncomfortable being surrounded by other animals or family members.
This is a cat that is rarely socially outgoing. Often, a cat with this behavior is uncomfortable with petting and eye contact.
As a result, these cats appear to show autistic behavior and are often called autistic cats. There are many reasons why cats develop such unusual feline behavior.
Some pet enthusiasts believe that this disposition in cats is breed-specific. While it is true that some breeds are not as good in social interactions as others, it is also possible that an anti-social behavior roots from elsewhere.
3. Sensory Abnormalities
It is pretty common for people diagnosed with ASD, especially ASD children, to exhibit some form of sensory abnormality.
These abnormalities range from excessive clumsiness to tactile issues and indifference to pain.
Some autistic people can also experience temporary blindness and hearing loss. Similarly, over-sensitivity to light, sound, and some forms of noise are also commonplace in people with ASD.
Unsurprisingly, cats can also show signs of sensory abnormalities. However, when a cat experiences these abnormalities, it is often due to other health issues and not autism.
Some common feline health issues associated with sensory abnormalities are diabetes mellitus, kidney failure, and cerebellar hypoplasia.
Exposure to some common toxins, organ failure, and obesity may also cause a cat’s sensory organs to act up.
If you think you have an autistic cat, it is best to take it to the vet right away. Chances are, your kitty is not actually autistic but is experiencing other health issues instead.
So as soon as you see signs, seek vet advice as soon as possible.
4. Interest in Light and Movement
Laser lights and moving toys are some of the things that interest cats. Shine a bright red dot on the floor or set off a wind-up mouse, and your cat will surely get excited. Sounds perfectly normal for a cat, right?
While these may seem normal behavior in cats, they actually mimic some of the symptoms of ASD. Like people with autism, cats also exhibit intense focus and interest in light and movement.
You will often find these kitties staring at lamps, TVs, rotating fan blades, insects, and the likes.
However, these traits do not mean that your cat is autistic. These are merely manifestations of their predatory instincts.
If your cat exhibits alarming signs of fascination with light and movement. It is recommended to always keep an eye on it. Keep in mind that curiosity can actually kill a cat!
5. Strong Preferences
People diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder often have strong preferences.
Some manifestations of this trait include strictly sticking to routines, despising change, and obsessing over the same toy.
An autistic child, for example, will be very selective when it comes to food compared to other children.
The child may throw a tantrum when he doesn’t like what he’s given. The same is true for toys, clothes, and other material things.
Unsurprisingly, “autistic cats” or “cats with autism” also exhibit strong preferences. Some cats hate it when you change their kibble. Sometimes, a kitty will even refuse to eat a kibble of a different shape!
Moreover, a cat with autistic tendencies is likely to get upset with routine changes. But again, these do not translate to ASD. More often than not, our so-called autistic cats are just being cats!
One aspect of autism that is often overlooked is increased intelligence. Frequently, people with ASD have a natural talent for maths, sciences, and music.
Of course, not everyone with ASD will be highly brilliant, but many are. People in the scientific community believe that superhuman intelligence is often accompanied by some form of developmental disorder, such as ASD.
As for cats, increased intelligence is also associated with autism. However, there is actually no evidence to back this claim. Some cat breeds are just naturally more intelligent than others.
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How to Deal With Cats With Autistic Behavior?
Autistic cats or, more appropriately, cats showing signs of autism often require some kind of special care.
As expected, these kitties need all the patience and understanding they can get from their owners. Owning an autistic cat can be pretty tedious, especially for an inexperienced pet parent.
The fact that autistic behavior may be challenging to spot in cats only adds to the challenges.
Luckily, understanding their needs is already halfway through meeting them. So how exactly should you deal with a cat showing signs of autism?
The first thing to do with an autistic cat is to pay close attention to its behavior. Is it really showing signs of autistic behavior? What makes you think so?
Factor in your cat’s age, environment, and recent happenings. Keep in mind that many external factors can trigger a cat to behave differently. It is also possible that older cats will show more signs of autistic behavior.
Make sure that your observations are valid and you are not overthinking. Spot strange behavioral changes, keep a keen eye on sensory abnormalities, and report to a vet what you observe.
As emphasized in the previous sections, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not the root cause of the signs of autism in cats. Often, an autistic cat has other underlying conditions that are responsible for its quirks.
Once you have pinpointed the problem, if any, you will find it easier to provide the solution. Potential solutions include therapy, medications, or a simple set of exercises.
Do Cats Help With Autism?
Now that it’s clear, cats do not have autism, does it also mean that cats and autism cannot go together? Well, not really.
Unsurprisingly, cats do well as support animals for people who have ASD. In fact, the beguiling bond between felines and autistic children has been the subject of recent studies.
One of these studies published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science found that cats make the best companion for an autistic child.
Furthermore, the study claims that cats can help in the social development and overall well-being of children with ASD.
One possible reason behind this is that cats are reportedly more docile to children of a specific age group. Coincidentally, this age group is also when ASD children need social interaction the most.
Cats are also less judgmental than other pets and other kids. Similarly, they show a great deal of patience when cared for by someone with ASD.
Moreover, many experts also believe that cats are more affectionate to household members who have ASD compared to other family members.
However, these claims are yet to be thoroughly studied, so keep that in mind.
If you wish to get a cat for someone who has ASD, it is best to get a newborn kitten rather than an adult cat. Naturally, a kitten will form stronger bonds with the specific person who raises it.
It is also recommended to avoid skittish cat breeds as they can be unpredictable at times.
Some cat breeds you should consider are the Maine Coon, Birman, Ragdoll, Oriental Shorthair, and Himalayan.
These breeds are known for their loving temperament and calm nature. Of course, feel free to explore other cat breeds, too! It is crucial to select the right cat breed for an ASD child.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do All Cats Have Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability only present in humans. While many pet enthusiasts refer to quirky cats as “autistic cats,” felines can never be truly diagnosed with autism.
The easy answer to this question is that not all cats have autism. In fact, no cat has autism. Autistic cat is the informal term for quirky cats who may be experiencing anxiety or compulsive disorders.
Can Animals Be Autistic?
According to an article from Science Focus, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has a particular set of diagnostic criteria that only applies in humans. Simply put, diagnosing autism in animals is outright impossible.
That said, pet enthusiasts and even veterinary professionals can still apply what we know about ASD in understanding animals.
Some animals that exhibit signs of autism include dogs, cats, rodents, and many more.
Can Cats Have Mental Illness?
Like humans, cats have the potential to develop mental illnesses. Some cats experience depression, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors.
Many cats with mental illnesses are born with it, while some develop it due to environmental stressors.
Signs that your cat is mentally ill include lack of appetite, abrupt changes in eating habits, sudden loss of interest, and decreased grooming.
Do Some Cats Have Special Needs?
Yes, some cats have special needs and require a bit more care than others.
For one, cats can be born with physical disabilities. Blind cats, cats missing a limb, cats with eyelid defects, and deaf cats are just some of the cats that have special needs.
Moreover, cats with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors have special needs.
Similarly, cats with life-altering health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heartworm also have special needs.
Final Thoughts: Can Cats Have Autism?
So, can cats be autistic? Contrary to what Kathy Hoopman’s book, All Cats are on the Autism Spectrum, tells us, cats are not really on the autism spectrum.
They may show signs of autism, but to say that they are autistic is quite misleading. The takeaway here is that there is a fine line dividing humans and animals, such as cats.
As pet lovers, we should be careful of anthropomorphizing animals as it may lead to misconceptions. Seeking veterinary advice is always the way to go!
My name is John Carter and I absolutely love pets, especially cats and dogs. I’ve got a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have several years’ experience working in animal shelters and rescues. My passion for animals started at a very young age as I grow up on a farm with several horses, cows, cats, chickens, and dogs on our property.
John F Mahoney
Tuesday 5th of April 2022
One of the ferals that I tend to is showing very much signs of autism. Very anti social, as in will basically not eat with other cats, even though obviously starving itself. Does not make eye contact, ever. I finally got it to be alone (which is tough as I feed a dozen or more cats daily), and it ate like a trooper. Very picky as to what it was looking for...meat. It had a tough time starting, especially drinking the water, which also contained dinovite and yeast as flea season is upon us. Then it got to the meat and discarded the dry ones (which I put water into as I have some older cats that have teeth issues which requires it to be moistened a bit. The others seem to enjoy that also.). It did come to me and do rubbing of my legs as I was preparing the food. But still would not allow any affection from me of any kind. I hope my comments will help to spread much more light to the situation at present.