Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome? A Comprehensive Overview on How to Monitor, Manage & Raise Your Special Dog

Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome


The idea of dogs being riddled with Down syndrome has baffled scientists and pet owners since ages.

While this is a controversial topic that raises many eyebrows, the fact is that the occurrence of this genetic disorder is not just limited to the human race.

This article will shed light on this subject in a respectful manner and attempt to discuss the condition, the chances of it afflicting dogs, and how to care for a dog with such a diagnosis.

Additionally, it will seek to answer the question: Can dogs have down syndrome ?

What is Down Syndrome?

The ideal way to discuss the chance of the occurrence of Down syndrome in dogs is by understanding how this order affects humans first.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]Popularly known as “Trisomy”, Down syndrome develops due to a genetic aberration where there is an extra copy of Chromosome 21, in addition to the two normal ones. [/thrive_text_block]

Now because the presence of only two full copies of a chromosome is a requisite for proper development, this Trisomy condition creates a plethora of problems in the body.

This extra bit of genetic component actually changes how the body develops, resulting in physical, physiological and mental defects of varying nature.

Although the symptoms are usually predictable, they vary in the degree of severity.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]In humans, common physical traits include low muscle tone, unusually short height, roundish face, protruding tongue, eyes that slant upward and a distinctive “Simian crease” that passes right through the center of the palm. [/thrive_text_block]

While the disorder is often inconspicuous in mild cases, those with intense degrees of severity are immediately recognizable.

Is It Possible for a Dog to Have Down Syndrome ?

With all this discussion on humans, the important question is whether this defect affects dogs or not.

Some researchers claim that there is a lot of evidence to show that dog Down syndrome does exist, while others believe that it is not possible for a dog to exhibit the common Down symptoms like intellectual decline, physical deformity and behavioral defects.

Recent research from the Dog Genome Project has shown that it is really possible for this defect to afflict dogs.

After all, there is indisputable proof that all species of animals and plants can develop Trisomy in their genetic makeup.

While there is no straightforward answer to this question, it’s still possible to check your dog for Down syndrome-like symptoms.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””]One of those reasons for not having heard of a dog with Down syndrome is because their survival rate is extremely low. In fact, most animals with down syndrome are rarely ever born, either because the defect does not allow the organs and body parts to form properly, or the effects are so severe that the fetus succumbs to death during the gestation period itself. [/thrive_text_block]

The puppy may die before it is born and if he actually survives to be born, quite a few factors prevent him from living for more than a few days.

Sometimes, the trauma of birth comes across as too strong to the puppy and ends up killing him.

Additionally, he may die in a few days because he cannot feed or move properly to fend for himself.

Another reason for puppies with Down to die so early is that the mother neglects it, or may even kill it in some cases.

When a dog senses that there is something abnormal or missing in certain members of her litters, more often than not, she decides to take steps to eliminate the ill puppy, in a measure to isolate him from the rest of his litter-mates.

Another reason why you haven’t heard of a Trisomy dog is because this defect is often not diagnosed well.

Many of the symptoms are mistaken for characteristics of other diseases or a singular disorder, simply because those that survive birth and nursing often don’t show the other signs until a year or two later.

In certain instances, your vet may even diagnose the illness as one that is simply incurable and if the dog dies afterward, there is no real reason to think that a congenital issue may have been the causative factor behind the fatal illness.

Monitoring Your Puppy for dog Down syndrome symptoms: Key Signs to Watch Out for

So can a dog have down syndrome? As stated earlier, Down syndrome is of rare occurrence in dogs, and it is hard to identify for even the most experienced veterinarians. With that said, there still are a couple of signs that you can note in your dog’s appearance and behavior to reach to a conclusion.

So how do you know if your dog has down syndrome? Here’s a quick rundown of all the symptoms of down syndrome in dogs. These will advise you on how to tell if your dog has down syndrome.

#1 – Physical Features:

Some of the predominant physical defects include abnormally shaped facial features. Physical traits are among the first dog down syndrome attributes that you should look for while monitoring your pet dog for symptoms.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””]Usually, the head of such dogs will be smaller than that of the same breed.
Additionally, the face might appear flat with eyes slanting upwards. Ears are generally misshapen, as is the neck, that may seem slightly shorter than usual.
Other traits include a nose that’s too broad and feels dry and warm to touch at all times of the day. The tongue may look odd or protrude too much. [/thrive_text_block]

Many of these physical attributes are not recognizable distinctly in puppies until they become few months old. Therefore, it’s not always possible to run a conclusive check on newborn pups.
However, a large portion of them are often born with missing or partially developed limbs.

#2 – Skin Problems:

Many dogs suffering from this defect have skin problems too.
Either they shed heavily or have conspicuous missing patches throughout the coat.
Skin problems usually stem from an ultra sensitivity towards minor irritants.

Allergies are quick to develop in these dogs, and the result is a whole slew of health problems.

#3 – Medical Issues:

On the medical side, the major problems include congenital heart disease, which arises due to inborn malformations in the circulatory system.

Additionally, the thyroid may fail to function properly, causing issues with body temperature and metabolism.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””] Most of the affected dogs have a lower temperature throughout the day. Older dogs have also been known to discharge blood from the rectum.[/thrive_text_block]

#4 – Functional Defects:

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””]Hearing issues are common with Down syndrome dogs. You can observe this by noting how slow he responds to sounds as compared to other dogs. [/thrive_text_block]

However, poor eyesight isn’t something you can detect easily. Since these dogs have a tendency to develop cataracts rather quickly, observe your dog’s eyes for cloudiness. That is an indication of a forming cataract.

Another way is to monitor the actions of your pet dog. If, as a puppy, he keeps on bumping into walls and knocking over items, that means he’s most likely suffering from an eyesight problem.

While puppies are notorious for being clumsy, affected ones go over board. Eye problems are the probably the only ones that the vet can work with you to improve, as the rest are manageable to varying degrees.

#5 – Behavioral Issues:

Behavioral problems are another aspect to be concerned about.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]It is common for affected dogs to exhibit odd behavioral traits like wailing (due to pain felt from malformed internal organs), whining or howling incessantly, or displaying an unusual reserve. [/thrive_text_block]

Your little puppy will not advance through the stages of development as fast as his litter mates. He might be difficult to feed regularly, and litter training may seem like the ultimate test of your patience.

Many Down puppies are simply incapable of being trained to exercise bladder control. Others will accept the rule of going out for excretion, only to come in and relieve themselves on your carpet.

Your veterinarian is ideally the only one who can provide a conclusive result of your dog’s condition.
Because dog genetics are difficult to test, and not much has been researched about it, he or she may not find it easy to give a diagnosis.

However, even if you fail to get a definitive answer, you can always decide you’ve a special dog, one that has special needs and requires a lot of attention and care.

Is Dog Down Syndrome Manageable?

There are plenty of real life stories where people have been able to care for and increase the lifespan of their affected dogs.

While most of these owners will tell you it was difficult, at times even impossible, they also believe that it was worth it.

After all, seeing your best friend live a relatively healthy and productive life can be quite rewarding.

With that said, the major concern with Down syndrome dog symptoms is managing them.

Such dogs are incredibly sensitive to little triggers, be it emotional, physical or biological, and what then follows is a series of unforeseen health problems. Caring for a special dog is filled with life-threatening challenges, as well as tests of your patience.

There are two major reasons for this:

Firstly, because Down syndrome in dogs is a less researched topic, there’s little in the way of helpful information.

Secondly, there is not much that can be delivered in the form of medical assistance to help your puppy cope with all the problems that hinder his normal development into a functional adult.

Then again, there are also a couple of factors that do not require concern on your part.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””] For one, dogs afflicted with Down syndrome are rendered infertile. This is because they’re unable to pass on their genes to the next generation. Therefore, you may not have to fret about getting your dog neutered or spayed.

Secondly, these dogs are generally docile in nature. They are rarely ever aggressive and capable of getting along with their littermates and other pets in the house. This is a big plus as you need not worry about training his temperament or taking extra care to keep him away from children and other pets.[/thrive_text_block]

Additionally, you don’t have to deal with common canine issues like separation anxiety, aggressiveness and incessant barking.

Affected dogs are known to socialize well and thrive better in a community that accepts them.
In fact, affected dogs that tend to howl for hours often do so due to a heightened need for companionship.

How to Improve the Quality of a Defective Dog’s Life?

Life with a Down syndrome dog may seem quite challenging at first, but in reality, it has plenty of benefits as well.

Those who’ve taken care of their diseased dogs feel a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that they have been successful at raising them as normally as they possibly could.

To some, just the fact that they’ve been able to prolong their dogs’ life in unimaginable ways is like a total miracle. Thanks to the nurturing ability they developed, many former owners of special dogs eventually went on to become nurses or health practitioners to both animals and human.

Unfortunately, there are no treatments at present to reverse genetic defects in dogs. Despite this fact, you can still give your special pet a normal life, by providing him with the special care that he needs to cope up and become one of his kin.

Keep in mind though, that you still have to tackle regular canine issues like litter training, housebreaking, feeding schedules, as well as general obedience.

However, with a Down syndrome dog, reaching these goals gets a little more complicated as you have to tend to his special needs and get him around to obey you.

Here’s a detailed guide on all that you need to know and do in order to ensure that your special dog gets the requisite amount of care and that you succeed at improving all aspects of his life.

#1 – Diet Tips:

Diet is the predominant factor that makes the difference between a special dog that’s neglected and one that is cared for well.

Perhaps the only way to help your dog is by starting to regulate his diet. In simple words, he is going to need a diet that is rich in protein and fiber to build muscle mass and gain strength.
Remember, dogs affected with Down syndrome are compromised for strength and tend to get fatigued sooner.

Additionally, they have a low metabolic rate and suffer from heart issues too, that make them hard-pressed for energy.

Some of these dogs are also afflicted with hypothyroidism.

Therefore, whatever you include in your dog’s diet should be a necessary component to help him fight off or at least cope up with the aforementioned conditions.

Consider the following tips:

#1 – Enrich Protein Content:

Instead of simply filling his plate with high-quality dog food, consider supplementing his meals regularly with meat. Nothing can substitute a meal of slightly cooked/raw meats, not even a dish of healthy veggies.

A strip of jerky, a small portion of lean ground beef, a scoop of ground chicken with bone, or any other meat that he can chew on will go a long way in triggering muscle development.

#2 – Try Appetite-Stimulants:

Dogs with Down syndrome can be quite fussy, either because they are too stubborn to train, or because they just can’t comprehend the training techniques you use on them.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]If your special dog finds it difficult to adapt to a meal schedule, or lacks an appetite, try introducing appetite-stimulants to his diet. [/thrive_text_block]

Dried herbs like peppermint, ginger, dill, alfalfa and fennel are healthy appetite-stimulants that can tempt your dog into eating.

You can also sprinkle some garlic powder on his food since most dogs love the taste of garlic. A foolproof idea is to make sure you give him only food that carries a strong aroma, like turkey or freshly boiled chicken.

#3 – Steer Clear of Processed Foods:

Skin problems are common with affected dogs. With them, even minor irritants are enough to trigger long-lasting allergies that subsequently result in hair loss and missing patches on the skin.

Therefore, ensure to feed him only cooked food.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””] Stay away from processed foods or those that contain undefined ingredients, chemical preservatives and/or fillers.[/thrive_text_block]

#4 – Run a Check With Your Vet:

Feeding a dog with Down syndrome is no rocket science. You just have to be careful to read and know the ingredients of any food that you give him.

Always consult your vet before chalking out his diet plan, or changing the existing one.

#5 – Feed Him Gently Cooked Veggies:

Among the vegetables and fruits that do wonders to dog health are cantaloupe, green beans, spinach, Brussels sprouts, apples and pumpkins.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””] While cantaloupe is known for improving eyesight, pumpkins boost cardiovascular strength. Sweet potatoes are also a great addition to his meal, as it is both tasty and promotes metabolism. Ensure to offer only veggies that are gently cooked else you may end up harming his delicate system altogether.[/thrive_text_block]

#6 – Pay Close Attention to Hydration:

Water, as they say, is the “wellspring of life”. A dog that is hydrated is healthy.

Apart from monitoring his water intake on a daily basis, ensure to add a wee bit of salt in his water. This is because salt helps to cure hypothyroidism- a condition that’s most common in dogs with Down syndrome.

#2 – Exercise Tips:

Exercise is an integral aspect of every dog’s life. Your special pet may not be as extroverted as his litter mates, but he still is a descendant of the wolves. Thus he’ll invariably want to go outside to romp around and inhale the fresh air.

Take him out for walks regularly and play an occasional game of fetch with him. You can also let him chase after the birds and cats.

His muscles need the workout and his bones need to stay strong as well.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””] However, if your Down dog has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, make sure that you seek expert opinion about his exercise plan. The same goes for a physically impaired dog as well. Too much exertion from running about can cause further damage to his delicate ticker.[/thrive_text_block]

Considering your special dog isn’t the textbook case of a Down syndrome, you can also train him for dog tricks and play a brief game of Frisbee with him. This will go a long way in strengthening his heart and bones, and most importantly, instilling trust in him.

Here are a few ways to exercise your dog of Down syndrome. Keep in mind though, that if you have a dog that is physically impaired from this genetic defect, these practices are not right for him.

1 – Downhill walking:

Downhill walking when done at a gradual pace improves abdominal strength, spinal flexion and enhances the weight bearing ability of the front legs. You can follow this up with a brief session of uphill walking. This strengthens the muscles of his rear legs.

2 – Scratch Dance:

Lightly scratch the coat at his rear end. This acts like a stimulus that even affected dogs respond to by dancing from side-to-side, eventually exercising his rear legs and gaining strong muscles in the process.

3 – Employ Paw Power:

With normal dogs, it is easy to train them to give you back a high-five but with special dogs it’s not.
If your Down dog is visually impaired, gently lift his paws and try to move them. This little step will give his elbows, front legs and shoulders their due exercise and also serve to strengthen these areas.

4 – Make Him Athletically Inclined:

Raise his front legs on a Physioball so that his entire body weight rests only on the rear legs.
This exercise will strengthen the latter. Now repeat by raising his rear legs on the ball.

5 – Rock On:

Place your special pup on a couch cushion or a rocking chair and then sway the base lightly. He will invariably move around to shift his weight and maintain balance. This will enhance his core power and increase mental strength.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””] If your dog suffers from a congenital heart disease, refrain from intensive exercises. Daily brisk walking is enough to strengthen his muscles. You can also try socialization as an outdoor activity for such a dog. [/thrive_text_block]

Down dogs are typically excellent at mingling with others. This is because they are submissive and tolerant of others, and rarely ever get aggressive.

In fact, socialization may be his one and only chance to behave like a normal dog.

If you suspect signs of exertion in your dog after a vigorous session of sports, take him to the vet immediately. Typical signs include panting, lying on the back or writhing due to pain in the chest area.

Other Considerations

– What Else Can Be Done to Render Special Care?

While puppies need special training, Down dogs of every age will require special care all throughout their lives.

Apart from monitoring their diet, exercising them with caution and taking them regularly to the vet, there are plenty if things you can do to reduce the risks that come with owning a special dog.

To start with, keep examining them visually for signs like missing patches, extra salivation, itching, rectal discharges, open wounds and so on. Make their living area as comfortable as possible.

A store-bought bed or a huge pile of blankets will do wonders to soothe this aching bones and keep him warm on chilly nights. Place this bed out of reach of other dogs and small children, as bloody rectal discharges are common with Down dogs.

Since these discharges contain infection-causing agents and byproducts, and can be spread through incidental contact, maintain a regular bathing schedule for him.

– How to Cope up With The Expenditure?

Frequent or unexpected visits to the veterinarian, as well as treatments for your affected dog can quickly incur a huge amount of money every month.

Therefore, your safest bet is to get a pet insurance for dog Down syndrome done.

Additionally, you should get quotes for every treatment. Pet insurance provides coverage for costly treatment, visits to the vet, hospitalization bills, as well as prescriptions. You can secure the best deals on pet insurance by making a comparison of the reputable pet insurance companies.

– Is it Safe to Keep Affected Dogs With Other Dogs in the Household?

As with other genetic defects, Down syndrome is not contagious. In fact, it can be actually beneficial for your afflicted dog to socialize with others of his kin.

Unlike the human race, dogs don’t single out the healthy ones to interact with them specifically. They have their own way of communicating with each other, even with an impaired dog.

[thrive_text_block color=”red” headline=””]However, if your affected dog has a bloody discharge, or isn’t litter-trained, you’ll have to ensure keeping other dogs from consuming his feces, as this could result in bacterial infection. [/thrive_text_block]

Since such dogs have fertility problems, breeding and a corresponding transmission of the genetic defect to a fresh litter of pups is also not very likely.

Adopting a Special Dog: Here’s What You Should Expect

Adopting a dog afflicted with Down syndrome is challenging just as it is rewarding, and it can be very expensive as well.

This new add-on to your family is going to require a lot more visits to the veterinarian than the average dog. Along with those appointments comes the escalating costs for testing, examinations and prescriptions. Often these medications are costly due to their limited availability, and he can even be allergic to those medicines due to his condition. In that case it will be practically impossible to avail a substitution.

Remember, you can’t expect your new pet to do everything that a normal dog can do, like for instance: watchdog duty, because of his sensory and mental impairments. So before you welcome an affected dog to your home, ensure to prepare his area well. This small measure will go a long way in making life easy for both of you.

Consider the following tips:

#1 – Remove physical obstacles:

Create as much as space as you can in your house. Affected dogs often have poor vision and end up running into walls or objects of their size.

Therefore, you need to remove all sorts of plausible dangers in their path. If there is a stairway in your home, use baby gates or dog gates to block the stairs.

Additionally, place random throw rugs around or keep non-slip socks in handy, to provide traction to your dog.

If your new pet has a limb missing due to Down syndrome, consider availing adaptive equipment such as wheelchair. Also make sure that your house offers enough space to let him move with his chair.

#2 – Frequent Sanitation:

Most of the time, affected dogs find it difficult to exercise bladder control and end up relieving themselves just about anywhere. Therefore, keep lots of dog diapers handy as you will require them sooner or later, when your dog fails at litter training.

Ensure to change diapers frequently and clean feces or urine off your dog immediately to keep infections at bay.

Additionally, frequent sanitation of his living area is a must. The dog’s sleeping area should be comfortable and instill a sense of security in him. This is because dogs affected with this defect are naturally fearful of their surroundings and tend to tear at items as a result.

#3 – Remove Clutter & Complexity:

Before you introduce your new special pet to his surroundings, make sure that it is tidy, comfortable and most importantly, familiar.

Try to clear movable furniture from the vicinity and do not keep food or water bowls around as this will only add to the confusion for your pup.

Dogs with Down syndrome do not show any interest in toys due to their sensory disabilities. Hence, do not clutter his living area with unnecessary items.

#4 – Provide Assistance Whenever Needed:

Your special puppy may need a great deal of help initially to find his food at mealtime.

If he seems to have leg weakness and needs assistance getting up and walking, consider using adaptive devices like sling to help him.

Ending Note:

So can dogs have down syndrome? Maybe yes. Although Down Syndrome is a genetic defect mainly affecting humans, it can occur in dogs as well.

If your pup happens to be diagnosed with this condition, try knowing how it manifests in humans as this will help you realize the way it will affect his life.

The major hindrance in treating dog Down syndrome is that there isn’t much information available.

Even the vets do not have reliable knowledge on caring for such dogs as these rarely survive birth.

Not many people know, but affected dogs that survive birth, usually grow up to be just as delightful a companion as their siblings.

While these special little beings do need extra care and patience, once you prepare yourself for the tedious haul, there’s nothing that both of you can’t overcome!


Passionate lover of dogs and proud owner of a friendly, mischievous and energetic golden retriever named Beethoven! I’m incredibly excited to share my experiences on how best to care for your beloved pet. The more we know, the happier we and our canine friends will be!

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