The short answer to can cats be autistic is no.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complicated disorder with symptoms that range from mild to severe, depending on the individual. The symptoms are also not very stable as they can change from person to person. There is a typical list of signs that most people learn from TV shows and movies.
Which means when their cats start showing these symptoms, the immediate thought can be, “is my cat autistic?” No study has found any proof that cats can be autistic. However, some of their behaviors can mimic the common signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This guide will cover what autism is, how cat behavior can mimic autistic symptoms, and what mental illnesses cats can have.
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What Is Autism?
Autism is hard to define appropriately because it varies greatly from one end of the spectrum to the other. Even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has different sub-definitions for autism.
In layman’s terms, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition that affects the social and communication skills of the person who has it. There are also deficits in recognizing and understanding their own emotions and the emotions of others. Some people with autism can have too many emotions, and some can have very little emotion.
It is categorized by different signs and symptoms that vary from person to person. There’s a base list of typical symptoms to look out for, but they can manifest differently in people.
How Cats’ Behavior Can Mimic Autism: 6 Ways
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Some of these base signs of autism can be confused with normal cat behavior, leading people to wonder if their cat is autistic or just being a cat. Let’s take a look at how a cat’s behavior can mimic the signs of autism.
1. Lack of Social Interaction
Cats have always had a reputation for being anti-social animals. They’re not incredibly affectionate, nor do they communicate much. However, this is because they’re being compared to dogs, who have an extremely social disposition.
Some people have even gone as far as to wonder if their cat is autistic because they’re incredibly aloof and unsocial. Have no fear; your cat is behaving perfectly normally for a cat.
They’re independent creatures, so they like going off on their own. Behaviorists have studied cats’ personalities, and there are some cats who don’t like social interaction and people, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Your cat will show you their love and affection in their own way, even if they’re not a particularly social or affectionate cat.
Because autism is a communication disorder, one of the main symptoms of autism is vocalization. Some people with autism are non-verbal, and some only talk to people they’re close to. Some even have bursts of talkative behavior where they can’t stop speaking.
If your cat is constantly meowing or chirping at you, it doesn’t mean they’re autistic. The same goes for if your cat doesn’t purr or make much noise at all. As mentioned above, it has a lot to do with their personality.
3. Extraordinary Intelligence
A common myth about autism is that people with this disorder are extremely intelligent. They have genius-level intelligence, as shown in movies like Rain Man. It may be a common occurrence among people with autism, but it is not true for all autistic people.
This same association is made with cats who show higher levels of intelligence. But just because your cat has learned how to open your bathroom door does not mean they are autistic. Some cat breeds are more intelligent than others, and some cats can easily pick up behaviors from humans. Such as opening doors.
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4. Fascination with Lights and Movement
Autism has a strong relationship with the ability to focus. Neurodivergent people, in general, can have moments where they hyperfocus on something. Usually, this is a topic that interests them, but lights, movement, and sound can also induce this.
Cats love moving objects and lights. There’s a reason pet stores sell laser light toys for them. This is not a sign of autism. It’s actually their predatory instinct coming out. Cats see things differently from humans, and things like light and movement trigger their attack behavior. Think about when you’re asleep, and your cat attacks your feet because they moved under the blanket. It’s because your cat thinks they’re prey.
Get your cats some fun moving and interactive toys to fulfill their predatory instinct and keep them from constantly attacking your feet.
5. Sensory Abnormalities
One of the big signs of autism is sensory abnormalities. People with autism are neurodivergent, meaning their brains work differently from what is considered the norm. This can cause tactile issues, indifference to pain, and even excessive clumsiness. Sensitivity to light and sound is also common, as well as temporary blindness and becoming deaf for a short amount of time.
Cats can also show these signs. But it is not a sign of autism. Instead, you might want to take your furry friend to a vet, as they could be experiencing health issues. Kidney failure and diabetes can cause sensory abnormalities.
An illness common among cats called cerebellar hypoplasia causes clumsiness and a struggle to walk. Your cat could even have ingested a toxin or be experiencing organ failure. It’s imperative to get your cat to a vet if they display any sensory abnormalities.
6. Strong Preferences
Autism, routine, and repetitive behaviors are strongly related. People with autism usually keep a strict routine and don’t like change. They can also display repetitive behaviors like picking at something or being selective regarding food.
However, if you notice your cat obsesses over the same toy or only eats a specific food, it’s not because they’re autistic. Cats also have preferences, just like humans. And because they can’t tell us what they’re thinking, it can be hard to distinguish.
Can Cats Have Mental Illnesses?
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Yes, cats can have mental illnesses that impact their life and behavior. Let’s take a look at some common mental disorders in cats.
1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Cats can develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors that comply with the criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. These include excessive grooming, chewing on their paws, sucking on objects, or pacing back and forth.
If you notice any of these behaviors in your furry friend, there are ways to help them. They could be overstimulated, so distract them from what they’re doing with a toy or a treat. Also, see if you can determine what is causing this behavior so you can eliminate it. Supplements and calming apparel can also help ease their stress.
2. Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FDS), or senility, is something that can happen with senior cats. The symptoms are similar to senility in humans. Litter box problems, confusion, aimless wandering, and not recognizing their environment or people are common signs of FDS.
To keep your cat mentally well, it’s a good idea to give them mental stimulation from a young age. Puzzle toys and hiding treats for them to find are good ways to engage them. Leash training is also a great way to give them outdoor stimulation.
3. Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome
This is a rare disorder in cats that mimics fibromyalgia. It causes a cat to react to physical stimuli that should not be causing pain. It’s more prevalent in Asian breeds like Siamese cats. However, any cat can get this disorder.
Usually, this needs to be treated with medication. So if you notice your cat seems to be in pain when you’re petting them, or they react to a soft touch, it might be worth a vet visit.
Cats can get depression, and this is usually temporary. It can be induced with any change in their life, from moving house or you having a baby to a change in their food or a collar. It depends on the cat’s personality and level of sensitivity.
The best way to help your little friend during this period of time is by showering them with love and attention. Playing with them and maybe putting on some calming music can also help them feel better.
Changes to their environment and lifestyle can also cause anxiety in cats. Some cats are naturally more anxious than others. Excessive meowing, repetitive grooming, and lack of appetite can indicate your cat is anxious.
The best thing to do is take them to a vet to rule out any underlying health issues. If they are healthy, then you can help them by limiting changes to their life and environment unless needed. And if you do need to change something, integrate it slowly, so they have time to get used to the new change.
Cats As Emotional Support for People with Autism
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So even though there is no proof that cats can have autism, they have been shown to be great companions to people with autism. If you or one of your family members are autistic, it’s a great idea to introduce a calm and affectionate cat into the family.
Studies have shown that interacting with loving and friendly cats has helped people with ASD improve their social skills. It also teaches them how to interact with others.
Final Thoughts on can cats be autistic
Cats are very complex creatures who have burrowed their way deep into our hearts. So it makes sense that when they start acting strangely, there is a worry that something might be wrong with them.
The answer to can cats be autistic is no. However, even though cats cannot be autistic, it is important to make sure they’re well taken care of, physically and mentally. Their mental health can also go through ups and downs, just like with humans. Recognizing their behavior and learning more about why they do certain things will definitely help keep your furry friend happy and healthy.