Down syndrome in dogs: Is it possible?

When it comes to health issues, there is a lot of overlap between dogs and humans. Dogs and humans can fight anxiety, seizure disorders, diabetes and cancer (to name a few).

But what about Down Syndrome? This genetic condition is fairly common in humans (about 1 in 700 babies is born with the condition in the United States each year), but what about pets? Does Down Syndrome exist in dogs, and if so, how do you know if your dog has it?

What is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrom

Unsplash/Nathan Anderson

Before we delve into whether dogs can have Down Syndrome and the possible symptoms of Down Syndrome in dogs, let’s quickly cover what exactly Down Syndrome is.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Down syndrome is “a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division that results in an extra copy of all or part of chromosome 21”.

Down syndrome is classified according to various physical characteristics (including a flattened face and upturned eyes) and can be associated with mild to severe intellectual disabilities and developmental delays. People with Down syndrome can also have medical problems, such as hearing loss, heart defects, or eye disorders.

Does Down Syndrome exist in dogs?

brown dog

Unsplash/Jamie Street

Down syndrome in humans is easy to recognize and diagnose. But what about the dogs? Does Down Syndrome exist in dogs?

And the answer is: not quite.

There are clear genetic differences between humans and dogs, most notably the fact that humans have 23 sets of chromosomes while dogs have 39. Because Down syndrome is classified as having 47 chromosomes (23 sets plus the extra copy of chromosome 21), it cannot be diagnosed in dogs – which have 78 chromosomes by default.

However, dogs can have genetic abnormalities, and these abnormalities can manifest themselves in symptoms and physical traits that resemble Down syndrome in humans.

Symptoms of Down Syndrome in Dogs

Puppy at the vet


If your dog is showing symptoms of Down syndrome, it’s important to take him to the vet.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian if your dog shows any of the following symptoms:

    • Abnormal facial features and/or unusually large head
    • growth delays
    • eye problems
    • hearing problems
    • skin problems
    • short limbs
    • Mental and/or developmental delays
    • poor muscle tone

Although there is no “official” diagnosis of Down Syndrome for dogs, symptoms similar to Down Syndrome in humans can indicate other health issues such as those listed below.

Health Issues in Dogs That Could Mimic Down Syndromedog at the vet

pixabay/jaminriverside If your dog is suffering from growth retardation or cognitive delay, a number of underlying health issues could be to blame. While a genetic defect is possible, your dog may also have a congenital heart or thyroid disease, pituitary dwarfism, or growth hormone deficiency, all of which can cause symptoms similar to Down syndrome.

Again, the best thing you can do for your dog if he’s exhibiting symptoms similar to Down’s Syndrome is to take him to the vet for a proper diagnosis.

Taking care of your dog with special needs

children and dog


If your vet diagnoses your dog with special needs, there are steps you can take to ensure the best care and keep your dog safe, happy, and healthy.

  • Schedule regular visits to your veterinarian. Dogs with special needs often need more frequent check-ups to ensure they are in good health. Visit your veterinarian regularly and have any necessary tests, treatments, or examinations performed.
  • Protect your environment. If your dog has developmental or mental delays, it’s important to make their environment as safe as possible. Make sure the dog’s space is easy to move around and free of potentially dangerous obstacles. Install gates near stairs to prevent your dog from falling and injuring himself.
  • Feed them real food.. It’s important that all dogs get the right nutrition, but it’s especially important for a dog with special needs. When you feed your dog a balanced diet, it provides its body with the nutrients it needs to perform at its best.

It’s okay if your dog has special needs.

If you have a special needs dog, that’s fine! While you’ll certainly want to be aware of their health issues, there’s no reason a special needs dog shouldn’t live a long, happy, and ultimately healthy life. There’s a reason they’re called “special,” so embrace your dog’s uniqueness and give them the attention they need to make them feel better.

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