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Home > Cats > Can Cats Have Autism? Vet Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Can Cats Have Autism? Vet Reviewed Facts & FAQ

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are mysterious creatures that exhibit all kinds of strange behaviors, with some resembling the traits of autism in humans. Therefore, many feline parents believe that cats can also have autism.

However, although many cats have traits that make it seem like they have autism when compared to human autism signs, no scientific evidence proves that cats can be autistic.

This article will help you learn more about autism and if it affects cats, what makes some people believe that cats can have autism, and the effect that cats can have on autistic people.


What Exactly Is Autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD),1 is a developmental disability caused by brain differences that can cause the following signs in autistic people:2

  • Problems with social communication and interaction
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Speech issues
  • Learning difficulties
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, attention issues)
  • Unusual emotional reactions

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, every person with autism experiences different difficulties and has a unique set of enhanced abilities. In most people, the signs of autism start to show between 2 and 3 years of age.

The way that autistic people learn, solve problems, and think can vary. Some people with autism may need daily support, while others can live independently and have above average intelligence.

orange scottish cat laying on floor in cozy home
Image by: Ongsa S, Shutterstock

Can Cats Have Autism?

There’s no proven evidence that cats can have autism. However, cats can suffer from disorders that have similar clinical signs.

One disorder that cats share with humans is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).3 OCD makes felines engage in repetitive or exaggerated behaviors with no real purpose, from excessive grooming and repetitive vocalization to consuming fabric. The most common signs of OCD in cats are:

  • Compulsive pacing
  • Repetitive vocalization
  • Excessive grooming to the point that your cat’s fur may come off
  • Sucking on things around the household
  • Chewing fabric

Most of the time, OCD is manageable, provided you need to notice its signs and contact your vet promptly.

Felines can also suffer from other mental issues, such as anxiety and stress episodes, that can resemble autism to some people. Additionally, certain individuals falsely believe that cats can suffer from ADHD, which has signs that can be confused with those relating to autism.


The 6 Autism-Like Traits in Cats

People who don’t have much knowledge about the health conditions that can occur in cats may see their cat having a repetitive episode or showing anti-social behavior and think that their cat has autism. However, none of these behaviors actually mean your cat is autistic.

Here are six traits that may make an owner believe that their cat has autism.

1. Repetitive Behavior

You may notice that your feline likes to engage in repetitive behaviors that make no sense to you, leading you to think that your feline has autism. However, cats can engage in numerous repetitive and compulsive behaviors due to stress, anxiety, or OCD.

Many cats showcase repetitive behaviors after they experience a significant change in their life or environment. That said, if you notice such changes in your cat, you should visit your vet. Repetitive behaviors could harm your cat and their health, so it’s essential to get to the bottom of the issue.

Tuxedo cat running at high speed indoors
Image by: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

2. Antisocial Behavior

Cats have the stereotype of being anti-social animals that are not too affectionate and are more independent than most other pets. Since antisocial behavior is common in humans with autism, many people tend to believe their cats have autism if they’re not overly social.

However, being somewhat antisocial and independent is entirely normal for cats; it’s just part of their nature. You can impact your cat’s socialization skills from an early age and try to bond with your feline by showing them affection. Your cat will likely start to act the same around you.

Kittens that get plenty of love and affection tend to be happy adult cats with good social skills and an interest in hanging around people.

3. Sensory Abnormalities

People with ASD frequently experience sensory abnormalities such as having trouble focusing or a lack of responsiveness. Similar behaviors may be noticed in many cats, as they tend not to listen to you, have uncoordinated moves, or seem overly distracted.

These behaviors don’t mean your cat is autistic, though. Sensory abnormalities could also develop due to depression and anxiety, which is why it’s best to speak with your vet and see what’s happening with your feline.

british short hair cat lying on the floor
Image by: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

4. High Intelligence

Some people with autism are highly talented in specific fields, such as music, art, or math. As cats are intelligent animals, some people think that cats are so smart because they have autism.

High intelligence is a natural trait in most cats, though. These animals have excellent instincts and great senses that help them catch prey and adapt to the wilderness.

5. Attraction to Light and Movement

It’s common for neurodivergent people to have moments of hyperfocus; this can be on something that interests them, but it can also be induced by lights, sounds, or movements.

Similar behavior is common in felines. They frequently get into hyperfocus mode if they notice lights, movement, or a combination of the two. As most kitties like to chase lasers, toys, and similar objects, you may wonder if your cat has autism.

However, the urge to chase moving objects and focus on them comes from the cat’s instinct to hunt for prey.

cat playing with red laser dot
Image by: Redom, Shutterstock

6. Dislike of Being Held

Most cats stray away from human interactions and dislike being held. Some people may see this trait as a sign of autism in a cat because many neurodivergent people are not too fond of touch.

But the fact is that some cats simply do not like to be held, especially if they haven’t had enough socialization throughout their lifetime; other cats may fear humans, have traumas, or are in pain.

If you want a social cat that likes to be held, consider getting an affectionate cat breed that will match this criterion.

Are Cats Suitable Pets for Autistic People?

Although cats can’t be autistic, these animals can make perfect pets for people with autism, especially children. Several studies have looked at how cats can impact neurodivergent people.

In one study from 2018, kids with ASD were introduced to various animals, including cats. Most participants were calmer and more relaxed and affectionate when a compassionate feline was around. Another study shows that cats positively impact kids with autism by helping them develop their social skills and decrease problem behaviors, such as hyperactivity.

Cats can generally have a good impact on people with autism. If you have autism or know someone who does, you could consider getting a cat, as they can help with development and socialization.


Final Thoughts

Cats can’t have autism, even though some of the normal behaviors they display tend to display many behaviors that resemble autism in humans. More interestingly, studies have shown that they make excellent pets for autistic kids and adults.

Although your cat doesn’t have autism, remember to speak to your vet if you notice compulsive behaviors and similar autism-like traits, as they may be a sign of stress, anxiety, or OCD.

Featured Image Credit: Ketochka1990, Shutterstock

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