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Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?

A common chromosomal condition in humans associated with cognitive delays, certain physical characteristics, and increased risk of health issues? If your dog exhibits traits similar to Down syndrome, you may wonder if this condition can affect dogs as well.

What is Down Syndrome?

To comprehend what Down syndrome is, we must first grasp its definition. The National Down Syndrome Society offers a comprehensive explanation: “Within every human cell lies a nucleus housing genetic material stored in genes. Genes contain the codes governing all our inherited traits and are arranged along rod-like structures known as chromosomes. Normally, each cell nucleus contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half inherited from each parent. Down syndrome arises when an individual possesses a complete or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.”

Traits Associated With Down Syndrome

The additional genetic material associated with Down syndrome manifests in a variety of effects. Individuals with Down syndrome may experience some level of cognitive impairment, although the degree varies among people and typically ranges from mild to moderate. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common physical characteristics of Down syndrome include decreased muscle tone and a crease across the palm of the hand (palmar crease). The Global Down Syndrome Society emphasizes that while some of these traits may be prevalent, they are not universal, stating that “although children and adults with Down syndrome may exhibit certain common features, they resemble their immediate family members more than each other.”

Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?

Genetically, dogs and humans share many similarities, but there are notable differences. While humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, dogs have 39 pairs.

Down syndrome results from a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. However, if there were a duplication of all or part of chromosome 21 in dogs, it would have different consequences compared to humans.

In simple terms, the answer is no. Down syndrome has not been observed in dogs. There are three potential explanations:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities of this nature typically result in early death in dogs.
  • The genetic testing necessary to identify dogs with Down syndrome may not have been conducted.
  • Down syndrome might genuinely not occur in dogs.

Conditions that Look Like Down Syndrome in Dogs

However, there are congenital or developmental conditions in dogs that exhibit clinical similarities to Down syndrome and are regularly diagnosed.

Congenital hypothyroidism serves as a notable example. This condition arises from low or absent levels of thyroid hormone during birth and early life, leading to a combination of symptoms such as:

  • Slow growth resulting in small stature
  • Large, protruding tongue
  • Short limbs
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Cognitive delays
  • Delayed opening of the eyes and ears

Other canine conditions that may resemble Down syndrome include:

  • Pituitary dwarfism
  • Congenital hydrocephalus
  • Growth hormone deficiency
  • Portosystemic shunt

If you observe any of the aforementioned characteristics in your dog, consult your veterinarian. They can suggest an appropriate diagnostic plan to assess your dog’s health issues and provide treatment recommendations upon reaching a diagnosis.

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