Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes developmental delays and certain physical characteristics. It can also cause cognitive disability, but not all people with Down syndrome have that aspect. The term “Down Syndrome” refers to the pattern of features seen in those affected by the condition: intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and some degree of language impairment. In addition to these core signs, there are often other medical problems present at birth or soon after such as hearing loss or heart defects. It is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 being present in each cell instead of just two copies like most people have (46 chromosomes).
People with Down syndrome typically show both mild and severe learning disabilities along with speech delays and unusual verbal behaviors such as repetitive use of phrases or stereotyped use of language.
People with Down syndrome are at increased risk for early heart disease. They also have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. While these two diseases are related, the means by which they occur has yet to be fully understood. Researchers now believe that there is no direct connection between Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome itself, but the genetic changes associated with Down syndrome increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
People with Down syndrome are also at risk for hearing loss (partial or total), thyroid problems, bowel and bladder issues, eye problems including cataracts, glaucoma, detached retinas, and excessive floaters in later life; in addition to Dementia.
The exact cause of Down syndrome is unknown, but it is believed that genetic and environmental factors may play a role in its development.
But can animals have down syndrome? Although this type of genetic disorder, is there a possibility that it can also affect certain species of animals?
Get to know more about the facts about animals with down syndrome as you continue reading this article.
Can Animals Suffer From Down Syndrome?
Although this type of genetic disorder is commonly found in humans, is there a possibility that it can also affect certain species of animals?
Can animals have Down syndrome? The answer is an inconclusive yes. To be specific, there are different types of genetic disorders and Down syndrome can occur in different species. For example, Down syndrome is such a disorder that occurs in humans and it can also happen in other species such as dogs or cats. Pets with Down syndrome may demonstrate intellectual disabilities, physical abnormalities, and difficulties with exercise, just like humans with the disorder do.
Aside from that, the following list shows some animals that may be affected by this genetic disorder:
Chimpanzee — According to a study in 2007, researchers found that chimpanzees with the MECP2 gene mutation causing Down syndrome. This is an important finding because it demonstrates that both humans and chimps have similar risk factors for developing the same medical conditions.
Bovine — A cow with a condition called “Bullous Dystrophy” which is characterized by skin lesions and blisters. This disease is thought to have been caused by chromosomal abnormalities similar to those of Down syndrome in humans.
Gorilla — In the same study mentioned above, researchers concluded that gorillas can also be at risk for developing the same medical conditions as humans with Down syndrome.
Deer — A deer which was suffering from an extra chromosome 21 demonstrated similar characteristics of people who had Down Syndrome. His facial features were more rounded than his mother’s and he had thick eyelashes. He also exhibited crossed eyes at times, a symptom which is common in humans with Down syndrome.
Other animals which may be affected by Down Syndrome include horses, dolphins, mice and elephants.
The truth is, down syndrome in animals is not yet an established condition because it is believed to be extremely rare. There is still no hard evidence of this happening in many species of animals including cats, dogs, dolphins or any other pets you might have.
What Are The Manifesting Symptoms Of Animals Possibly Affected With Down Syndrome?
Dogs and cats with Down Syndrome usually appear normal at birth. Some animals may not display any signs until 3-4 months later. People and dogs/cats with Down Syndrome experience delays in physical and emotional development, as well as learning disabilities and difficulties with releasing urine.
Other symptoms experienced by people with Down Syndrome include:
- Cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye lens that obstructs vision. In dogs and cats, this condition manifests as cloudy eyes.
- Cognitive impairment resulting in loss of memory or learning disabilities. Some pets may be able to learn certain commands but may not be able to retain the information for an extended period. In dogs, this condition results in them becoming very anxious and not knowing when to release their bladder.
- Inability to walk or move around without falling over
- Heart defects
- Hearing loss
- Hypospadias is a birth defect that occurs when the urinary opening develops on the underside of the penis instead of at the tip. In dogs, this condition is called Undescended Testicles.
- Kidney defects
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy which is a deterioration of the retina that can result in blindness. In cats, this condition is also known as “Retinal Dysplasia” and “Distal Axonopathy.”
- Shortened life span
- Thyroid problems
- Turner’s Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that affects females and results in physical abnormalities such as an enlarged clitoris, broad chest with widely spaced nipples, short stature and sterility. Other symptoms may include webbed neck skin; drooping eyelids; hearing loss; vision problems; heart defects; kidney problems; and sometimes other skeletal abnormalities.
How can these symptoms be treated? The symptoms of Down Syndrome in dogs and cats cannot be reversed but they may be managed. Veterinarians treat the symptoms using surgery or medication to improve the quality of life for pets with the condition. Treatment is costly due to the amount of care the pet needs to go through daily.
Radiotherapy may help slow the progression of retinal atrophy (cataracts) but surgery is often indicated for this condition. Seizures, if present, can be managed using medication. Some pets also require nutritional supplementation and treatment of any coexisting conditions which increase their chances of having a good quality of life.
On the other hand, urologic abnormalities such as hypospadias and bladder issues can be corrected using surgery. Heart defects, on the other hand, may require quarterly monitoring of heart rate and rhythm using ECG to check for any cardiac arrhythmias.
In addition, hearing loss in dogs and cats is more difficult to manage, but it can be lessened with the help of a hearing aid. This device amplifies sounds so pets can hear better while wearing the device on a daily basis. Cats may need surgery to correct their narrow ear canals.
Furthermore, animals with Turner’s Syndrome need regular monitoring of kidney function and they may require surgery to correct any urologic abnormalities.
So What’s The Real Truth About Animals Having Down Syndrome?
Animals with Down Syndrome is a debated topic. There may be ways to detect the syndrome, but it is unclear whether they are born with the syndrome or it develops over time. It is possible that they are born with Down Syndrome, but they show no symptoms until later in life. Regardless of whether animals have Down Syndrome or not, if their caretaker has Down Syndrome then there are likely to be some challenges. It is very important to stay in contact with the pet throughout their life in order to understand how they are progressing. This way, caretakers can monitor the animal’s health and make adjustments accordingly. It is also recommended to make sure the pet can communicate their needs. For example, if a dog has Down Syndrome it would be helpful to train them on how to do certain tricks for future reference. Differentiating animals with Down Syndrome from animals who are acting out, or are disobedient may take some time and patience.
Regardless of whether they are born with Down Syndrome or not, animals can be difficult to care for when their human has the condition. It is recommended that in taking in an animal with Down Syndrome you know what type of support network you have; in particular whether there are any other people who may provide help (for example if they are your children). If the pet has access to a large home that is full of different spaces to explore then it may be easier for you to handle. If they are an indoor or outdoor pet, it would also be useful if you knew where the supplies are located so that you can monitor how much food and water they need.
Some animals will live with Down Syndrome and others may not. Whether or not Down Syndrome is physically visible it may affect the quality of life for both humans and animals. It is important to understand, if possible, what the symptoms are and how they can be managed so that your pet can live a long and happy life.