Tips on How to Care for a Dog with Down Syndrome

Anyone who has taken care of dogs understands the relationship between a person and his canine companion. There are some differences between the two, like the need for social interaction. But in some instances, the similarities we may have with our canine buddies may also cross over to the dark side, such as having health issues such as cancer and liver failure.

Moreover, both man and canine may also display chromosomal abnormalities such as down syndrome. You probably wonder if there are known instances of down syndrome dogs, the answer is ‘ yes. ‘ Although very rare, there are dogs born with down syndrome.

In this article, I will be discussing a bit about the down syndrome in humans so you can have a better grasp of what this condition is all about. And from there, I will be sharing with you vital information about dogs with down syndrome.

What is down syndrome?

To make the syndrome less complicated to understand; it is caused by chromosome 21 in humans. In normal cases, humans only have two chromosomes 21, but in the case of down syndrome, there are three chromosomes 21.

The prevalent and evident symptoms in humans are tiny ears, flat noses, and almond-shaped eyes.Their cognitive function is also influenced. They do not have ordinary patterns of development in terms of expression and problem-solving skills.

Mothers who got pregnant later in their reproductive years have higher chances of giving birth to a baby with down syndrome.

Can dogs suffer from down syndrome?

If it happens to humans, can it also happen to dogs? There is no simple answer to that question. There is a debate going-on among Veterinarians as well as dog lovers if this chromosomal abnormality is seen in dogs.

But a recent study has shown that it does occur in dogs, too. Dogs can also have an abnormality in their genetic makeup as humans. The primary reason why you probably have not heard about this is due to the fact of the low survival rate in dogs born with down syndrome.

Puppies known to have this condition are seldom born primarily because the chromosome defects prevent their organs from developing properly. The fetus will die in its mother’s womb. If the puppy is born, there are many health issues that will prevent the pup from lasting for days.

A pup with down syndrome won’t be able to compete with its littermate for milk. It has a mobility issue, and as a result, the survival rate is very low. Moreover, once the mother detects that there is something wrong with a pup with down syndrome, the mother can kill it.

However, there are a few cases wherein a puppy born with down syndrome may grow and live up to five years only. Symptoms of the down syndrome appear at much later in a doggie’s life- usually after a year or two.

How to detect down syndrome in dogs?

As stated previously, down syndrome in dogs is very uncommon and detecting it is very difficult, but there are signs and symptoms, that are not normal in the physical appearance and habits of your dog.

A. What are the physical symptoms of dogs with down syndrome?

  • It has deformed facial features like the head is typically smaller and it has a flat face appearance
  • Its eyes are usually slanted upwards
  • The ears are not normal in size
  • Legs are either incomplete or deformed
  • It has abnormal patches on the skin and sheds heavily

These physical symptoms start to appear at the age of one year or older, and this is why it is quite difficult to diagnose the condition.

B. What are the medical symptoms of dogs with down syndrome?

  • Poor eyesight: Due to improper growth, the eyesight of dogs with down syndrome is poor. They are prone to developing cataracts. If you notice that your young dog is displaying a sign of cataract at a young age, it is better to take it to the Vet for further diagnosis.
  • Hearing problems: Dogs that suffer from the down syndrome are slow in following commands. This is because they cannot hear well. At times they are thought to be disobedient, but in reality, they have hearing problem issue.
  • Congenital heart disease: Due to the poor circulatory system, it is not unusual that most suffer from heart disease.
  • Pain: They exhibit some form of body aches as a result of a deficiency in the development of body organs. This results in lethargy and howling.
  • Discharge: They have bloody rectum discharge, usually at the latter part of their lives.
  • Skin problems: A lot of them suffer from skin problems. They catch allergies easily, and they are very prone to heavy shedding. As a result, bald patches are seen all over their bodies.
  • Thyroid problem: Because their thyroid gland is not performing normally, they have a difficult time managing their body temperature. Their thyroid is not producing the right amount of hormones, as a result, they suffer from having shorter limbs and spines.
  • Portosystemic shunt or liver shunt: The liver does not develop correctly as a result of blood flow bypass. This causes fatigue, stunted growth, and mental delay.

C. What are the behavioral manifestations of dogs with down syndrome?

Each dog is different. Some dogs diagnosed with down syndrome projects a soft demeanor. Most of the time, they are lethargic and sleeps most of the time. This is because of the body aches that they are experiencing.

On the one hand, as a consequence of suffering, some animals with down syndrome maybe violent. They are not touched comfortably, nor do they appreciate playing with children.

Potty training is kinda close to impossible because they have low cognitive functioning. And add to that a poor bladder control.

How do you take care of a dog diagnosed with down syndrome?

Unfortunately, there is still no cure for dogs diagnosed with genetic malfunctions such as down syndrome. As a fur parent, all you can do is to provide the best comfort that you can give your dog, and here is how:

  • Do not scrimp on food. Give high-quality dog food which does not contain any meat-by-products and fillers. Make an extra effort into choosing the best commercial food by reading the labels. Fresh meat and vegetables must be included in the ingredients. Dogs with down syndrome can benefit a lot from a high protein diet for muscle repair.
  • Freshwater must be available all the time. A little bit of salt can be added because salt is required for those with thyroid problems.
  • Appetite-boosting vitamins are normally given as most of them are fussy eaters. Apart from vitamins, food with strong scents are also advisable such as turkey and chicken.
  • Since dogs with down syndrome are prone to contract skin allergies, avoid taking them out for long hours when pollens are prevalent. Wounds must be cleaned immediately to avoid skin infections.
  • Get rid of any kinds of physical barriers. Since they have poor eyesight, they can bump into objects and eventually injure themselves.
  • Potty training is difficult to do. Thus, you have to invest in dog diapers and pee liners.
  • Provide a very comfortable sleeping area. Since they are in pain, it will make their lives easier if they will be provided with a soft dog bed and some extra pillows.
  • A regular visit to the Vet is of utmost importance. Never skip appointments so your dog, which is diagnosed with down syndrome, can live a comfortable life.
  • As mentioned earlier, some dogs with down syndrome can get aggressive. This behavior is caused by the health conditions that they go through. Talk to your Vet if a behaviorist can be recommended. Teach kids to handle them with extra care and precaution to avoid fear-biting.

Types of physical exercises for dogs with down syndrome

Since their growth is not normal, precautions must be observed when exercising dogs with down syndrome. They are not healthy enough to withstand strenuous exercises, especially since they suffer from heart problems.

It is a good idea to discuss suitable physical exercises with Vets to prevent worsening their circumstances. But listed below are some low-impact exercises that dogs with down syndrome cando:

  • Tug of war: There are various tug of war dog toys in the market. These come in various sizes, so choose the appropriate size for your dog. Use this toy by encouraging the dog to pull it straight back. This will help make the leg muscles stronger.
  • Scratch dance: A dog will wiggle by vigorously scratching the top and the rear end portions. It is a stimulating and fun activity for a dog. Wiggle is an excellent form of exercise for a dog with down syndrome.
  • Roll-over: Entice the dog to get the treat by placing it near the nose, then move the treat in a clockwise and circular motion so your dog will move its body sideways. A very light exercise is fun and effective in making the muscles strong.
  • Physioball exercise: Place the physioball in front of your dog and place its front legs on the physioball. By doing so, the rear legs are strengthened.
  • Walking: A short walk to the park is another way to strengthen the muscles, bones, and heart of your dog with down syndrome.

Can dogs with down syndrome live with healthy dogs?

Since it is a genetic defect, then down syndrome is not contagious. It is perfectly safe for them to live and socialize with healthy dogs. It is worrying if a female dog with down syndrome getting pregnant by a healthy male dog is not possible due to the infertility problem.

But precaution is essential if the dog with down syndrome has contagious health issues such as cough and colds. Isolating them is necessary to prevent healthy dogs from getting the infection.

Is it expensive to care for a dog with down syndrome?

Yes, it can be expensive as they need a frequent visit to the Vet. There are laboratories and medications to be paid for. Cleaning materials are part of their daily life, such as doggie wet wipes and diapers due to the challenge of potty training them.

Keeping their sleeping areas clean is of importance because they can easily get infected. This means more expenses on sanitizing and deodorizing solutions.


Down syndrome is a condition that affects humans but can also occur in dogs. Not much studies have been done about dogs with down syndrome mainly because it is a very rare genetic malfunction in dogs. Also, the survival rate is very low, and the lifespan may only reach up to five years.

In case you happen to have a dog with down syndrome, lessening your expectations is a must. It does not have a normal over-all physical and mental developments, thus, leaning basic commands is not easy for them. Longer patience and a deep understanding and compassion will go a long, long way.

It is not an easy task, and it takes an emotional maturity on the part of the dog owner to truly love and care for a dog with special needs, such as down syndrome.

In the end, you will realize your capacity to love and accept that not all things are normal and that loving a dog with down syndrome is indeed a gift and an opportunity to grow as a dog lover.

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