Can Dogs Be Retarded?

You keep comparing your dog to other dogs and you feel like something is definitely off, but you’re not sure what it is.

Your doggo has unusual pup behaviors, is slow, or doesn’t respond to your commands as you wish they would.

Before you diagnose your fur friend as a mentally disabled dog, you should have them medically examined to exclude other conditions or diseases.

It could also be that you simply haven’t trained your dog well enough.

Can Dogs Be Mentally Challenged?

Yes and no. You could indeed have a mentally challenged dog, but not in the way you think.

Many dog parents are quick to visit their veterinarian claiming their dog is autistic or has Down Syndrome. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

First of all, autism is not a mental handicap, but a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually affects a person’s social life.

While there are dogs that may show antisocial behavior, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have autism.

Dogs are highly intuitive, highly intelligent, and emotional animals and even if we’re used to seeing them always happy and carefree, there may be reasons why an otherwise happy dog develops certain behaviors.

Some people claim dogs can be affected by Down Syndrome and that you can recognize the physical signs of the condition on a dog, for example, dogs born cross-eyed, with flat faces or other ‘unusual’ traits.

However, Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that is specific to humankind because it’s related to the number of our chromosomes and it is not scientifically proven in dogs.

A “mentally retarded dog” most of the time is just a dog who is affected by a specific condition, disease, or trauma that leads to the development of one or more handicaps.

Birth Complications

Just as it happens with childbirth, some dogs may have difficulties at birth that provoke lifelong conditions.

Usually, a pup that gets stuck in the birth canal and doesn’t receive oxygen long enough may develop into a so-called retarded puppy.

Lack of oxygen at birth or complications during a c-section are common culprits behind neurological damage in dogs.

Neurological Disorders

Dogs can experience anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other neurological issues.

These conditions can prevent dogs from living a normal life but are sometimes well-managed with medications.

Anxiety and depression are particularly common in dogs, and especially separation anxiety from the owner, which is seen in dogs that spend most of the day alone at home.

Depression can occur when there are big changes in your dog’s life, for example, a family member or another house pet passing away, moving houses, or drastic changes in their daily life.

These disorders can lead your dog to acquire unusual behaviors that could become a source of concern for the owners, but it does not mean that the dog is mentally challenged.

Neurological Damage

When your dog gets into an accident and hits its head, or when they eat something toxic there may be permanent neurological damage.

This is seen most often in dogs that had a cardiac or respiratory arrest or have been brought back from the brink of death.

When the brain remains without blood supply and oxygen, even if your dog makes a full recovery afterward they may not be the same mentally wise.

This doesn’t usually prevent them from living their life normally, but it can be unsettling for pet parents to notice the appearance of unusual behaviors that their dog has never had before.

Psychological Trauma

Sometimes dog owners are unaware of what happened to their dog before they were adopted into their home and may mistake psychological trauma for retardation.

Dogs that show antisocial behavior, seem scared of everyone except the family members and other house pets with which they spend most of the time.

They have weird antics that set them apart from other dogs and make them seem ‘slow’ or ‘stupid’ are usually the product of a traumatic childhood.

Some people are capable of doing very horrible things, going as far as experimenting on animals.

Some dogs are mistreated and abused before they are sold or abandoned.

When they are adopted again, despite being in a loving home they aren’t likely to get rid of their fear and their emotional scars, which could make them come off as mentally challenged.

Most of the time, these dogs just need all the love you can give them.

Some of them may get over their trauma with time, others will carry it with them for their whole life.

But all of them will be lovely companions that will love you with all their hearts even if they’re not always able to show it.


A dog’s brain may become damaged after a serious illness or infection.

Even just eating the wrong thing could damage the bowel and let gut bacteria flow into the bloodstream, reaching the main organs and the brain.

Depending on the diseases, the overall health status of your dog, and other specific circumstances, if your dog gets treated in time, there is a chance they won’t have permanent brain damage.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Even if dogs aren’t affected by autism and Down Syndrome like humans, there are unfortunately some debilitating conditions that we share with our old pups, like dementia.

This disease is very common in old dogs and it’s called Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), which is when the brain starts to change because of age and it results in a series of consequences such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Inability to recognize faces or familiar places (even the owners)
  • Loss of thinking
  • Inability to remember or answer usual commands
  • Forgetting other learned behaviors

A dog affected by Cognitive dysfunction syndrome will start showing a variety of symptoms that may not be immediately recognizable as CDC and may be mistaken as the dog being mentally disabled.

Common symptoms of Cognitive dysfunction syndrome include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of control over the bladder and bowel
  • Aggressivity
  • Unusual behaviors/vocalization
  • Inability to focus
  • Possible blindness or reduced eyesight
  • Lack of responsiveness due to deafness

Even if you suspect that your dog may be having struggles because of their age, the diagnosis of CDC can only be done by a veterinarian after a series of tests that include but are not limited to bloodwork, eyesight test, and x-rays.

The bad news is that your pooch is getting old with everything that old age entails, the good news is that your dog is not mentally challenged and CDC is treatable and while it cannot be cured, it can be made manageable with medications.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Retarded

Now that you know that dogs aren’t likely to be retarded, but “simply” affected by several conditions and diseases, you may be already heading to your veterinarian with the list above to find out what exactly is wrong with your pet.

However, consider this: if your dog doesn’t listen to you, doesn’t learn your commands, and is a bit of a rebel, these may not be signs of retardation in dogs: your dog may just be very independent or you may just be a very clumsy trainer.

So if you’re wondering how to tell if your dog is retarded, consider that they simply may not be retarded even if they show behaviors you personally don’t find pleasant.

Every dog has its own personality and it’s not always easy to train them, especially if you adopted an already adult dog.

Many times, when you hear the words “my dog is retarded” what the person actually means is “I don’t know how to train my dog and I gave up trying” or “My dog has very silly behaviors that I don’t understand”.

Your dog being funny or doing weird things (as long as it’s not something dangerous like eating the insulation of your house) isn’t a sign that they have something wrong in their heads.

Sure it’s true that not all dogs have the same intelligence (or IQ if we want to use a term we’re all familiar with).

Some dogs may be brighter than others, but still not retarded. And some dogs may be very good at following commands, but very bad at other things, or the other way around.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s training, you can hire a professional trainer to teach them the basic commands you may need in everyday life.

Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy your dog’s quirks, because chances are one day you will miss those the most.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Is Mentally Challenged?

Dogs who suffer from anxiety or other neurological disorders can be treated accordingly.

These therapies don’t always assure that your dog will make a full recovery, but they will help your dog have a good quality of life.

The same thing can be said for dogs affected by neurological damage or diseases. The core problem should be treated in order for your dog to get better.

Sometimes what we call “retardation” is simply due to old age. Consult your veterinarian to see what options are available for your old friend.

There are many stories of pet parents and their “slow” pups and they all agree on something: their one-of-a-kind dogs are the sweetest and loving life companions they’ve ever had.

If your dog is a bit slow or funny, but otherwise completely healthy, do not worry: they will live a long and happy life just like all the other dogs, as long as they have you by their side.

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