Can Dogs Have Tourette’s?

Humans and dogs have a lot in common. We’re both social creatures, we share some similarities in our physical anatomies, and dogs can even suffer from canine versions of human diseases like the flu and bronchitis.

In this post, we will look at the question – can dogs also suffer from Tourette Syndrome?

Can a Dog Get Tourette’s?

So far, it is unknown if dogs can have Tourette’s Syndrome, but they can be affected by similar nervous system disorders that cause involuntary body movements. Tourette’s in dogs is so far unproven, and more studies are needed to determine if the condition could affect dogs.

The rest of this article will discuss what science says about Tourette’s in our canine friends and which similar conditions they can be affected by.

Why Dogs Can Potentially Have Tourette’s

Tourette’s, or Tourette Syndrome, is a nervous system disorder that causes involuntary repetitive movements and sounds called “tics.” Tics could include any of the following:

  • Muscle twitching.
  • Repetitive blinking or shrugging.
  • Blurting out phrases or offensive words uncontrollably.

(In humans, it is often thought of as the involuntary expression of offensive comments (e.g., yelling out curse words). However, this is just one way that Tourette’s manifests itself in human sufferers).

So far, Tourette’s is only known to affect humans, and very little is known about whether dogs – or any animal, for that matter – can also have Tourette’s.

Because the exact cause of Tourette’s in humans is still unknown, it doesn’t give much of a place to start when studying the condition in dogs.

All we know is that there is potential for Tourette’s to occur in dogs.

Science has so far discovered that Tourettes in humans could likely stem from a malfunction in the part of the brain that controls body movements, called the “basal ganglia.”

Dogs’ brains also have the basal ganglia, which perform the same motor control function as in humans.

Scientists speculate that a malfunction in the canine basal ganglia could lead to Tourette’s – or something like Tourette’s – but more studies need to be done.

NOTE – You might enjoy taking a look at this post about why dogs smack their lips when being petted.

Canine Paroxysmal Dyskinesias

Tourettes in the canine world is still a relatively unexplored subject, so it would be unlikely for a dog to be diagnosed with it.

However, some dog breeds are known to exhibit Tourette’s-like movement disorders known as paroxysmal dyskinesias (PDs).

Like Tourette’s, paroxysmal dyskinesias are brief episodes of involuntary body movements.

Paroxysmal dyskinesias and Tourette’s Syndrome have similar characteristics, such as:

  • They are both largely under-studied in veterinary science. For this reason, paroxysmal dyskinesias in dogs are often mistaken for epileptic seizures.
  • They are both considered to originate from a malfunction in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that controls body movement.
  • The exact cause of both paroxysmal dyskinesias and Tourette’s is unknown.
  • Both conditions are more common in males. For example, men are three or four times more likely to develop Tourette’s than women in humans. Similarly, about three-quarters of cases of paroxysmal dyskinesias occur in male dogs.
  • Both conditions typically begin during childhood.

Signs of a PD Attack

Paroxysmal dyskinesias attacks, or episodes, consist of sudden uncontrollable body movements. These attacks can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and may occur more than once daily.

Signs of an episode of PD in dogs include:

  • Muscle spasms.*
  • Staggering that lasts for a few seconds or minutes.
  • Looking confused or anxious.
  • Inability to stand upright.
  • Trembling.
  • Head tremors.

*In the case of muscle spasms, they occur more frequently in the hind limbs, although all four limbs can be affected.

If you notice any of these signs in your pup,  please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Episodes most often occur after exercise and can also be triggered by excitement. However, attacks are also likely as an affected dog falls asleep or wakes up.

Episodes can vary in frequency and length throughout the lifetime of a dog with PD: they may go through days or weeks marked by frequent attacks, followed by long periods during which they are relatively episode-free.

Note – If you are in financial difficulty and are worried about vet bills, this website has some helpful resources for charities to help you pay your bills. (If you don’t live in the US, you can use Google to find similar help in your country).

Diagnosis of Paroxysmal Dyskinesias

A vet may perform an MRI scan to diagnose paroxysmal dyskinesias. A video of the affected dog having an episode can also help a veterinarian make a more accurate diagnosis.

Here is an example video from YouTube. The lighting isn’t great, but if you watch it carefully, you can see the dog is acting unusually.

Just click the image to play:

 

Dog Breeds Susceptible to Paroxysmal Dyskinesias

Paroxysmal dyskinesias have so far been observed in the following dog breeds:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Border Terriers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Dalmatians
  • Norwich Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Bichons Frises
  • Pugs
  • Chinooks
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Labrador Retrievers

More scientific research still needs to be done, so it should be noted that paroxysmal dyskinesias aren’t exclusive to only these dog breeds.

Treatment of Paroxysmal Dyskinesias

Not only are paroxysmal dyskinesias difficult to diagnose, but they’re also challenging to treat. However, PD attacks are not life-threatening, and a pup will still be perfectly normal between episodes.

However, attacks can be confusing for the affected dog, even though they only last up to a few minutes. They’re also equally distressing for a dog owner to witness.

So far, only Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Border Terriers are known to respond to various treatments, which include medication for epilepsy and gluten-free diets.

Besides that, not much is known about what courses of treatment would be successful in other dog breeds.

However, it has been noted that in most breeds, paroxysmal dyskinesias seem to wear out with age, with the frequency and length of attacks getting less as the affected dog gets older.

Seek professional help for any suspected case of paroxysmal dyskinesias, especially if episodes occur more than once a week.

Final Thoughts On if Dogs Can Have Tourette’s Syndrome

While it’s unlikely for a dog to be diagnosed with Tourette’s, science suggests that it’s still possible: Tourette’s in humans is thought to stem from a malfunction in the “basal ganglia,” a part of the brain which controls body movement.

A dog’s brain also has basal ganglia. Therefore, theoretically, a similar malfunction in a dog’s basal ganglia could lead to Tourette’s.

Paroxysmal dyskinesias (PDs) are Tourettes-like conditions in some dog breeds. Like Tourettes, PDs are episodes of sudden involuntary body movements.

Though they remain largely untreatable, PDs usually become less frequent and shorter as the affected dog ages.

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