Can Dogs be Retarded or Mentally Challenged? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Dogs have brains similar to their human companions. So, does that mean your canine friend can also go through similar mental disorders?

The brain is a complex but wonderful organ that brings your pet alive. The organ has millions of neurons that transfer information through the nervous system. For example, dogs have around 530 million cortical neurons compared to the 16 billion in humans.

The brain is an organ, and like any other organ, it is susceptible to diseases. In human and dog brains, emotions are processed similarly. Thus, your dog could deal with mental challenges.

If you have questions like can dogs be mentally challenged? How to know if your dog needs help? How to best care for retarded dogs? – The article will explore the answers to these questions.

Can Dogs be Mentally Challenged or Retarded?

Dogs, like humans, have an individualistic trait to their behavior. Dogs have evolved into a man’s best friend, developing deep emotional bonds. They are the first animal to be domesticated.

For example, a study by Gregory Berns found that dogs are capable of emotions like envy. During the study, when the dog owner placed fed food to a realistic dog statue, their own dog showed signs of amygdale activation, which is a neural marker for arousal. The arousal could be a response to envy.

The response, though, was not universal. Dogs with aggressive traits were more likely to show envy. This leads us to believe that every dog’s brain is unique in its own way.

Can Dogs be Mentally Challenged or Retarded
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There is increasing evidence that suggests dogs can also suffer from some of the mental disorders that humans do. Dogs might show symptoms, but humans often tend to associate them with behavioral issues.

For example, mentally challenged pets can learn skills, but they will take a lot of time to do so. They might need assistance with carrying out day-to-day activities. These symptoms could point to behavioral issues, but they could also indicate a much larger problem.

Yes, dogs can be mentally challenged or retarded. We will see below the symptoms and causes of mental disorders in dogs.

What Symptoms do Mentally Challenged or Retarded Dogs Show?

What Symptoms do Mentally Challenged or Retarded Dogs Show
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Mental illnesses are primarily diagnosed by the symptoms the subject shows. For example, according to the American Psychiatric Association, depression in humans is characterized by symptoms like tiredness, feeling of guilt, worthlessness, and reduced pleasure.

Dogs cannot tell you if they are sad, anxious, or are experiencing mood swings. This makes it all the more difficult to identify mental challenges in dogs. Instead, you will have to rely on the dog’s physical state and behavior to understand if they are in a state of suffering.

Weight gain is the most common physical symptom to watch out for. Retarded dogs will show behavioral symptoms like:

#1. Inability to Learn

When you bring a puppy home, you usually start with basic teaching activities such as: potty training, familiarizing them with their name, simple obedience training like sitting and standing, and heel. Then, when they start getting comfortable around the house, you can begin building their social skills.

If your dog is having learning difficulties, if you feel you are starting from scratch every day, it is best to get a checkup done by a vet.

#2. Laziness

If you let them be on their own, some dog breeds can turn into real couch potatoes. But when we say laziness, for example, a symptom of depression, dogs can be significantly lazier. They might not show any interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

If extreme laziness is accompanied by symptoms like weight loss, shedding, and hair loss, your dog will need to see a vet.

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#3. Poor Communication

Dogs communicate with humans and other dogs using vocalizations and non-verbal body cues. For example, if the dog has their ears down, partially open mouth, relaxed tail, and overall posture, it means they are comfortable.

Open mouth, revealing a smile, relaxed ears, and wiggling tail are ways dogs show happiness.

If your dog cannot communicate with you effectively, stares blankly into space, or does not vocalize much, it could be signs of mental illness.

#4. Poor Memory

Do you always have to show your dog where the water bowl is? Do they forget to eat their food? They might forget their name, stop responding to well-memorized routines or appear confused in a familiar environment.

These memory issues could point to a mental illness that will require specialized treatment.

Poor Memory
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#5. Loss of Appetite

Your dog no longer enjoys their food. They even refuse to eat their treats. Well, loss of appetite cannot alone point to a mental illness. But not eating a healthy and sufficient diet can impact the dog’s physical and mental health.

Thus if you notice your dog is not eating, losing weight, and shows a general lack of interest, it is best to consult the vet.

#6. Aggression

It is a misconception that all dogs with mental challenges show aggression. As mentioned above, studies have shown otherwise. Aggression is one of the traits that retarded dogs might show.

Some symptoms to look out for are growling, lunging at a person with no contact, snarling, baring teeth, and stiff body posture, among others.

#7. Lack of Attention

Dogs are known for their short attention spans. For example, breeds such as Beagles, Rottweiler, Pugs, and Basset Hounds are challenging to train because they get easily distracted.

Attention span ranging from one to two minutes is typical for dogs at the start of their training. But if the dog cannot concentrate for even 60 seconds and the condition does not improve, it could point to a bigger issue.

What are the Causes of Mental Disorders in Dogs?

What are the Causes of Mental Disorders in Dogs
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Let us look at different causes that can lead to mental illness in dogs.

#1. Genetic

Some dog breeds may have a higher probability of developing a mental condition. For example, German Shepherds, Border Collie, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retriever, among others, are prone to anxiety and depression.

Unethical breeding practices could also affect the physical and mental health of a dog. Thus, it is necessary to look beyond aesthetic reasons when buying a pet from a breeder.

#2. Birth Complications

A dog, like humans, can go through complex birth issues. For example, the fetus may not be correctly positioned, it may not have developed fully, or the dog could catch an infection in the uterus.

Issues during pregnancy and birth could lead to physical and mental conditions that may need lifelong attention and care.

#3. Brain Injury

A brain injury could severely affect the way your dog behaves. The injury could result from a road accident, falling from a height, blunt force trauma, prolonged seizures, or being attacked by a larger animal, among others.

Depending on the degree of damage, the dog’s cognitive functions like thinking and reasoning could be affected.

#4. Infections

Rabies, adenovirus, parvovirus are viral infections that can lead to encephalitis in dogs. This could impact the dog’s neurological system. It causes inflammation and degeneration of brain cells.

Autoimmune disorders can also set off an immune system reaction against the brain.

What to Do if a Dog is Mentally Challenged?

What to Do if a Dog is Mentally Challenged
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If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, you first need to take the dog to the vet. It is obvious that initially, it will be difficult to accept that your pet might be mentally challenged. So you might be tempted to wait and watch. But this will only delay the help your pet needs.

The vet will do a complete physical checkup to rule out any possibilities. They will also need information on the dog’s behavioral history.

Thus, you must always have an eye out for your dog’s behavior. You will be asked questions like, when did you notice the symptoms, if there was a sudden change in their routine.

Depending on the diagnosis, the vet will suggest therapy and behavioral training method. In some cases, your pet will have to take medications.

The vet might prescribe medications such as Prozac, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants for behavioral problems.

What Type of Mental Disorders Can Dogs Suffer From?

What Type of Mental Disorders Can Dogs Suffer From
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Apart from being mentally challenged or retarded, dogs can develop different mental disorders over their lifespan. Some of the common disorders are:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

How to Take Care of Mentally Challenged or Retarded Dogs?

How to Take Care of Mentally Challenged or Retarded Dogs
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Please do not panic if your dog has been diagnosed with a mental illness. There are treatments available that can help manage their condition. Your pet needs your love, attention, and support.

Dogs that are mentally challenged can learn life skills, but they will take their own time. A repetitive training routine cut into micro sessions can help. However, be careful not to over-train the dog. In case of medications, ensure the dog takes them on time and consistently.

If they like going out on walks, then do that. Please make sure they get plenty of exercise and proper nutrition. If you feel you are falling short, you can seek help from behavioral training experts.

What Does Caregiver Burden Mean?

What Does Caregiver Burden Mean
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Taking care of a mentally challenged pet can drain you physically and mentally. There is no doubt you love your pet and treat them as a part of your family. But it would help if you also recognized the effect it has on your health.

Caregiver burden is a term primarily used for humans when caring for the elderly and aging family members. It considers the physical, emotional, mental, financial stress a caregiver goes through when caring for a family member.

When it comes to pets, people have to deal with the social stigma of ‘it is just a dog.’ In the absence of insurance, vet appointments, medications and therapy can be expensive.

You will have to constantly schedule your days according to your dog’s routine. Your dog will need extra attention and care than an average pet.

Why Should You Prioritize Your Mental Health?

When caring for retarded dogs, you need to be physically and mentally stable. Prioritize your mental health, talk to the vet, talk to other pet parents, reach out to therapists.

Do not be discouraged after learning about the caregiver burden. The condition has been highlighted so that you can better prepare for the future. When you are in the correct frame of mind, you can better cater to your pet’s special needs.


A dog’s brain works similarly to that of a human. Therefore, dogs are as susceptible to developing mental disorders as humans.

Yes, dogs can be mentally challenged or retarded. Symptoms such as inability to learn, poor communication, lack of interest or attention could point to mental conditions. Thus, watch out for behavioral changes in dogs.

A visit to the vet’s clinic is necessary to understand how to best care for retarded dogs. The vet may prescribe therapy, behavioral training, and medication to manage your pet’s condition.

Mentally challenged dogs are still a part of your family and can fill your life with happiness. They just need a little more love, attention, and care.

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