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Can Animals Have Down Syndrome?

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 8, 2016
Can Animals Have Down Syndrome?
Image: bigcatrescue.org

Have you ever been taken aback when you see an animal sneeze? It can often be funny and unexpected as we think of it as a uniquely human trait, but there are actually very few diseases which affect humans exclusively. In fact, it is quite normal and common for humans and animals to share the same illnesses and symptoms.

Moreover, sometimes certain pathologies in humans which are associated with the aging process or decreased ability of the immune system, also have the same causes and associations in animals.

This leads us to our question: can animals have Down syndrome? Let AnimalWised give you the facts by reading on.

What is Down Syndrome?

Before we can answer this, we must properly clarify what exactly is Down syndrome and discuss how it presents itself in humans.

The genetic information of a human being is contained in our chromosomes. These chromosomes are structures formed by DNA and are very organised and complicated structures. They contain all of our genetic sequencing which is passed on from the parents. This genetic sequence generally determines the nature of our body at birth and often the pathologies that we might encounter, even in later life.

Most human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes. In the case of Down syndrome, which is a genetic condition, people affected have an extra copy of chromosome 21. This is the circumstance which causes Down syndrome and it is medically known as Trisomy 21. It is not a disease, but a genetic disorder which is difficult to predict. Babies with Down syndrome are typically born to parents with normal genetic conditions and the forming of an extra chromosome seems to be a random act.

This genetic alteration is responsible for the characteristic physical features that we observe in people affected by Down syndrome and it causes some degree of cognitive impairment and impaired growth in muscle tissue. Down syndrome is also associated with an increased risk of other diseases due to a lowered immune system which, in turn, generally lowers their life expectancy to around 50-60 years in developed countries.

Can Animals Have Down Syndrome? - What is Down Syndrome?
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Can Animals Also Have Down Syndrome?

The simple answer is no, but we need to qualify what we mean to get a better understanding. In the case of Down syndrome, it is an exclusively human disease as the chromosomal organisation of humans is different from that present in other animals.

However, there are animals which share certain genetic information with specific genetic sequences. In fact, gorillas have a DNA sequence that is similar to that of humans by about 97-98%.

Since animals have genetic sequences, they also have ordered chromosomes (chromosome pairs which depend on each species), so they can incur chromosomal problems similar to that of Down syndrome. These can translate into cognitive and physiological difficulties, as well as anatomical changes which change the animal's physical characteristics.

This happens for example in laboratory mice, some of which have been found to have a trisomy in chromosome 16. However, even if animals can suffer genetic alterations and some chromosome trisomies, they are not the same as Down Syndrome which is a uniquely human disease caused by the trisomy of chromosome 21.

Can Animals Have Down Syndrome? - Can Animals Also Have Down Syndrome?

Discover what other physiological or mental health problems which can affect your pet in our animal health section at AnimalWised.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Animals Have Down Syndrome?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Janice
Very enlightening!

Can Animals Have Down Syndrome?
Image: bigcatrescue.org
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