Can a Dog Have ADHD? Symptoms, Causes, Breeds & Treatment
A common complaint from new puppy parents is ‘my dog is so hyper – what can I do to help him calm down? Your new furry friend may be super active, have a very short attention span, and can’t seem to settle down no matter how many walks, runs, or hours of playtime they get.
This could simply be a sign of an active dog displaying normal playful behaviors OR it could signal a disorder that needs to be addressed for you all to live happily ever after. Animal experts may compare these behaviors to children who display signs of ADHD, otherwise known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. But can dogs have ADHD?
The answer is more complex than you may think. While hyperactivity in dogs can be common, other ADHD-like behaviors may stem from a rare condition known as Hyperkinesis. Let’s break down the difference.
It is not unusual for young puppies and certain dog breeds (think Border Collies, German Shepherds, Sheepdogs, etc.) to exhibit incredibly high activity levels. This in and of itself is not a cause for concern and could just be a sign that they are a normal, busy dog.
Before adopting a dog, it’s important to be realistic about how much energy and time you are able to commit to your potential new pet. Dogs require a lot of physical and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy!
It takes time for puppies and newly adopted pet dogs to understand the rules of the household. They are curious and eager … sometimes a little bit too curious and eager! But as these adorable pups get older, they undergo physical and mental changes. You can expect to see a decrease in their excitable behavior, especially if they have been provided with a structured environment and training. If their behavior does not subside with age, it may be time to seek guidance from your vet to rule out any underlying behavioral or medical issues.
One possible culprit of this hyperactivity could be Hyperkinesis – it is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder where a dog responds excessively to environmental stimulus, in a way that is not in line with their age and stimulation level. Some of these symptoms may lead dog owners to wonder if their dog can have ADHD.
Your dog’s age, breed, and gender can all be contributing factors for dogs who display ADHD-like behaviors. Certain breeds may show a particular disposition to these traits simply because of the physical nature of their breed.
Take Border Collies, Retrievers, Labs, Siberian Huskies, and Terriers for example. These busy dogs were originally bred to be working dogs who were traditionally very physically active and given ample opportunity to burn off excess energy. Ensuring your dog receives adequate mental and physical stimulation is important for their well-being and physical health. As the old saying goes, a tired dog is a happy dog!
Hyperactive tendencies were reported to be more common in male dogs and young dogs, particularly those who are left in social isolation and on their own for extended periods of time. Without enough attention from their people, dogs may act out of frustration and stress.
Other triggers for excitable dogs may be a result of living in a home with highly active and excitable individuals (often children fall into this category!). Young children may not know how to respond to a dog’s unexpected behavior and excitability, and their responses may in fact escalate and reinforce the dog’s impulsivity. Dogs pick up on their people’s energy, so do your best to remain calm and cool, and reward likewise behavior in your dog.
So now that you know the difference between a high-energy, active pup and true Hyperkinesis, here’s a list of signs that can help you pinpoint where your dog’s behavior sits.
- Frenetic activity
- Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
- Difficulty with training
- Inability to acclimate to environmental stimuli
ADHD in people is more commonly associated with young children and adults who may have trouble paying attention, and who experience hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. It can also impact a person’s ability to show self-discipline and can lead to the potential for perceived behavioral or social challenges, such as difficulty recognizing social cues. Just like a child, a puppy will need structure to thrive and develop into a happy, well-adjusted member of the family. New pet parents also need to develop training skills and confidence to lead their new dog. If a dog senses your anxiety, it may only reinforce their hyperactive behavior.
Before jumping to conclusions about ADHD-like symptoms in dogs, ask yourself these questions:
- Is my dog a typical high-energy breed?
- Does my dog get sufficient exercise?
- Does my dog get enough enrichment activities to challenge her mind?
- Have I invested sufficient time to properly train my dog?
- Is my dog responding accordingly to the stimulation of the given situation? Or is their response way out of proportion?
If your dog is well exercised and stimulated and the ADHD-like behavior persists, it may be a good time to have your vet assess the situation – after all, the only way to diagnose any condition with certainty is by visiting your vet. If your vet suspects Hyperkinesis, they will perform a test in their clinic that will involve the use of a stimulant. The vet will administer the stimulant and monitor your dog’s heart and respiratory rate as well as any changes in their behavior. If your dog has Hyperkinesis, the vet would be able to determine this based on their response to the stimulant.
Although ADHD-like symptoms are common, true Hyperkinesis is a very rare diagnosis.
In recent years, veterinary professionals have also recognized a similar disorder known as Canine Compulsive Disorder or CCD. In humans, this condition is known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD.
CCD is a condition where a dog exhibits extreme repetitive tasks such as chasing their tail, sucking their flanks, spinning, or excessive barking. This may seem like common behavior for a young active dog and would potentially only be classified as CCD if it continues to a point where the animal cannot control or stop the repetitive behavior.
Certain breeds such as Dobermans, Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds have been shown to have a genetic link to this condition, but like ADHD, these symptoms could also be triggered by a lack of physical activity, anxiety, and frustration from their owner’s lack of attention.
This condition requires testing with your vet to confirm and may be treated with medication and behavior modification training. In addition to your regular vet – pet owners may also want to speak with a veterinary behaviorist for further direction on how to identify the compulsive activities and find ways to redirect these energies.
There is no one size fits all solution for working with a hyperactive dog. Your vet will likely evaluate the situation based on a number of factors about your dog, and may make suggestions ranging from lifestyle adjustments to specialized training measures to potential medication options. As always, it’s a good idea to consult with your vet if you suspect your dog has a medical or behavioral condition to confirm the diagnosis and get a treatment plan based on your dog’s unique needs.
When dealing with ADHD-like behaviors in your dog, medication is typically not the first step in the treatment process. Holistic changes in diet, environmental enrichment, exercise, and training can go a long way in addressing hyperactive behavior problems.
If your vet has diagnosed a true case of Hyperkinesis, medication may be part of your treatment plan. If prescribed, it should always be monitored as per the daily dosage provided by your vet and safely stored to prevent excessive intake that could lead to accidental pet poisoning. As with any medication, it’s important to keep bottles sealed and out of reach of your pet, especially if they have a nose for trouble!
Whether your dog truly has Hyperkinesis or is just an incredibly high-energy companion, here are some tips to improve their behavior and quality of life:
- Create a routine – be available daily for structured walks and outdoor play
- Increase training measures or get training with your dog – teach him to wait for his food or sit when you get the leash out prior to your walk
- Reinforce good behaviors – like giving him a treat for coming when called or sitting when told to do so
- Get out and exercise with your dog – throw the ball or sticks around, take him to the dog park and let him socialize with other dogs and play to get out that excess energy
- Invest in an advanced training program – advanced training can teach both you and your dog the best way to monitor and respond to their hyperactive behavior
- Don’t encourage excited behavior upon greeting – if you pet your dog while he is actively jumping up on you and acting hyper, he may see this as positive reinforcement or a reward. Best to ignore him upon entry until he calms down, and then address him with positivity when he does
- Provide mental stimulation too – introduce toys and puzzles that encourage chewing and mental stimulation
Dogs thrive on routine so being fed at or around the same time daily is a good habit to adopt. A dog’s diet affects their total well-being and it’s best to choose good quality pet food that is balanced and low in additives and fillers. While some articles suggest modifying your dog’s diet as a natural treatment for ADHD, studies are inconclusive about how effective it may be. Whenever making changes to your pet’s diet, it’s good practice to consult with your vet for their expert advice.
Our pets give us so much joy, but in return require attention, socialization, and love. For those pets that have special needs like hyperactivity or hyperkinesis, they will need you to pay a little bit of extra attention to their training, exercise, and comfort to help them to succeed in becoming a loving, happy member of your household. It is important to be committed to finding the time, patience, and creativity to address those needs. If you need help working through some of your pet’s behaviors, don’t be afraid to reach out to your vet for direction.: