Can dogs have ADD or 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 behaviours OR it could signal a disorder that needs to be addressed for you all to live happily ever after. Animal experts may compare these behaviours to children who display signs of ADHD, otherwise known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. But can dogs have ADHD or ADD?

The answer is more complex than you may think. While hyperactivity in dogs can be common, other ADD or ADHD-like behaviours may stem from a rare condition known as Hyperkinesis. Let’s break down the difference.

Is my dog just high energy? Or do they have Hyperkinesis?

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 behaviour, especially if they have been provided with a structured environment and training. If their behaviour does not subside with age, it may be time to seek guidance from your vet to rule out any underlying behavioural 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.

What dog breeds are prone to ADD or ADHD-like behaviour?

Your dog’s age, breed, and gender can all be contributing factors for dogs who display ADD or ADHD-like behaviours. 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 behaviour 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 behaviour in your dog.

How can you tell if your dog has ADHD or Hyperkinesis?

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 behaviour sits.

Common signs and/or causes of Hyperkinesis include:

How does canine Hyperactivity in dogs differ from ADHD in humans?

ADHD in people is more commonly associated with young children and adults who may have trouble paying attention, and who experience hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour. It can also impact a person’s ability to show self-discipline and can lead to the potential for perceived behavioural 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.

Diagnosing Hyperkinesis at your vet

Before jumping to conclusions about ADD or ADHD-like symptoms in dogs, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my dog a typical high-energy breed?
  2. Does my dog get sufficient exercise?
  3. Does my dog get enough enrichment activities to challenge her mind?
  4. Have I invested sufficient time to properly train my dog?
  5. 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 ADD or ADHD-like behaviour 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 behaviour. 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.

What else could be at play? Recognizing Canine Compulsive Disorder

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 behaviour 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 behaviour.

Certain breeds such as Dobermans, Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds have been shown to have a genetic link to this condition, but like ADD or 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 behaviour modification training. In addition to your regular vet – pet owners may also want to speak with a veterinary behaviourist for further direction on how to identify the compulsive activities and find ways to redirect these energies.

How do you treat a dog with Hyperactivity/Hyperkinesis?

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 behavioural condition to confirm the diagnosis and get a treatment plan based on your dog’s unique needs.

Can dogs have ADD or ADHD medication?

When dealing with ADD or ADHD-like behaviours 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 behaviour 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!

Can dog training help with ADHD or Hyperkinesis?

Whether your dog truly has Hyperkinesis or is just an incredibly high-energy companion, here are some tips to improve their behaviour and quality of life:

What about their dietary needs?

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 ADD or 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.

Most of all – be patient & understanding

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 behaviours, don’t be afraid to reach out to your vet for direction.

Are Hyperactive dogs more likely to escape?

Hyperactive dogs have an abundance of energy, and their impulsivity may lead to an elevated risk of escaping from your yard or enclosures. For this reason, make sure you register your pet’s microchip on our Customer Portal. For added care and support, you may choose one of our Pet Protection Membership Plans that best suits your needs. This coverage may be the difference between lost and found and provides pet parents with 24/7 lost pet protection.