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Home > Dogs > Can Dogs Have ADHD? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Can Dogs Have ADHD? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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As we unlock the complex mysteries of the canine mind, fascinating research has come to light that suggests dogs can experience similar psychological conditions as humans. One question that piques many people’s curiosity is whether dogs can have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Research suggests that yes, it’s certainly possible for dogs to have ADHD-like behavior.

But to fully understand this theory, we need to explore the mind of dogs more deeply and how these animals respond to ADHD testing. The results might surprise you.


A Glimpse Into the Canine Mind

Over the past decade, the field of canine cognitive science has flourished, bringing with it new insights into what might be going on inside the minds of our four-legged friends.

Thanks to innovative research spearheaded by Dr. Gregory Berns, a distinguished professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University, we now understand that dogs, much like humans, can experience a wide range of emotions and mental health conditions1.

This is largely due to the striking similarities between canine and human brain structures. From depression to anxiety, dogs can exhibit signs mirroring those in humans, and this has led to the successful application of human-developed medications in treating these conditions in dogs.

vet examines dog
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

The Intriguing Possibility of Canine ADHD

A ground-breaking study conducted in Finland investigated the concept of canine ADHD, with over 11,000 dogs participating2. Led by Dr. Hannes Lohi, the researchers observed the dogs’ behaviors, particularly levels of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.

Several parallels between canine and human ADHD were identified, adding weight to the idea that dogs can indeed experience this condition. Young dogs, particularly males, that exhibited aggression stemming from low frustration tolerance, shyness, and fearfulness were found to be more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis.

It’s worth noting these findings echo human ADHD patterns, where boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed, often during childhood when signs become apparent.

Interestingly, the research also noted that certain breeds were more prone to developing ADHD, hinting at the role genetics play in the onset of this condition.

Defining ADHD in Dogs

Despite these striking similarities, defining ADHD in dogs isn’t without its challenges. Dr. L. Eugene Arnold, a resident expert at CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), posits that the definition largely depends on the interpretation of ADHD.

Since dogs can’t express their feelings verbally as we do, their behaviors are used as a proxy for diagnosing ADHD. But it’s important to note that this method isn’t foolproof.

Dr. Arnold also raised an important point about the environmental factors contributing to ADHD-like behaviors in dogs. Many dogs in the Finnish study were found to spend significant amounts of time alone, a situation that could lead to hyperactivity or aggressive behaviors.

This brings about the question of whether certain environmental and social triggers could instigate the expression of ADHD in genetically predisposed individuals. According to research conducted by Nikolai Hoppe’s team at Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, this is indeed the case.

small dog alone not playing
Image Credit: Frauke Riether, Pixabay


Supporting Your Dog’s Mental Health

Given the complex nature of canine psychology, it’s vital to maintain a keen eye on your pet’s behaviors and demeanor. Just as humans show external signs of internal distress, dogs, too, have their own way of communicating that something is amiss.

If your dog displays signs of hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention, don’t dismiss it as mere mischief or typical dog behavior. These could potentially be manifestations of a deeper issue, such as ADHD, and it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian for an appropriate assessment and subsequent treatment plans if required.

Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle

Supporting your dog’s mental health isn’t solely about reacting to signs as they arise. Prevention, as they say, is better than a cure, and promoting a healthy lifestyle plays a significant role in safeguarding your dog’s mental well-being.

Regular exercise, much like in humans, can significantly enhance your pet’s mood and overall health. A good romp in the park, a long walk, or even a game of fetch in the backyard can go a long way in keeping your pet both physically fit and mentally stimulated.

Furthermore, just as a balanced diet is critical to human health, your dog’s nutrition can greatly impact their mental health. A well-balanced diet, suited to your dog’s breed, age, and size, provides the necessary nutrients to support brain function and promote overall health.

weimaraner dog playing with owner
Image Credit: Marina Plevako, Shutterstock

Fostering Social Connections

Dogs are social creatures by nature. Thus, they thrive in the company of others, and isolation can exacerbate mental health issues, including ADHD-like behaviors.

It’s essential to ensure that your dog has regular social interactions, both with humans and other dogs. Dog sitters, doggy playdates, trips to the dog park, or simply allowing your dog to accompany you on errands can provide valuable socialization opportunities.

Where possible, try to minimize the amount of time your pet spends alone. If left alone for extended periods, dogs can experience feelings of anxiety and distress, which may manifest in undesirable behaviors.

Providing Mental Stimulation

Beyond physical exercise and socialization, your dog also needs plenty of mental stimulation. A bored dog can quickly become a destructive or anxious one.

Play-based activities are not only fun but also contribute significantly to your dog’s cognitive development. Interactive toys, puzzles, and even training exercises are great ways to challenge your dog mentally and keep them engaged.

This can be particularly beneficial for dogs exhibiting ADHD-like signs, as these activities can provide a constructive outlet for their energy.

Remember, each dog is unique, and what works best for one may not work as well for another. It’s all about finding the right balance and approach that caters to your pet’s specific needs. After all, the ultimate goal is to ensure that our four-legged friends lead the happiest, healthiest lives possible.

Image Credit: Alexei_tm, Shutterstock


FAQ About Canine ADHD

Can medication for human ADHD be used to treat ADHD in dogs?

While there are similarities between ADHD in humans and dogs, it’s critical to consult with a veterinarian before administering any medication intended for human use. Some human medications can be harmful or even lethal to dogs.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has an excellent resource available that explains the differences in such medications between humans and animals. It notes that the popular ADHD medication Adderall that’s used for children has different effects on pets. Notably, it works like a stimulant and can elevate your pet’s heart rate and temperature and even cause seizures.

Are there specific breeds of dogs that are more likely to exhibit ADHD-like signs?

While it’s difficult to say with certainty that some breeds are more prone to ADHD-like signs, some experts believe that German Shepherds, Border Collies, and terriers are the most likely candidates. That said, further research is needed in this area to ascertain a definitive conclusion.

Are there behavioral therapies for dogs diagnosed with ADHD?

Yes. A professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist can help create a plan tailored to your dog’s needs. Daily exercise will be included, along with positive reinforcement training, which uses a reward for desired behaviors. Remain positive, proactive, and patient and work alongside the professionals. Doing so can have a major positive impact on your dog’s quality of life.

Dog trainer teaching a Golden retriever obedience
Image Credit: 16081684, Pixabay

How can I tell if my dog’s hyperactivity is due to ADHD or just high energy?

It can be challenging to differentiate between ADHD and high energy levels in dogs. Both conditions can lead to hyperactivity. However, a dog with high energy levels will typically calm down after exercise and will focus more easily, while a dog with ADHD may continue to display signs of restlessness and have a shorter attention span.

Are puppies more likely to have ADHD than adult dogs?

While ADHD can manifest at any age, signs often become noticeable in young dogs, much like in humans. The condition may become more manageable as the dog matures and with appropriate interventions.

Can diet impact my dog’s ADHD signs?

Since diet can impact a dog’s behavior and mental health, a well-balanced diet can support overall health, including brain function. If you suspect your dog has ADHD, consult your vet about dietary changes that might help manage signs.

dog owner talking to vet
Image Credit; SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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While the research on canine ADHD is still progressing, the fascinating insights we’ve gained so far illuminate the intricate link between canines and humans. From shared emotional experiences to mirroring psychological conditions, it’s clear that our bond with these loyal companions extends far beyond the tangible.

Understanding canine ADHD not only enriches our knowledge about our beloved pets but also sheds light on the human condition, offering us the potential to explore new treatments and interventions.

Featured Image Credit: Reba Spike, Unsplash

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