Can Dogs Have ADHD?

Dogs have many behaviors whose root causes are hard to find. Many people wonder if their hyperactive dog has ADHD. But how do you know if your dog has ADHD, or simply an excess of energy?

Is this dog hyper or does it have ADHD
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Can dogs have attention deficit disorder?

Research suggests that dogs can have ADHD, although it's not common.

A study out of the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center looked at components in the blood of hyperactive dogs and non-hyperactive dogs. The team, led by Professor Hannes Lohi, looked at blood metabolites, small molecules in blood, in both types of dogs.

They discovered something interesting: the hyperactive dogs had ab­nor­mal meta­bolic blood test results. There was a link between hyperactivity and lower blood phospholipid level.

This finding is notable because in humans, "several studies have recorded lower blood lipid and fatty acid levels in ADHD patients than in control groups," says doctoral student Jenni Puurunen, a researcher in the study.

A Jack Russell running in a park
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Does my hyperactive dog have ADHD?

Your high-energy dog may have ADHD, but a diagnosis is much less likely than other causes of hyperactivity. Before you decide your dog has ADHD, ask yourself if any of these could be the cause of hyperactivity:

Boredom: Has your dog been left alone for a long period of time with minimal stimuli? Maybe you had an especially long work day, or have been out running errands all day. Hyperactivity is a common reaction to good old-fashioned boredom. Consider getting your dog some puzzle toys to help keep them mentally stimulated when you can't play with them.

Recent Stimulus: On the flip side, did you recently take your dog for a walk? Some dogs get excited by exercise and may act more hyper upon return. If this is the case, try scheduling some playtime post-walk to get the rest of your dog's energy out.

Not Enough Exercise: Yet another possibility is that your dog isn't getting enough exercise. You may have heard the expression "a tired dog is a happy dog." Tiring your dog out with a good amount of exercise is necessary for some breeds, especially if the dog is young. If you suspect your dog isn't getting enough exercise, try increasing your walk time or scheduling some regular trips to the dog park, and observe whether your dog's hyperactivity is affected.

Not Enough Socialization: A 1961 study found that puppies who were raised in semi-isolation "exhibited excessive social contact behavior when given limited access to other puppies," according to Whole Dog Journal. This finding indicates that dogs may need a certain amount of socialization with other dogs. If they don't get that, they may become hyperactive when they do see another dog.

This dancing dog is hyper!
credit: Giphy

Causes of ADHD in dogs

As the study above indicates, ADHD in dogs appears to be related to lower blood phospholipid levels.The study also showed a negative correlation between hyperactive behavior and the levels of the metabolites of tryptophan, an amino acid.

Professor Lohi, who lead the study, says that both hereditary and environmental factors contribute to behavioral disorders like ADHD, which makes them difficult to study. We can't name a specific cause of ADHD, but we know that both types of factors play a role.

Signs of ADHD in dogs.

Just like humans, dogs with ADHD display:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsiveness
  • A tendency to be easily distracted

However, it's important to note that while these behaviors can indicate ADHD, they are also fairly common dog behaviors that can be symptomatic of many different causes (like we talked about above).

Dog Running On Grassy Field
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Dog ADHD treatment.

It's fairly difficult to ascertain whether your dog truly does have ADHD. You'll definitely need to take them to a vet to talk about all the possibilities and all of your treatment options.

If a vet determines that your dog does indeed have ADHD, the treatment is similar to the treatment of ADHD in humans. A dog with ADHD might be prescribed a stimulant, which, though it sounds paradoxical, will help them to feel calmer and focused.

If your dog is prescribed medication for ADHD, your vet will also most likely recommend some training and possibly some changes in lifestyle (for example, more exercise, or more mentally stimulating toys).

If it's determined that your dog doesn't have ADHD, don't worry: there are still medications that can help with hyperactivity. These medications, in addition to training and behavior modification, can greatly help your dog (and by extension, you).

Conclusion

Research suggests that dogs can have ADHD. However, ADHD in dogs is rare. Before you diagnose your dog, take them to the vet, and consider other possible causes of hyperactive behavior. Whether your dog has ADHD or is displaying hyperactive behavior for other reasons, some lifestyle changes and behavior modifications will go a long way toward helping.