Constant zooming around the room at night, unpredictable mood swings that turn on a dime — most cat owners who hear these things would guess that you were just talking about a regular day in the life of an ordinary house cat. But is that really what's going on? These symptoms are among common signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, otherwise known as ADHD. If you've ever wondered if your cat has ADHD, or if such a condition is even possible among felines, you certainly aren't alone, although getting a true diagnosis may be tougher than you think.
Can cats have attention deficit disorder?
The short and unfortunately unsatisfying answer is: no one really knows for sure. Cats can have certain anxiety and compulsive disorder, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is often characterized by behaviors like excessive grooming, pacing, and constant meowing.
If your cat doesn't have any underlying physical illnesses, an obsessive fixation on grooming, for example, is easily spotted, making him relatively quick to diagnose. An ADHD diagnosis, however, isn't so simple. According to WebMD, people are often diagnosed with ADHD only after having exhibited most or all of a certain set of symptoms over the course of several months. Because there have been no studies conducted on the symptoms of hyperactive cats over time, it's unclear which symptoms are prime indicators of the disorder.
Does my hyperactive cat have ADHD?
Despite the lack of evidence, cats have been known to display symptoms similar to those of people who have been diagnosed with ADHD. The Mayo Clinic classifies ADHD as a mental health disorder that is commonly associated with certain symptoms, including hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and difficulty paying attention to things. Most people begin displaying symptoms at a young age, which they carry into adulthood. The main symptoms listed can certainly be witnessed among some cats, as are mood swings and difficulty dealing with stress.
Causes of ADHD in cats
ADHD is widely believed to be inherited through genetics, which is usually fairly easy to determine among people, but perhaps not so much for cats — especially if yours was adopted or entered your life as a stray. The Mayo Clinic also lists environmental factors and developmental issues during childhood as possible contributors to ADHD, although the exact cause of the disorder has not yet been pinpointed at this time.
Signs of ADHD in cats
Like people, one of the easiest signs of ADHD to spot in a cat is hyperactivity. Additional signs may include mood swings, which, as anyone who has ever enjoyed petting their cat only to be swatted at in an instant, knows to be a common behavior among some. Psych Central also adds an intense ability to hyper-focus on something as a possible sign your cat may have ADHD, although this trait may be more properly credited to the natural hunter's instinct cats have inherited from their outdoor ancestors.
Of course, some factors should be accounted for when attempting to diagnose your cat with ADHD. Like any young animal, kittens tend to have a seemingly endless amount of energy, and because everything around them is so new, their tendency to become distracted isn't entirely surprising. Indoor cats may also exhibit classic ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity, which may actually be the result of the stress of being confined to a small area. This is especially true if their natural predatory instincts aren't being met, like if they aren't given things to stalk, chase, and capture.
Treating ADHD in cats
While ADHD is not curable, the symptoms are treatable — in human children, adults, and yes, even your feline companion. Chewy recommends channeling your cat's excess energy into activities that are constructive and exhausting. If your cat is particularly motivated by food, you can try making her work for it by hiding some dry food around the house so she can look for it, or turn eating into a game by adding her kibble to treat balls, which will dispense a bite or two each time she bats the ball around. For energetic cats who can't seem to sit still, create obstacles for them to climb, like cat towers, which will stimulate them both mentally and physically.
And in regard to just about any cat, be sure to make plenty of opportunity for playtime, be it with a cat pole toy, fuzzy mice — whatever she prefers. If your cat keeps you up at night with hyperactivity, be sure to get a good play session before you turn in for bed, which may result in a more restful night for both of you.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.