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Can Dogs Have ADHD? Vet-Reviewed Signs & How to Help

Written by: Chris Dinesen Rogers

Last Updated on May 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) dog in the kitchen, eagerly asking for food

Can Dogs Have ADHD? Vet-Reviewed Signs & How to Help

VET APPROVED

Dr. Amanda Charles Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

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

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Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) affects roughly 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults.1 It can be a challenging condition to manage because of its complications and the many knowledge gaps that exist. Scientists aren’t even sure of the specific causes, although research has found some promising leads. While veterinary medicine doesn’t use the same term, they recognize ADHD-like behavior in dogs.

Scientists have identified three main types in humans, depending on which behavior is dominant. They include inattentive, hyperactive, and combination. Symptoms vary with each one, providing valuable insight into their treatment. A lack of focus and organization skills are typical for inattentiveness. Excessive energy and fidgeting describe the second. The third presents with both. But how does this work with dogs?

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What Affects ADHD-Like Behaviors in Dogs?

According to the AKC, ADHD-like behaviors are influenced by age and sex, with young males being the most likely to display inattention and impulsivity.2 This also mirrors the demographic breakdown in humans.

Breed is another factor to consider. Selective breeding for certain traits in working breeds, for example, has led them to be highly active, and that leaves them liable for hyperactivity and impulsiveness. These behaviors only become worse if they are not provided with lifestyles where they can be active and given a job to do. This is especially true of breeds like Border Collies, German Shepherd Dogs, and Jack Russell Terriers. Meanwhile, dogs like Chinese Crested and Chihuahuas that are bred specifically for companionship, were found to display less of these traits and behaviors in studies.

What’s interesting as well is that studies have shown that a pet owner who previously owned a dog is more likely to have a dog with ADHD-like behaviors, although more research is required to understand why this is the case. However, they speculate that experienced dog owners likely select dog breeds that are more challenging and active.

Signs of ADHD-Like Behavior in Dogs
  • High energy
  • Hyperactive
  • Distractible
  • Impulsiveness
  • Unable to pay attention
  • Aggression when stressed
  • Difficulty training
  • Poor social skills
  • Overly attention-seeking

Treating ADHD-Like Behavior

Before you go to the vet, understand that your dog’s mental and physical activity levels, as well as if they have company, are two factors that could mitigate your dog’s inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. So, spend some more time with your pooch and ensure they are getting as much physical and mental stimulation as needed through both exercise and training.

Your vet will likely begin with a complete medical history and workup to eliminate other causes for the unwanted behavior. The goal is to determine whether it has a behavioral or physiological root. That fact can point to an effective treatment plan.

Behavior modification techniques are the preferred ways to deal with ADHD-like behavior. The rarity of hyperactivity suggests some needs in the pup’s well-being are unmet. Remember that dogs must have enrichment and mental stimulation for an optimal quality of life. Unwanted behavior is often a result of a lack of interaction, training, or socialization.

In some cases, your vet may prescribe medication to help treat the issue. Interestingly, some human prescriptions for depression and anxiety are often also efficacious for dogs with behavioral issues. Nevertheless, treatment of ADHD-like behavior is a long and arduous journey. It’ll require patience and understanding to conquer, and you should work with a veterinary behaviorist.

dog owner talking to vet
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Many pets have behavioral issues. Sadly, some problems can lead to relinquishment. Therefore, it behooves prospective pet owners to research a dog breed before committing to ownership. Some pups are more active than others and may not be the best fit in some homes. Treating ADHD-like behavior is challenging but not impossible to manage. Early training and socialization can prevent some cases.


Featured Image Credit: OlgaOvcharenko, Shutterstock

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