Is Your Dog Really Crazy or Is It ADHD?


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A new study published in Science Daily from researchers at the University of Helsinki does suggest dogs can suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Historically, pet parents have said, “The dog is crazy” or “My dog is hyper.”

While I don’t doubt that disorder does occur in dogs; after all as the researchers point out dogs are hard-wired pretty much as we are. Still, in dogs’ other factors should be taken into account.

For example, the study results suggest breed matters. German Shepherd Dogs and Border Collies were overrepresented among the ADHD dogs compared to “more calm dispositions” such as the Long-haired Collie, Poodle (unsure which variety or all, Miniature, Toy, Standard as the study doesn’t specify) and Chihuahua. Have they ever met a Chihuahua? A calm disposition Chihuahua? That’s an oxymoron.

Also not surprising, the study confirmed an association between dogs deemed ADHD and other abnormal canine behaviors. For example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often occurs in conjunction with ADHD. In dogs, OCD-like obsessive-compulsive behavior can appear as, among other things, tail chasing, continuous licking of surfaces or themselves, or staring at ‘nothing’. In fact, most behaviorist call these compulsive behaviors in dogs as dogs likely don’t obsess.

One study result refers to gender. “We found that hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were more common in young dogs and male dogs. Corresponding observations relating to age and gender in connection with ADHD have been made in humans too,” says Jenni Puurunen, PhD.

So Why? And What To Do About It?

Now the questions are, why are some dogs ADHD and can the condition be prevented? The study didn’t focus on these important questions (except noting breed and sex), though I will address them.

According to the study, dogs who spend more time home alone were more hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive compared to dogs who spend less time on their own. Researchers noted it’s not “natural” for dogs to be home alone since dogs are social animals. I don’t disagree that dogs are social animals. However, many dogs, many millions of dogs, clearly do tolerate being home alone, so what is it about these ADHD dogs dogs? As noted, genetics and breed are factors, and even sex (as male dogs are predisposed).

Would a dog walker or dog daycare help these dogs? One might assume the answer is “yes” but that’s unknown.

However, there is likely more to it than that. Are some of these dogs misdiagnosed? Perhaps, instead the real issue is separation anxiety or can the two conditions be intertwined in some dogs?

Also, are a significant subset of these dogs not being offered the enrichment they require, or in the case of herding dogs – such as those brilliant Border Collies – not given a job to do. By not fulfilling in some way what the dogs were bred for, all that energy builds up. Well, not only the brain exercise but also it’s about physical exertion. Are these dogs also under-exercised? Anecdotally, many dogs partaking in canine sports, from Frisbee disc to agility launch their careers because they were considered “crazy” or “hyper” at home, and partaking in the canine sport effectively takes the edge off.

True enough exercise alone may not be an antidote to true ADHD. Indeed, there’s a difference between dogs who are living in a too static environment and under exercised and dogs with true ADHD but the signs or symptoms are similar, if not identical.

Veterinary behaviorists, such as Dr. Karen Overall have described a relaxation protocol.  Does teaching such a protocol make a difference in the ADHD dogs, or is it even possible to successfully teach these dogs that protocol? I’m unsure but clearly it seems to be worth trying.

Are psychopharmaceuticals and/or nutraceuticals required treat these dogs? Likely the answer is yes – at least for some dogs. And likely the solutions are multimodal.

(I’ll be talking about this story on October 22 with Anna Davlantes on WGN radio at 3:30 p.m. CT. Listen HERE or at 720AM)