Dogs can suffer from mental illnesses just like humans. Across the United States, veterinarians have diagnosed dogs with depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobias, and other conditions. In recent years, vets have started diagnosing dogs with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These dogs suffer from hyperactivity that makes it difficult for them to focus, settle down and show obedience to their owners. When their humans get frustrated, the dogs act out, even more, creating a vicious cycle. Some people abandon their dogs in a shelter because they don’t know what to do with them.
Not every energetic dog has ADHD. In fact, some people misdiagnose their dogs with ADHD and subject them to treatments that they don’t need. The dog’s breed can affect their energy levels as well as their background and how they were trained. Some pet owners might wind up with one of the dog breeds that are easiest to train, while others might choose a particularly difficult breed – this adds another factor to their behavior. If the dog’s previous owners never taught them how to behave, their new owner might have to deal with an energetic, excitable dog that doesn’t know when to calm down.
Fortunately, dog owners can perform a simple test to see if their dog might have canine ADHD. Additionally, veterinarians can run tests to see if it is a hyperactive dog or merely excitable. If a vet diagnoses your dog with ADHD, a combination of medication and behavioral adjustments might help your dog calm down and relax. This relieves stress for your dog as well as you and your family members since your dog isn’t tearing up your house anymore. Just make sure that you don’t act until you get an official diagnosis–otherwise, you might give your dog unnecessary treatments.
Are you starting to suspect that your dog might have ADHD? Here’s everything you need to know about ADHD in dogs.
What Are the Signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Dogs?
Like humans with ADHD, dogs with ADHD have trouble sitting down, relaxing, and obeying orders. They suffer from constant nervous energy that makes them act out. Instead of assuming that your dog is disobeying you for no reason, ask yourself if your dog displays any of the following symptoms:
- A short attention span causes them to jump from one activity to the next
- Inability to sit still even for short periods of time
- Destructive behaviors like tearing up the couch or clawing the carpet
- Difficulty with basic training skills that require repetitive tasks
- Aggression when they get stressed or don’t get what they want
- Inability to adjust to a new environment or routine
- Sudden mood swings triggered by minor changes
- Need for constant mental stimulation
These signs might point to ADHD, but a dog that has these symptoms doesn’t necessarily have ADHD. In fact, you might be able to rule out ADHD with a simple test.
How Do You Test If Your Dog Has ADHD?
To confirm canine ADHD, you’ll need to test focus levels. Start by letting your dog run around in your fenced-in yard or an invisible dog fence to burn off high energy, then bring them inside and grab your clicker and a bag of dog treats. For the first minute, click the clicker non-stop and give your dog a treat for every click. After the first minute, reduce the number of clicks per minute and ask your dog to sit. Start clicking faster when you get your dog to sit, then slow down until your dog sits again.
For the next two minutes, continue to reduce the number of clicks and treats. Give your dog a treat if they sit, but make them wait for a few seconds first. Gradually increase the number of seconds that your dog has to wait before they get a treat. During the next two minutes, click the clicker randomly with different intervals in between. Continue to give your dog a treat after each click.
Abruptly stop clicking for thirty seconds. For the last two minutes, click the clicker and give your dog a treat whenever they look at you. Click non-stop when they look at you, then immediately stop clicking when they look away. Finally, end the test at ten minutes and evaluate your dog’s performance.
A dog with “normal” levels of energy might get distracted a few times, but they always manage to refocus on the test. These dogs usually don’t have ADHD even if they appear to have hyperactive behavior. However, your dog might have ADHD if they couldn’t focus on the test even with the promise of treats. Talk to your vet about setting up an appointment and figuring out how to proceed.
What Are Some Causes of Abnormal Energy Levels?
Canine ADHD isn’t the only factor that causes abnormally high energy levels. If you have a hyperactive dog, it might be suffering from another condition that has nothing to do with ADHD. Here are a few reasons why your dog might have trouble settling down.
Poor Dog Training
Some dogs just haven’t been trained properly. If you adopted your dog from another owner, they might not have taught the dog to stay off the table, stay calm in front of new people or burn off their high energy in constructive ways instead of tearing up the furniture. They might not have socialized the dog or trained the dog not to jump on strangers. To make matters worse, they might have left the dog outside because they were “too difficult” and never bothered to train them at all.
Some dog owners are well-intentioned but not ready to own a pet. However, others punish, abuse, or abandon them because dog training is “difficult”. This could lead to bad behavior as well as other issues like separation anxiety. Your dog requires a lot of special attention and care if it came from an abusive household.
Whatever the case, bad behavior isn’t always a sign of ADHD— your dog might just need some extra training. You might want to talk to an expert or a dog trainer. Other options include researching online and buying dog training books so you can teach your dog good behavior at home. It’s hard to break old habits, but it’s not impossible if you’re willing to spend time with your dog.
Lack of Structure
Some dogs have trouble concentrating because they need more structure in their lives. If your dog doesn’t know what to do with themselves, you could take this opportunity to reinforce their training. Remind them to sit at various times of the day, and stick to a consistent routine as much as possible. Giving them small tasks throughout the day could teach your dog to focus.
Your dog might be well-behaved in your presence but goes crazy whenever you leave the house. As soon as you leave, your dog starts barking, tearing up the furniture, urinating on the floor, and trying to break down a door or window. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad owner. Instead, your dog might suffer from separation anxiety that causes them to act out.
If your dog’s previous owner abused or neglected them, they might feel unsafe when you leave the house. Other dogs feel lonely when their owner isn’t around. Whatever the case, a training regimen could help your dog get accustomed to staying home during the day and burning off energy in healthier ways.
Lack of Exercise
Dogs need to burn a lot of energy, and letting your dog run around in the backyard might not be enough. Your dog might need more strenuous activities like walks in the park, games of catch, swimming trips, and other activities. Plus, your dog will burn more energy if you give them structured activities instead of sending them outside to play. Bringing your dog to the park also gives you the opportunity to introduce your dog to other dogs and new people.
When you take your dog to the vet, ask them to test your dog for thyroid issues. A thyroid condition might cause anxiety and hyperactivity in your dog. Fortunately, your vet should be able to offer a treatment for your dog’s condition.
Your dog might be a victim of poor breeding if they came from a puppy mill or another sketchy business. Well-bred dogs tend to be calmer, sharper, and easy to train. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause–you can still treat your dog’s excess energy even if they came from a poor background.
How Do You Treat ADHD in Dogs?
If your vet diagnoses your dog with ADHD, they might recommend medication, behavioral modification, or a combination of the two. Over time, you’ll teach your dog to focus, stay calm and learn basic obedience skills. You might have to modify their regular training regimen so it’s suitable for dogs with ADHD. Every dog is different–and dogs with ADHD need special attention to help them function. Here’s a look at the two main options.
You might be surprised to learn that you can treat your dog’s ADHD with Ritalin. While Ritalin is typically used for humans, your vet can prescribe this drug if they diagnosed your dog with ADHD. However, don’t reach for the bottle of Ritalin that you have in your pantry. Your vet needs to prescribe the drug so they can give your dog the right dosage. Otherwise, your dog might suffer from side effects.
D-amphetamine is another drug that your vet might prescribe for your dog. This drug is less common, but it might help your dog if they don’t respond to Ritalin. Other options could include natural treatments like essential oils, CBD oil for dogs, and St. John’s wort. Just make sure you talk to your vet before you start any treatments even if they seem to be “natural.”
Medication could help your dog calm down and focus, but you’ll need extra training to teach your dog new habits. In some cases, you can take a traditional training method and adjust it for your dog. For example, if you’re trying to teach your dog to sit, you might need to go at a much slower pace and break it down into smaller steps. This might sound counterintuitive, but your dog needs a lot of practice to get into the habit of focusing on the task at hand.
As you train your dog, remember to be patient and take breaks whenever you need to. Your dog might not learn as quickly as a “normal” dog, but they’ll learn just about anything if you keep at it. Talk to your vet about different treatments if your dog doesn’t seem to be responding to anything. Some dogs need to try a few different treatments before they find the right regimen.
People often mistake their dog’s energy for ADHD. True ADHD is uncommon in dogs, so talk to your vet before you start thinking about treatment. If your dog has ADHD, medications like Ritalin and extra training can eliminate a lot of stress for you and your pet. Your dog’s struggles don’t mean that they’re a bad dog–and likewise, they don’t mean that you’re a bad owner. Some pets just need a little extra help to become the dog that you know they can be.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you treat a dog with ADHD?
To treat a dog with ADHD, your vet might recommend medication and behavioral activities that could help your dog focus. Before you start treatment, it’s important to know if your dog has ADHD or you simply have an excitable dog. Otherwise, you might give your dog unnecessary medication.
Can you test a dog for ADHD?
Yes! You can conduct a simple ten-minute test at home to see if your dog has ADHD. Your vet can also give your dog medication and see how they react. If your dog seems to calm down, it might have ADHD.
Can dogs have ADHD or autism?
Dogs can have ADHD, but it’s possible that dogs can be autistic. Some dogs experience symptoms that are similar to the signs of autism in humans. However, there’s no official test or treatment for canine autism (1).
Can my dog be autistic?
Officially, there is no autism diagnosis for dogs. Researchers haven’t ruled out the possibility, but it’s unknown if dogs can have autism in the same way as humans. However, some dogs have signs that might point to a similar condition, like repetitive behaviors and strict adherence to routine.