Hyperactivity (ADHD) in Dogs

Dealing with Canine Hyperactivity

With worldwide recognition of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD) in children, many people are now wondering whether their overly boisterous, easily distractible dogs are suffering from a similar disorder.

The answer is probably not, but there are rare cases when the evidence does seem to support such a diagnosis.

Similarities to ADHD in Dogs

If your veterinarian tells you that hyperactivity in dogs is commonplace, he or she may be confusing ADHD with over-activity or hyper-reactivity, which are different. Some of the conditions that can be confused with hyperactivity include:

How To Resolve a Dog’s Hyperactivity

For such dogs, reorganizing their lifestyle to provide appropriate exercise and entertainment can go a long way toward resolving this version of “hyperactivity.”

The true test of ADHD is to give the dog a stimulant, say methylphenidate (Ritalin®) or D-amphetamine (Dexedrine®), under controlled clinical conditions, and to observe changes in heart rate, respiratory rate, and behavior. For a dog with ADHD, all these parameters will be reduced.

Long-term management of these patients is by appropriate management coupled with treatment with psychostimulants. Longer acting stimulants are useful because of the dog’s rapid metabolic rate and exceptional detoxification abilities. While Ritalin® and Dexedrine® are sometimes effective, newer drugs, like Adderall®, may prove even more effective.

Hyperactivity (or ADHD), as we currently understand it, is a genetic condition. It is rare and can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian or a behaviorist. If your dog seems hyperactive, you should first look at lifestyle issues, his environment, management, and rewards. Most likely one or more of these factors will underlie the “hyperactive” behavior – but if not, ADHD remains a remote possibility.