ADHD-like behaviour seen in some dogs

Happy dog in the car

Some dogs show behaviours that are similar to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in humans, researchers say.

A study involving more than 11,000 pet dogs carried out at the University of Helsinki demonstrated that a dog’s sex, age and breed, as well as any behavioural problems and certain environmental factors, are connected to hyperactive and impulsive behaviour and inattention.

For instance, hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were found to be more common in young dogs and male dogs.

Boxer dog

“Corresponding observations relating to age and gender in connection with ADHD have been made in humans too,” said researcher Jenni Puurunen, PhD.

The study also showed that dogs who spent more time alone at home each day were more hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive than dogs who spent less time on their own.

“As social animals, dogs can get frustrated and stressed when they are alone, which can be released as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention,” said doctoral researcher Sini Sulkama. “It may be that dogs who spend longer periods in solitude also get less exercise and attention from their owners.”

Some variations in behaviour between dogs can be attributed to factors related to breeding.

“Hyperactivity and impulsivity on the one hand, and good concentration on the other, are common in breeds bred for work, such as the German Shepherd and Border Collie,” explained Professor Hannes Lohi, head of a canine gene research group at the University of Helsinki. “In contrast, a more calm disposition is considered a benefit in breeds that are popular as pets or show dogs, such as the Chihuahua, Long-Haired Collie and Poodle, making them easier companions in everyday life. Then again, the ability to concentrate has not been considered as important a trait in these breeds as in working breeds, which is why inattention can be more common among pet dogs.”

The study also confirmed previously observed links between hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, and other issues such as obsessive-compulsive behaviour, aggressiveness and fearfulness.

“The findings suggest that the same brain regions and neurobiological pathways regulate activity, impulsivity and concentration in both humans and dogs,” Sulkama said. “This strengthens the promise that dogs show as a model species in the study of ADHD. In other words, the results can both make it easier to identify and treat canine impulsivity and inattention as well as promote ADHD research.”

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