HELSINKI, Finland — Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not something that just affects people — it may be a problem among our pets too. A new study reveals dogs can also develop a behavioral condition that resembles ADHD in humans. A team from the University of Helsinki add that gender, age, the dog’s breed, and even how much attention their owner pays to them plays a role in whether they develop this condition.
“Our findings can help to better identify, understand and treat canine hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Moreover, they indicated similarity with human ADHD, consolidating the role of dogs in ADHD-related research,” says Professor Hannes Lohi, head of a canine gene research group at Helsinki, in a university release.
“Dogs share many similarities with humans, including physiological traits and the same environment. In addition, ADHD-like behavior naturally occurs in dogs. This makes dogs an interesting model for investigating ADHD in humans,” adds doctoral researcher Sini Sulkama.
Dogs at home alone more often more at risk
Prof. Lohi’s team examined over 11,000 dogs during their extensive behavioral survey. Researchers used questions and measures which scientists often utilize during human ADHD research. The results show that puppies and male dogs are more prone to ADHD-like behavior. However, an owner’s behavior can influence this as well, as dogs which don’t get enough attention, stay home alone much of the time, or don’t get enough exercise show more behavioral changes.
“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,” Dr. Jenni Puurunen reports.
“As social animals, dogs can get frustrated and stressed when they are alone, which can be released as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. It may be that dogs who spend longer periods in solitude also get less exercise and attention from their owners,” Sulkama says.
Along with how a dog owner takes care of their pet, the study also finds that a person’s previous experience with dogs plays a role as well. The team discovered a link between hyperactivity and impulsivity and the owner’s previous choices in dogs.
“People may pick as their first dog a less active individual that better matches the idea of a pet dog, whereas more active and challenging dogs can be chosen after gaining more experience with dogs,” Sulkama explains.
Dogs may also develop obsessive-compulsive disorder
Study authors find that certain breeds are more likely to display ADHD-like characteristics. Much of this comes down to their genes and the traits many of these breeds have been bred to display over many generations.
“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. 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,” Prof. Lohi says.
Unfortunately, just like humans, the study finds those with ADHD often develop other conditions such obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In dogs, this presents itself in behaviors like tail chasing, continuous licking surfaces or themselves, or staring at “nothing.”
“The findings suggest that the same brain regions and neurobiological pathways regulate activity, impulsivity and concentration in both humans and dogs. 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,” Sulkama concludes.
The findings appear in the journal Translational Psychiatry.