Having ADHD is a bit like watching TV with someone who refuses to responsibly use the remote control. Instead of finding a program and sticking to it, this hypothetical fellow viewer stubbornly insists on surfing and flipping from channel to channel before you can focus on what’s on the screen.
As someone with ADHD, I can attest that it is very similar if left untreated – with emphasis on the fact that you are not the one holding the remote control. Someone else selects the channels and you feel powerless.
You can’t wish our loyal friends from the animal kingdom anything like that. However, a new study shows that dogs can have ADHD symptoms similar to those known in their human counterparts, suggesting that there may indeed be ADHD dogs in the world.
“The house dog can spontaneously show a high level of hyperactivity / impulsiveness and inattentiveness, which are components of ADHD in humans”, researchers from the University of Helsinki write in a new study published by the journal Translational Psychiatrie. “Therefore, a better understanding of the demographic, environmental, and behavioral factors that affect canine hyperactivity / impulsiveness and inattentiveness could benefit both humans and dogs.”
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To find out more about the extent to which dogs exhibit ADHD-like characteristics, the Finnish scientists analyzed over 11,000 domestic dogs in their country. After carefully examining their behavior, the scientists concluded that certain dogs were more likely to have difficulty paying attention and exhibiting hyperactive, impulsive actions – especially dogs that were young and male and spent more time at home alone. The breed of a dog also made a significant difference: of the 23 breeds examined, Cairn Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, German Shepherds and Staffordshire Bull Terriers had the highest values â€‹â€‹for hyperactivity and impulsiveness. On the other hand, the breeds with the lowest scores were the Chinese Crested Dog, Rough Collies, and Chihuahuas. This suggests a genetic basis for these traits.
The study also offered a striking contrast to previous research that found smaller dogs to be more impulsive (or, in the case of some stereotypes, fearful). The University of Helsinki researchers found that medium-sized and large dogs had higher scores for hyperactivity and impulsivity than smaller ones. At the same time, the authors emphasized that differences in size alone cannot explain the differences in these characteristics. There were other correlating factors as well, some of which may also be causal.
“Hyperactivity / impulsiveness and inattention had strong comorbidities with obsessive-compulsive behavior, aggressiveness, and anxiety,” added the authors. “Many of these associations have also been identified in humans, strengthening the dog’s role as an animal model for ADHD.”
Scientists already know that, despite their popular image as lovable clowns, dogs are also extremely intelligent and emotionally complex. Thanks to dogs like Bunny the Sheepadoodle, scientists are even gaining insights into how dogs see themselves in the context of their environment. This has also resulted in a burgeoning industry of medicines for dogs that can help them struggle with mental health problems similar to those of humans. However, like with humans, the key to success is avoiding excess.
“My own view is on the caution side,” James A. Serpell, professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, told Salon. “Do not use these drugs on animals unless there is really a need to calm the animal and prevent the worst symptoms of anxiety, and try to think of it as a short-term thing that you would do for a while until you find a more satisfactory way of dealing with the problem through behavior changes and the like. “