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Dogs exhibit behaviors similar to human ADHD

A new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry has found that many domestic dogs exhibit behaviors similar to those of humans suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.

“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,” said study lead author Sini Sulkama, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.

Sulkama and colleagues conducted an extensive behavioral survey on data collected from over 11,000 dogs in order to identify environmental factors underlying canine ADHD-like behavior and possible links to other behavioral traits. 

They found that hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention were most common in young male dogs, a correlation to age and gender that has been observed in humans too. Furthermore, dogs who spent more time alone at home daily were more prone to exhibit such symptoms.

“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,” explained Sulkama.

A surprising discovery was that ADHD symptoms were found more often in dogs who were not their owners’ first dogs. Although the causality of this phenomenon is unclear, Sulkama thinks that people may pick as their first dog a less active individual and chose more active and challenging dogs after gaining more experience.

The researchers also found differences between dog breeds, with pet or show dogs such as Poodles, Chihuahua, or Long-Haired Collies having a calmer disposition than breeds bred for work such as German Shepherds or Border Collies.

Moreover, the scientists confirmed previously observed links between ADHD and other behavioral problems such as obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCD), aggressiveness, or fearfulness. In dogs, OCD often occurs in conjunction with ADHD, in behaviors such as tail chasing, or continuous licking of surfaces or themselves. 

“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,” concluded Sulkama.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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