How to Know Your Dog Has ADHD or OCD

By Aja Webber – March 1, 2022

Puppies and dogs all have different personalities, and some are naturally more hyper and quirky than others. It’s fairly normal for dogs to run around and play all day, but there are some behaviors that may signify your dog has an underlying mental condition.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are conditions that affect humans and usually require therapy and medication, but they can also occur in dogs. Things like tail chasing and pacing are common in dogs, but when these behaviors become obsessive, they could interfere with your pup’s quality of life. 

Before we dive into the signs to look for and treatment options for dogs with OCD and ADHD, we must first understand these disorders and why they occur in dogs.

Where do OCD and ADHD stem from?

Just like with humans, ADHD and OCD can stem from a variety of factors. While some might experience these conditions from birth, others develop symptoms over time. Because dogs can’t talk, it’s much harder to figure out why they develop these disorders, but studies have shown that environmental factors and genetics play a role.

Krista Sirois is a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral and psychological disorders at PAZ Veterinary Collective in Austin. Sirois explains that although ADHD is rarely diagnosed in dogs, many dogs with OCD might exhibit similar symptoms. 

“There is a similar condition but it’s still in the process of being defined,” Sirois says. “We treat the symptoms but we don’t really call it ADHD yet.”

Sirois says OCD is most commonly linked to environmental factors in dogs — things like leaving your dog home alone too often, or even playing with a laser pointer, can lead to anxiety which can develop into OCD.

Although environmental factors are a big component, genetics also play a role in dogs with OCD. Sirois explains that certain dog demographics are more likely to develop OCD and ADHD tendencies. 

“Studies have shown that young, male dogs and certain breeds are more likely to have OCD,” Sirois says. “Dobermans are known for turning around and sucking on their sides, and bull-terriers are known for tail chasing.”

Dog running.

What are the signs?

Some of the common symptoms of OCD in dogs are tail chasing, eating inanimate objects like socks and staring at reflections or shadows for long periods of time. However, just because your dog exhibits these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have OCD.

Sirois says sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a hyper dog and a dog with OCD or ADHD. If your dog doesn’t have an underlying condition, things like training or maturing with age can help stop the behaviors. However, if your dog continues exhibiting these behaviors, you should consider talking to a vet.

Carolyn DeRoeck is an Austinite and mother to a 13-year-old Labrador retriever with OCD. She says that from a young age, it was apparent that her dog’s behavior was out of the ordinary. When her dog Scout was about six months old, he started obsessively eating socks and chasing his tail. 

“He must have eaten about 12 pairs of socks — he also ate underwear and one of my sleep masks,” DeRoeck says. “One time, he got a sock stuck in his stomach and had to have surgery.”

After failed attempts at training, DeRoeck started Scout on Prozac, which he has been on since. She says it has worked wonders until a few years ago when Scout began pacing at night.

“We found out (his pacing) was (from) anxiety,” DeRoeck says. “I started using CBD, which totally took care of it and now he takes Prozac and CBD every day.”

Prozac and CBD helped with Scout’s OCD, but there are many other options for treatment.

What are treatment options?

Similar to humans, there is no one way to treat a dog with OCD. Every dog has individual needs and may react differently to treatment methods. Sirois explains that there are four main categories vets look at when treating this disorder.

The first is to look into other possible underlying conditions. Since dogs can’t verbally communicate their needs, it is hard to know exactly what causes their behavior. If a dog is sick or has another medical condition, it could manifest in similar ways to OCD and ADHD. 

Once you rule out other underlying conditions, you can begin the treatment process. Sirois recommends first getting rid of triggers in your dog’s environment. If your dog reacts negatively to a certain toy, food or object, it likely triggers their anxiety and should be removed from the space.

Medications and supplements can also be a great option for certain dogs. However, Sirois notes medicated treatment depends on the dog. 

Sirois says some dogs may react better to behavior modification tactics which teach coping skills and reduce frustration levels. The goal of this is different from traditional training.

“We use non-punishment-based techniques because (punishment) makes stress worse,” Sirois says. “If medication is involved, the behavior modification can do its job even better. It’s just like talking to your therapist; we just can’t talk to them.”

All dogs are different — just because something works for one dog, it might not work for yours. If your dog is exhibiting signs of OCD or ADHD, it is worth checking with a vet as these disorders can significantly reduce your dog’s life quality. If your dog has one of these disorders, it’s not the end of the world. One of these treatment options is sure to improve your dog’s health.

 
 

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