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Hyperactivity in Dogs

We’ve all probably used “hyper” to describe our dogs at one time or another, but being hyperactive is more than…

We’ve all probably used “hyper” to describe our dogs at one time or another, but being hyperactive is more than just a normal burst of energy. Collins Dictionary defines hyper as “overexcited, overstimulated, keyed-up; seriously or obsessively concerned; fanatical.” That doesn’t sound like the kind of conduct we want to see in our dogs. If your dog exhibits this kind of “hyper” behavior, an underlying condition could be at play.

We must be careful not to confuse healthy, active dogs with those who truly have problem behavior. Active, rambunctious dogs may not yet be able to control their excitement. Dogs with problem behavior demonstrate abnormal hyperactivity, exceptionally short attention spans, and a high degree of impulsiveness, making it impossible for them to focus on one task for long. A veterinarian may diagnose them with OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or ADHD, attention-deficit disorder.

Do you fear your dog sometimes exhibits abnormal, “out of the ordinary” behavior? Do some of your dog’s responses seem disproportionate to the circumstances? It’s possible your dog could have OCD or ADHD and be struggling with hyperactivity, otherwise known as “hyperkinesis.”

Can Dogs Have OCD?

In dogs, OCD is known as CCD, Canine Compulsive Disorder. Canine Compulsive Disorder is not to be confused with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction syndrome, also known as CCD or CDS. According to the AKC, CCD is identified by normal dog behaviors that are performed in such an extreme, repetitive way that they are difficult for the dog to stop and can interfere with the dog’s ability to function. Compulsive behaviors can be destructive and are difficult to live with. They will only get worse if left untreated.

Despite the presence of symptoms, there remains some controversy in the veterinary world as to whether or not OCD actually occurs in dogs. The reasoning is that OCD refers to obsessive thoughts in humans. Since we do not know our dog’s thoughts, we can only accredit the compulsivity to the dog’s behavior. What we do know is that dogs are certainly capable of compulsive behavior: the tail chasers, the excessive lickers, the incessant hole diggers, the never-ending water drinkers, the ones that eat everything, and other clearly irrational behaviors.

What Do Vets Think About CCD?

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield, a veterinarian and professional dog trainer who specializes in treating behavior problems, refers to these compulsive behaviors in dogs as a mental health disorder. The repetitive behavior is associated with abnormalities in a particular part of the brain, specifically the part that controls motor functioning. This will cause the dog to become “stuck” in repeated behavior loops and have a hard time stopping what they’re doing.

The reasons for the disorder may have many causes: genetics, response to stress, response to frustration, or medical problems. In some dogs, symptoms develop shortly after birth, which are most often genetic, while in others, symptoms develop over time as a result of medical problems, stress, frustration, or a late response rooted in genetics.

The most definitive proof that dogs suffer from OCD/CCD was found at The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Researchers identified a gene, CDH2, that may indicate a high risk of compulsive disorder susceptibility in breeds bearing that gene. The gene is often found in the Doberman Pinscher, famous for incessant licking of flanks, and other breeds found to be susceptible to compulsive behavior, including German Shepherds, Border Collies, Jack Russell Terriers, Great Danes, Retrievers, and English Bull-Terriers. Studies have shown that young male dogs, typically of working breeds, are also more likely to display compulsive behavior.

Can Dogs Have ADHD?

The AKC stops short of saying that a dog’s attention deficit or hyperactivity is ADHD. They prefer to say that dogs may suffer from ADHD-type behavior. Holiday Barn Pet ResortsProfessional Dog trainer, Dickie Martinson, agrees with the AKC in that he also does not believe that dogs can have ADHD. Human children diagnosed with ADHD are impulsive, spontaneous, easily distracted, and oblivious to social clues. That perfectly describes some of the things that Dickie and our Professional Dog Trainers tackle every day with many of their canine students.

If dogs cannot “officially,” or medically, be diagnosed with ADHD, then why do we see these behaviors? A study from researchers at the University of Helsinki found a number of variables associated with canine hyperactivity/impulsivity. It is possible for dogs to develop ADHD-like behaviors if they are not adequately exercised, spend too much time alone, exhibit aggressiveness that has not been corrected, or exhibit fearfulness that has not been addressed.

Treatment Options for Hyperactivity and Other Conditions

When a dog does not have underlying medical conditions, CCD and ADHD can be treated with proper training and medication. The very first thing to do if a dog shows symptoms is to take them to the veterinarian for a full medical exam.

If a dog is diagnosed with the CDH2 gene, signifying CCD, it can be treated with a glutamate blocker, similar to the treatment used on people. Other medications and supplements can help with CCD and ADHD behavior, as well. Veterinarians may prescribe clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant commonly used for canine OCD, or a similar serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Some people have had good results from CBD oil. Aromatherapy may also help. Always check with your veterinarian before administering any type of “home remedy”.

If there is no medical reason for the irrational behavior, we need to look for clues as to what is causing the dog to act out. The challenge is to find the “trigger” for the behavior. For example, if a dog reacts strangely to a particular object, person, or food, it could be the trigger for their compulsion or anxiety. We need to remove that from their environment or limit their interaction with whatever is causing the reaction. However, a physical injury or a past stressful incident that we may not even be aware of can be the cause of a dog’s OCD or ADHD behavior.

Professional Dog Training is incredibly helpful to a dog struggling with OCD or ADHD behavior. Holiday Barn Pet Resorts’ Professional Dog Training program uses behavior modification tactics to help replace incompatible behavior with compatible behavior. Counterconditioning and desensitization reduce the dog’s frustration levels and teaches them to cope. They learn to control their impulses. Changing the dog’s focus also helps distract them from their “obsession.

Handling Hyperactivity, OCD, and Other Behavioral Concerns in Dogs

If your dog is dealing with OCD or displays hyperactivity issues in its behavior and you have yet to find a reason, don’t give up hope. Work with your veterinarian and our professional dog trainers for a solution. It’s worth it for your dog’s quality of life and for your peace of mind.

For more information about our Dog Training Program, please contact Holiday Barn Pet Resorts in Midlothian by calling (804) 794-5400. For our Glen Allen location, call (804) 672-2200.

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