Dogs may exhibit behaviors that appear to be hyperactivity but can actually be attributed to a number of other causes. Puppies have regular episodes of energetic overenthusiasm, and some adults display cabin fever-like overactivity when they lack physical and mental stimulation. Some breeds have been developed to have high energy and activity levels or to react quickly to external stimuli; extreme examples may appear to be hyperactive. At times, the owner may be responsible for the excessive activity, as the dog learns that nuisance behavior is rewarded with attention; to a dog, even scolding is attention and can be rewarding. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Dogs with true hyperactivity -- in veterinary terms, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, a genetic condition -- have abnormally high activity levels and short attention spans despite being provided with a proper environment and adequate exercise. Even in calm settings, an ADHD dog will be constantly in motion and may even twitch in his sleep. A definitive test is to give the dog a stimulant drug and then evaluate heart and respiratory rates and behavior. A reduction in these elements confirms ADHD.
Methylphenidate is a common drug used for ADHD in human children. The drug is registered only as a human medication, but extra-label use by veterinarians is legal. Though it is considered generally safe and effective for dogs, the drug does have possible side effects, including increased blood pressure, anorexia, insomnia and increased nervousness. Dosage is weight-dependent, and duration of treatment depends on multiple factors, including how the dog responds to the medication. A behavioral modification program may also be employed, along with the medication.
As with methylphenidate, the use of dextroamphetamine to treat ADHD in dogs is extra-label but generally considered safe. Amphetamines release norepinephrine, a substance that stimulates the central nervous system. It may seem contradictory to stimulate a hyperactive dog, but the effect of amphetamines on true cases of ADHD is a decrease in activity level, heart rate and respiration.
Methylphenidate or dextroamphetamine are commonly used to treat hyperactivity in dogs, but a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine may be more effective. The combination drug is longer-acting, which helps offset the dog's higher metabolic rate and ability to detoxify drugs. A veterinary consultation is necessary before beginning treatment for ADHD.