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Can Cats Have ADHD? Our Vet Explains Feline Behavior

Vet approved

	Dr. Sharon Butzke  Photo

Written by

Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The short answer is that there is currently no clinical evidence to support the existence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in cats. We cannot definitively say that ADHD does not occur in cats, but presently, it is not a recognized condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of ADHD in people include1: being easily distracted, forgetfulness, hyperactivity, impulsiveness (acting without thinking), and difficulty getting along with others.

In this article, we will explore how these traits in a cat are not necessarily signs of ADHD.

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The 5 Traits in Cats that Are Not Necessarily Signs of ADHD

1. Easily Distractable

While cats are capable of extreme focus (e.g., stalking behavior), they can also appear to have short attention spans. Many owners will attest that their cat seems to lose interest in a toy after just a few minutes of playing.

cat playing toy on the floor
Image Credit: Lukasz Pawel Szczepanski, Shutterstock

This is very normal and should not be considered a sign of ADHD.

To maximize your cat’s play experience, experts recommend:
  • Choosing toys that look like prey
  • Movement (either toys that move on their own, or that you control)
  • Rotating your cat’s toys to provide novelty
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2. Forgetfulness

Cats generally have excellent memories, particularly when it comes to food and interactions with people and other animals (both positive and negative). Just like with humans, cats’ brains change as they get older. They can even develop feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (fCDS), also known as feline dementia.

Talk to your veterinarian if your cat seems to forget things they once knew, or if you notice other changes like:
  • Alterations in their sleep-wake cycle
  • Interacting differently with people and/or other pets
  • Peeing or pooping outside the litterbox
  • Higher or lower activity level
  • Persistent meowing, particularly at night
  • Looking disoriented or staring blankly
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3. Hyperactivity

Many cat owners have witnessed sudden bursts of activity that seem to come out of nowhere, often referred to as “zoomies.” This can be a completely normal cat behavior! It may be due to feeling playful, chasing imaginary prey, or simply burning off some extra energy.

Hyperactivity can be cause for concern if it is a new behavior for your cat. If you are worried, consider scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian can help rule out conditions like:
  • Hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone)
  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

It is also important to note that suddenly bolting through the house could be a fear response, particularly if it is followed by hiding. Your cat may have simply been startled, but if this behavior occurs regularly, they may need help working through an underlying phobia.

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Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock
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4. Impulsiveness

Impulsiveness means acting without thinking about the possible consequences. An example could be jumping from a tall perch without considering its height. In many cases, impulsive behavior in cats is instinctive (for example, a flight response after being startled).

However, recent research has identified impulsiveness as one of the “Feline 5” personality traits, and determined that high levels of impulsiveness in cats appear to be correlated with stress. These cats may benefit from a veterinary behavior assessment.

If you are interested in learning more about your cat’s personality type, you can take a quiz here.

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5. Difficulty Getting Along with Other Pets

All cats are individuals, with a wide range of willingness (and ability) to share their space. Some adapt to other pets relatively easily, while others have a very hard time. This may be influenced by their genetics, personality, socialization, and life experiences.

Difficulty getting along with other animals does not mean that your cat has ADHD. They may just need some extra help learning to coexist peacefully with another animal. Your veterinarian can help, and the Indoor Pet Initiative is also a great resource.

If you are thinking about introducing a new pet to your home, these tips can help set your cat up for success.

a german shepherd dog staring at the tabby cat
Image Credit: Skullman, Pixabayy

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Conclusion

Cats may demonstrate similar behaviors to people living with ADHD, but it is not currently a recognized condition in cats. If you are interested in learning more about your cat’s behavior, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists’ book, “Decoding Your Cat”, is an excellent place to start!

If you ever have concerns about your cat’s behavior, and particularly, if you notice changes (either suddenly or gradually over time), please contact your veterinarian.

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Featured Image Credit: Onishchenko Natalya, Shutterstock

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