We all know how pets affect our well-being and quality of life, and it’s no wonder we consider them family. From loyalty and protection to love and companionship, our animal friends mean a lot to their pet parents.
These days, many people are realizing the impact a cat or dog can have—on their ADHD. It's a topic that's trending everywhere from Tiktok to Reddit. Can having a pet companion help manage symptoms? It turns out they can, in some surprising ways!
Let’s explore how pets can help manage ADHD symptoms. We’ll begin with a quick review of ADHD and its impacts on daily life. Then, we’ll dig up answers to common questions you may have.
As a neurodivergent person, what should you consider when adopting a pet? What are some tips for pet owners with ADHD? Can pets have ADHD?
Keep reading for answers to all your curiosities—just try to keep your collar on and the zoomies to a minimum.
Let’s start by defining ADHD.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects a person’s focus and behavior. It can impact performance in work and school, relationships, and general day-to-day functioning. The condition has been incorrectly attributed only to children (often boys) for years. Nowadays, an increasing number of adults are discovering their undiagnosed ADHD. The good news? The increased awareness has expanded access to treatment like prescription medications and therapy.
If you’re one of these people living with ADHD (and also love animals), you’ll find some surprising potential in welcoming a tail-wagging companion in your life.
What’s the connection between humans with ADHD and their pets?
It turns out dogs can exhibit ADHD-like behaviors, including hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsivity. Younger male dogs have a greater likelihood of falling into this category. A combination of environmental factors and genetics play into this phenomenon, similar to humans.
Compared with human ADHD symptoms and diagnoses, there are a lot of similarities. Trouble with attention span, delayed gratification, and impulsivity can affect a dog’s behavior.
Considering the range of personalities and silly behavior we expect of our dogs, it may go unnoticed—even by their owners.
If you’ve seen a dog with the zoomies, you’d think they all have hyperactive tendencies. Animals do have their own personalities, and some are even considered “gifted.” One example is a greater capacity for language and differentiating names for each of their toys.
You can basically draw a straight line between a “gifted” child and an adult ADHD diagnosis. This is not only a legitimate correlation but has become a meme that may resonate with you. Maybe dogs aren’t so different, after all.
I adopted my chihuahua-terrier mix, Will, at just over two years old. A rescue, Will was not potty-trained, didn’t know any commands, and was socially awkward with humans and other dogs. In many ways, adopting him as an emotional support dog helped me embark on the path toward treating my depression. What I learned along the way helped when I was later diagnosed with ADHD. We have experienced a lot of growth alongside each other over the past seven years.
Now that we know our animals are more relatable than ever, let’s explore what pet-parenting is like for someone with ADHD.
Can pets help manage our ADHD?
Service animals take their companionship to a new level, playing a critical role in their owners' health and safety. In this way, they’re the pros making all the difference for people living with chronic conditions and disabilities.
You may be familiar with emotional support and service animals, but have you heard of psychiatric service dogs? Check out how Jessica, the popular YouTuber behind the channel How to ADHD, was able to train her dog to help manage her neurodiversity, from intuitive companionship to retrieving her bottles of medication on command.
If you just asked your pet to figure that last one out… same. (Will just looked at me funny.)
As cool as that is, you don’t have to have a fully-trained professional pup to enjoy these benefits of pet ownership, but it certainly goes to show how capable they are! Exercise, time outdoors, eating well, and a regular sleep schedule are all ways they can improve our well-being.
Poor executive function is one part of having ADHD affecting task initiation, making it difficult for us to focus on certain tasks or to get started in the first place. You might even say it makes it harder to get the ball rolling. (Will does not get the joke.)
We tend to procrastinate, find it challenging to stick to a routine, lack motivation, and forget to eat regular meals. Sometimes we lose track of keys, our phones, and the passage of time—but how would a pet help with this?
Pets keep us happy and healthy.
Whether it's stress levels, self-esteem, or sleep cycles, pets can improve our overall health in many ways. When we’re experiencing overwhelm or emotional dysregulation, their presence can bring that sense of calm to our lives at just the right moments.
Pets keep us moving.
Exercise is great for ADHDers, and spending time outdoors can help to reduce stress.
Animals keep us moving, whether playing fetch indoors, walking around the neighborhood, or taking them to the dog park. Dog owners tend to get more exercise than those without pets. In turn, dogs with more active humans also get more exercise.
Playing fetch and teaser toys are stimulating activities for animals and humans alike... and these bonding moments work even if you’re stuck in couch lock. Pets are persistent and take no issue with reminding you it’s playtime by dropping a toy nearby and staring until you get the hint. (Will is doing this as I write.)
Pets help build routines.
Pets introduce great stability, accountability, responsibility, and structure to our lives. Have you ever forgotten to give a treat to a pet who expects one after returning from a walk? Exactly.
A potty-trained dog will make you get up in the morning. Plus, you have to admit that it's rather cute to wake up with a puppy in your face. Your pet knows their eating schedule, what happens when you get home from work, and that they get to go for a walk once you’ve put your shoes on in the morning.
Animals are smart, they have a pretty narrow scope of interests and they, too, appreciate routines. For me, anyway, managing someone else’s routine is a lot easier than my own, especially when they’re making puppy dog eyes.
Pets help us socialize.
Some of the most common shared ADHD experiences include problems with rejection sensitivity, interpersonal relationships, and picking up on social cues. After a life of criticism for thinking and behaving atypically, we’re told to try harder to do what seems so easy to everyone else. As a result, many adults affected by ADHD go on to develop issues with social rejection.
Pets are happy to have your company, a little playtime, and a few (or many) treats. Their role in our lives is, in itself, a positive experience. They also create opportunities to meet people on walks, acting as a buffer for any awkward moments—we all know who gets the attention first.
It’s easy to hit it off with a new friend when you already have so many shared interests and when you have a little wingman by your side. This is just one of the ways they help us socialize, in addition to being our little shadows.
Pets can be our body doubles.
Pet presence has some less obvious benefits, too. Body doubling happens when a person’s presence helps us focus while we work. Another being (human or otherwise) sitting beside you in silence encourages focus. Neat, huh?
Animals have another added benefit: they won’t turn to you with a distracting meme or question to break that focus.
As someone with ADHD, how do I know if I’m ready to get a pet?
So, how will you know if a pet is right at this stage of managing your ADHD? Here are a few starter questions for finding the right pet at the right time—for you, your family, and your lifestyle.
What’s your history with pets? Did you grow up with pets or help care for a roommate’s animal? Consider how that may differ from the responsibility expected of a kid and their family cat, like regular vet visits. Maybe you live alone and wouldn’t have a backup for middle-of-the-night potty breaks or someone to feed them when work runs late.
Make sure this is the right decision for you, emotionally and logistically. Take to consider all factors, like financial preparedness. Would you be able to cover food, treats, toys, and unexpected vet bills? For long-term peace of mind, consider getting insurance for your pet.
Can you practice by dog sitting or fostering a cat to see how their presence would work into your lifestyle? The reality of accidents on the carpet and chewed-up shoes is a good test of what it will be like (aside from the fun parts).
What pets are best for people living with ADHD?
What is your capacity for hours of walking and playtime each day? What about baths and grooming?
Some animals may be easier, though lower-maintenance animals could also pose a disadvantage. Cats and dogs get your attention if they need something. Others may not be such great self-advocates. If you have no problem incorporating feeding and cleaning cages into your routine, a simpler creature may be best for you.
Then consider if you should get a kitten or an adult cat. A dog that’s trained already, or do you want to participate in the training? If this new friend is right for you at their current age, what will it be like for you to age alongside them? Will an elderly dog’s needs exceed your capacity for care?
Is a pet right for my neurodiverse child?
Maybe you’re reading this because you’re considering a pet for your child with ADHD. Animals can help kids develop compassion, structure, responsibility, and motivation. They can even help with inattention, social skills, and behavior issues.
Did you know that animals are often brought into schools to help kids read? These big-eared listeners provide an opportunity for them to read aloud without judgment over a few flubbed words. One research study even demonstrated that therapy dogs can decrease the symptoms of ADHD in children.
I’ve decided on a new friend—what are some ADHD pro tips for successful pet parenting?
So you’ve made up your mind! Congrats on your new furry friend—or scaly or feathered. You’ve put a lot of thought into this, made the right decision, and now you’re looking for helpful tips and tricks. Whether you're looking to improve your routine or welcome a new friend into your home, these ideas are a good place to start.
For first-time pet parents:
What you should know about the adoption process, paperwork, and getting documents together before your visit.
A checklist of everything you need to stock up on for their new home.
For pet-lovers new and experienced:
Try automatic feeders to maintain a regular food schedule and simplify portion control.
Set up auto-shipments of food, supplies, and flea medications. Ask your vet if less frequent flea and tic meds (3-month doses versus every month, for instance) are right for your pet.
Work with a trainer specialized in disabilities and other chronic conditions who may be able to teach your animal some practical new skills.
Consider an automated litter box to reduce your daily task list. While you’re at it, get a robot vacuum designed for pet hair.
If you use an app, planner, or another tool for time and task management, include your pet’s needs.
Store your dog bags, treats, and other walk necessities by the door (or your shoes) for easy access. Bonus points: hang their leash on the wall so you’ll never have to look for it.
Quick shoutout to the Pet Cloud app (available to all Figo customers). It has a reminders section that sends you notifications when all that important pet stuff is due. Pretty helpful for those pet parents with ADHD!
You’re in this together!
Pets won’t cure your ADHD, and they’re a big responsibility for anyone. There is a lot to consider, but pets can hugely influence all sorts of conditions we humans experience.
Some will find that pets aren’t right for them at their current stage in life, with a recent ADHD diagnosis or even a long-managed one. Only you, with help from a professional, can answer that question.
Try fostering a pet or watching a friend or family member’s dog or cat while they’re out of town. This is a great way to feel out if the responsibility is right for you. You'll want to do this before committing to something that lets both you and the animal down.
In a world that doesn't understand neurodivergent individuals and wasn’t made with our brains in mind, a pet’s love can make all the difference. As ADHD becomes more widely understood, we will continue discovering new tools and methods for living our best lives.
As we know it today, animals and their unconditional love play an invaluable role. Will seems to agree—though he’s currently signaling to me that it’s time to go for a walk.
Dylan M. Austin is a highly caffeinated writer and creator in Seattle. When offline, he's hanging out with his Chihuahua Terrier rescue, Will, and adding to his increasingly excessive houseplant collection.