✔ This article was written by a licensed veterinarian.
“It is impossible for a lover of cats to banish these alert, gentle, and discriminating friends, who give us just enough of their regard and complaisance to make us hunger for more.” – Agnes Repplier
A cat is one of the most unpredictable and mischievous pets you can have. We love their quirks, but they can also be a bit frustrating at times when we can’t make sense of their actions.
The unexpected and sometimes inconsistent behaviors of cats can lead to many questions, especially for new cat owners. One question we’ve seen asked, that deserves a thoughtful answer, is: Can cats have ADHD?
There is no official diagnosis for ADHD in cats. Cats can present behaviors commonly associated with ADHD, but it is not a common opinion amongst veterinarians and pet psychologists that cats can have ADHD. More often, cats present symptoms commonly associated with ADHD.
As a veterinarian, I can tell you that this disorder is not commonly diagnosed in cats. Moreover, I don’t believe any cat has ever truly been diagnosed with ADHD.
Cats are very independent. They are rambunctious. They can laser focus on some things and can completely ignore or forget others. They can sprint one minute and be passed out on your lap the next.
A healthy, normal cat’s actions may cause some to question whether it has mental health issues just by existing. However, ADHD is a specific diagnosis and we have explored it in great depth to provide you with a thorough answer to the question at hand.
We cover the following items in this post:
- Can Cats Have ADHD?
- Can Cats Experience Mental Illness?
- Signs Your Cat May Have ADHD – The Top 10 Symptoms
- How to Calm Down A Hyper Cat
- How to Help a Cat With ADHD
- Final Thoughts: Can Cats Have ADHD?
So, Can Cats Have ADHD?
As stated above – we don’t know. Cats can present ADHD-like symptoms, but it’s an uncommon if not unprecedented diagnosis in cats.
According to WebMD, people with ADHD may have common symptoms like:
- Short temper
- Difficulty with following directions
- Mood swings
- Trouble remembering information
- Low motivation
Did I just describe a person with ADHD or the common cat?
Some scientists argue that this condition in cats simply does not exist. Others say that they have no way of knowing if it is true ADHD or just a similar disorder.
In humans, there is no specific medical investigation to diagnose ADHD. Such as blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, and others. The diagnosis comes after a discussion with a neurologist or psychiatrist and many factors are examined to come to a determination.
This is why the diagnosis of ADHD in cats is very difficult to make. Is your cat presenting ADHD tendencies, or is it just a normal cat that acts out from time to time?
Can Cats Experience Mental Illness?
Yes, cats can experience mental illness.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mental illness “is a health condition involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior”, and it is “associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities”.
In humans, the most common mental disorders are:
- Addictive behaviors
In cats, the most common mental illnesses are represented by anxiety and depression. A cat can become anxious or depressed for a number of reasons. Some examples include:
- Moving to a new home
- A new pet or family member comes into the home
- Abusive behavior on the part of the owner or other persons
- Too much noise, light, or they feel too crowded
- A loss of a family member or pet
Other medical conditions that are considered mental disorders in cats are:
- Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD). As cats get older they can suffer from losses in cognitive function. This can lead to a cat forgetting the way to the litter box, staring at the wall, forgetting familiar faces and voices, and a decline in memory and awareness. Experts believe that the majority of cats over the age of 11 suffer from some form of FCD.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A cat that has repeated, amplified behavior that seems to have no real purpose may suffer from OCD. Cats with OCD may overgroom, overeat, suck or chew on fabric, use excessive vocalization, or lick various materials repeatedly.
- Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS). FHS is also known as the “twitch-skin syndrome”, the “rolling skin disease”, or even the “rippling skin disorder.” It’s generally associated with a very sensitive area on the cat’s skin, commonly found on a cat’s back or close to the tail. It can make a cat react to physical stimuli that should not cause pain, and may catch the owner by surprise. You may notice that petting your cat in a sensitive area leads to aggression or your cat brushing your hand away to tend to the area. Some believe it’s associated with OCD, but Cornell has stated it could also stem from a seizure-related problem.
It can be very difficult to diagnose a cat that is suffering from a mental illness. If you feel your cat’s behavior has changed dramatically, or their baseline behavior is out of the normal – please work with your vet to understand what may be going on.
This video does a great job discussing cats and mental illness:
Signs Your Cat May Have ADHD – The Symptoms
Before we dive into the symptoms commonly associated with cats and ADHD, we want to note that there are quite a few issues when it comes to trying to understand whether cats can have ADHD. A few big ones are:
- There are little to no studies on the topic. The best minds in veterinary sciences and pet psychiatry haven’t come to a conclusion.
- Cats are fickle animals that are quirky at baseline.
- If your cat isn’t very social or is an outdoor cat, it can be hard to study them long enough or consistent enough to have a valid observation.
Nonetheless, the common symptoms that seem ADHD-like in cats include:
1. Shortened Attention Span
Your cat may be in the middle of something, but if they see anything else “more interesting” – they move on to the next thing. A shortened attention span in cats can be eerily similar to humans with ADHD.
For example, they are playing with a toy, but suddenly they switch to another because it looks more appealing. Or maybe they switch to your foot, which is appealing to them and painful for you.
2. Fast Changes in Mood
Have you ever been peacefully petting your cat and out of the blue it turns around and bites you?
A cat that is presenting what seems to be ADHD-like symptoms may frequently have rapid changes in mood.
One second it’s calm, and in the next second, your pet completely changes its behavior. This is just like humans, except for the passive-aggressive comments afterward.
It’s worth noting that cats don’t hold grudges as people do. So a quick change in behavior, one that seems to be of anger, is likely a momentary incident.
3. Very High Energy (Hyperactivity)
Kittens are naturally hyperactive in their first year of life, and some cats continue to be hyperactive until the age of two. As cats get older, this hyperactivity should decrease naturally, but some cats are more active than others.
But what happens when you have a senior cat?
Although the hyperactivity levels vary from cat to cat, in ADHD, this characteristic (very high energy) will be maintained throughout its life.
We’ve covered the life stages of a cat so you can determine what stage your cat is in based on its age and know what to expect as far as activity levels go.
A cat that is consistently hyperactive through multiple stages of life may seem to be presenting ADHD-like symptoms.
The most hyperactive cat breeds are:
- Japanese Bobtail
- Main Coon
4. The Power of Hyperfocus
According to WebMD, hyperfocus represents “highly focused attention that lasts a long time”, which is a common trait in people with ADHD.
In cats, this trait can manifest as focusing intently on something for a seemingly long period of time. A perfect example is when your cat is watching a bird, or another type of prey, with intense focus through the window.
5. An Inconsistent Feeding Schedule
Cats’ minds shift between food, play, and sleep all day long, which is normal behavior. One minute they’re eating, and the next, you see your cat running around the house after a fly.
People with ADHD may hyperfocus on something and sometimes forget to eat. Or they may begin to eat and be distracted by something else – leaving their food and tending to that stimulus.
Some cats are extremely food-motivated, and others eat when they feel like it.
So, what may seem like a normal feeding schedule for the food-motivated cat is simply them eating whenever they have the chance. While a less-motivated cat may only eat if the mood so strikes them.
A cat suffering from ADHD-like symptoms may “forget” to eat, or be distracted during feeding times, so its meals will be inconsistent.
6. Ignoring You
How frustrating is it when you get home, excited to see your cat, and they walk by you like you’re a ghost?
Unfortunately, this is pretty normal behavior in cats because they are independent creatures. But is their lack of attention for us a sign of ADHD?
Your cat may ignore you from the time you enter the same room, or you may be interacting when they decide to move on to something else that they’d rather pay attention to.
Or, you may just not be that interesting. We kid. We kid.
7. Sleep Schedule is Out of Whack
The sleeping patterns of cats align closely to their age and stage of life.
As a cat gets older, its sleep patterns change. Kittens sleep a ton, adult cats sleep slightly less, and then senior cats get more sleep.
A cat that suffers from ADHD-like symptoms may have an irregular sleep pattern. One that doesn’t fit in the kitten, adult, or senior cat buckets.
Also, these cats will sleep longer after intense activities, such as when they’ve been playing or hyper-focusing on something. They may need to be exhausted in order to get some sleep.
But before you decide that your cat’s sleep pattern is out of the norm, do a bit of reading on the topic. Our article on why cats sleep so much is a great starting point!
8. Addictive Personality
Cats can develop addictions, or at least show addictive traits to things like treats or other goodies.
Your cat may meow continuously or beg for treats. Once a cat knows it can get a response out of you by making certain sounds, it will go back to them again and again.
The best thing to do with cats is to ignore them if they start to whine. Unless it seems to be related to a medical issue – don’t respond! In these cases, your cat has trained you. So, do your best to block out their crying and show them that you interact with them on your own terms.
9. Less Time Spent With You
At baseline, many cats like to spend a nice chunk of time on their own. If your cat is displaying ADHD-like symptoms like hyperactivity, hyper-focusing on things, or shifting their attention consistently – they likely aren’t spending much time with you.
Cats will choose when to come to you. They will totally ignore you or go on their way if they don’t feel like being affectionate and snuggly.
But they also may be in a loving mood at the worst time for you!
10. Lack of Self Awareness
Cats don’t pretend to be self-aware in the first place. However, some cats know, based on their owners’ response, that their current request may not be feasible. A great example is a cat crying for food well before dinner time. Or a cat slowly walking over to your plate, even though they know you won’t feed them. My cats have never stopped trying for my food though.
They may push you even though they should expect the same response.
A cat with ADHD-like symptoms may not be able to walk away when they want something. They may push, shown through crying and persistence, and won’t give up on their current request. Regardless of your willingness to ignore them or try to redirect the behavior.
How to Calm Down A Hyper Cat
Hyperactivity is very common in cats and most often occurs in pets that spend a good amount of time alone, mainly in the house.
These cats are bored and have excess energy that they do not know how to use. They can’t hunt real mice and birds, nor can they climb trees, so they develop other habits to make time pass.
There are many ways in which you can help your hyperactive cat calm down.
Play With Your Cat Often
Through play, kittens develop their coordination and hunting skills. They learn to adjust their speed to the speed of moving objects and measure distances by jumping. Playtime gives kittens a chance to learn and make decisions based on experience.
Cats that live in an environment without challenges, with no “prey” to hunt, will attack moving fingers or chase imaginary prey on drapes or curtains, on tablecloths or furniture, destroying everything during this process. Cats can also become hyperactive when bored.
We recommend playing with your cat for at least 15 minutes per day. Or at least budget this amount of time for play, and show your cat that they have your undivided attention. This can help utilize any built-up energy and strengthen your bond.
Feed Your Cat Before Bedtime
If your cat is especially hyperactive at night, you can feed it before bedtime. This way, it will let you and your family members sleep longer because they won’t have the energy to run around or meow all night.
You can also combine play and feeding before bedtime. Play with your cat for 15 minutes, and then give it some food. The combination of these two should exhaust your cat for a nice period of time.
Just try to ensure that the calories you feed your cat before bed are part of their expected intake each day, and not in addition to it. We’ve put together an extensive guide on how much to feed a cat so you can calculate those calories effectively.
We stress this point as Carolyn McDaniel, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has stated “probably 50 percent of cats seen at veterinary clinics these days are overweight, if not obese.” As such, we should do our best to keep our cat’s weight in check!
Walk Your Cat
The outdoor environment is full of beneficial stimuli for your cat – olfactory, visual, and auditory.
Walking your cat outside is another way to calm your hyperactive cat. But, if you don’t have a securely fenced-in yard, you should walk your cat on a leash with a harness. We’ve put together a robust training guide on how to leash train your cat. We discuss every step of the process to ensure you and your cat feel safe and happy.
Exercise is a great way to enable your cat to release some energy, as well as maintain a healthy lifestyle and refrain from becoming overweight or obese.
Adopt Another Pet
If time and budget allow it, you can bring home a companion for your hyperactive cat. Although this does not always guarantee success so you must do it in a careful manner.
The animals may not get along, and then the new pet may become a stressor for your hyperactive cat. It is recommended to properly introduce your pets when they first meet to lower the chances for this to happen.
But the benefits can be exceptional. Having two or more pets helps them consume their energy better and gives your cat a new partner in crime – for the crimes they prefer a partner for at least.
The hard truth is that some cats simply don’t want another pet around. And that is completely fine! Just be sure that you work with your vet and devise a plan to introduce the animals to each other and slowly but surely let them get comfortable with living together.
Talk To Your Cat With a Soft Voice
Use a soft tone when your cat is hyperactive. If you get angry and start raising your voice, being agitated, and gesturing a lot, you will stress your cat and it may become even more hyperactive.
If stress or anxiety is the driving force behind your cat’s hyperactivity or other ADHD-like symptoms, it will not be fixed by adding more stress to their environment.
Use Calming Diffusers For Cats
Another method to calm your hyperactive cat is to use calming diffusers specially designed for pets. They are proven to work in calming anxious or hyperactive cats.
These products often mimic a cat’s pheromones which can help in calming a cat down and relieving stress.
A great one to check out is the FELIWAY Classic Cat Calming Pheromone Diffuser.
How to Help a Cat With ADHD
The recommendations under “How to Calm Down A Hyper Cat” are a great starting point. In addition to those tips, we recommend the below:
- Playtime with puzzles. Play with your cat a lot (at least 15 minutes per day) and provide it with puzzle food toys. It will help your pet focus and consume its energy. We highly recommend this Petstages Interactive Cat Puzzle.
- Positive reinforcement. Celebrate the things your cat does well, and ignore them when they do things you don’t like. The more treats you provide for good behavior will likely lead to more good behavior. Never punish your cat for its “bad” behavior. You brought a little creature that plays by different rules, so do your best to acclimate as well.
Last but not least: medication. Work with your vet to help them understand your cat’s behavior and have them assist in finding a medication that may help. In a perfect world, you won’t need the assistance of medicine to help your cat’s behavior. But there are instances where a cat truly needs a bit of medicinal assistance to aid its behavior.
Is ADHD Dangerous For a Cat To Have?
No, it’s not. A cat can live a long, beautiful, and normal life with ADHD-like symptoms. The one who needs to adapt is you!
There may be a period of adjusting to each other, but your cat shouldn’t have any long-term adverse effects.
Never give your cat human ADHD medication, such as Adderall, because it is toxic to cats and can lead to your pet’s death.
Final Thoughts: Can Cats Have ADHD?
Cats can present ADHD-like symptoms, but there is no official diagnosis for ADHD in cats. It is very difficult to diagnose in cats due to the fact their usual behavior isn’t that different from what you’d expect to see in a cat with ADHD.
Before you make any decisions, go see a vet for a proper diagnosis. Sometimes cats can present symptoms due to other causes, such as emotional stressors like anxiety or depression, or physical stressors like a change in their environment.
If you think your cat has ADHD, you can note down its sleeping routine and overall behavior. It will help your pet’s veterinarian to make a correct diagnosis.
Just remember, a cat is limited in its understanding of the world and our expectations of it. Be patient, show them relentless love and affection, and be flexible.