lethargic dog

Collection

Lethargic Dog: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Veterinarians.org Team

By

Medically reviewed by

Ivana Crnec, DVM

Advertiser Disclosure

The products featured on this page are from our partners. We may be compensated for purchases made through these links. However, this does not influence our reviews and ratings. We independently research and test the products we recommend and our opinions are our own.

What is a Lethargic Dog?

what is a lethargic dog

A lethargic dog is a dog that shows little to no interest in the usual day-to-day activities like eating, playing, or interacting with its owner.

Lethargy, as a condition, means having a lack of energy and enthusiasm. It can affect a dog to varying degrees ranging from minimal to extreme.

Lethargy is not a diagnosis on its own – it is a symptom indicating an underlying condition. The possible causes of a lethargic dog can be benign or complex. Therefore, a lethargic dog needs to be seen by a licensed DVM.

What are Signs of Lethargy in Dogs?

What are Signs of Lethargy in Dogs

The signs of a lethargic dog can vary from increased sleepiness to appetite changes to lack of stamina. Here is a more thorough overview of what a lethargic dog may exhibit.

  • Sleeping more than usual. Judging from your dog’s usual sleep schedule, you should be able to tell if your dog is sleeping too much. In some cases, a lethargic dog might sleep normally but stay in a sleeping position during waking hours. If the new sleeping habits occur for more than a day or two, it may be an indicator of something unusual.
  • Lack of appetite. This is a common symptom in a lethargic dog with many of them losing interest in eating and drinking. If your dog ignores its favorite food or eats less than usual, it could be lethargic. Loss of appetite is a universal symptom than may appear with a variety of diseases and conditions.
  • Unresponsiveness to commands. A lethargic dog might stop responding to your calls or activities like arriving back home, calling her for treats, and instructing her to move. Keep in mind that older dogs may become unresponsive due to a declining hearing sense.
  • Lack of interest in toys and other activities. Bringing up your dog’s favorite activities is a good way of testing if she isn’t feeling like herself. Normally, your dog should jump with joy at the sight of her favorite toys. However, if she is lethargic, she will show hesitation and general disinterest in things she usually loves.
  • More frequent accidents in the house. You may notice more urination and defecation accidents if your dog is lethargic. This is often because of reduced energy and will to move to a more suitable place. Older dogs can be prone to more frequent accidents due to forgetfulness and decreased ability to hold.

Why is My Dog Lethargic All of a Sudden?

Like the conditions that usually trigger it, lethargy usually develops over time. A sudden change in your dog’s behavior may be indicative of a sudden occurrence like a physical injury or poisoning.

Many normal household items that are safe for humans can be harmful to dogs for example garlic and medications like ibuprofen. If your dog appears listless all of a sudden, it may be worth retracing what she ate during the day in addition to her dog food.

All the other common causes of lethargy like illness, mental health, and infections can also cause sudden changes in your behavior. In some cases, the change might seem sudden to you when in fact, it has developed over time.

What Causes Lethargy in Dogs?

What Causes Lethargy in Dogs

Lethargy can be caused by something as normal as old age to something as alarming as a disease. Here is a list of some of the more common causes of lethargy in dogs.

  • Old Age. Just like humans, dogs get slower as they age. It is normal for dogs to seem slightly lethargic as they reach their senior years. It is also normal for them to be more irritable and less interested in their surroundings.
  • Injuries. Injuries will make your dog more lethargic due to the pain or discomfort. Pain is a potent trigger in dogs that affects their overall behavior and wellbeing. Pain also has a negative impact on healing and must be managed accordingly.
  • Parasite Infection. Parasitic infestations in dogs are a common issue. Intestinal parasites are common and in addition to causing digestive issues, stunt growth, and poor coat and skin quality, they can also make a dog lethargic.
  • Obesity. Overweight dogs tend to move slower or completely lose interest in moving. In most cases, it is due to the excess weight they have to carry but sometimes obesity can progress into other symptoms like difficulty breathing and arthritis.
  • Depression. Mental stress and anxiety can make your dog less interested in engaging with the environment. Depression in dogs can be triggered by factors like illness, change in environment, or being separated from the owner.
  • Anemia. This is a condition where a dog has fewer red blood cells than normal. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, one of the effects of anemia is decreased energy level. Anemia has a serious impact on the dog’s health.
  • Infections. Infections can be caused by a variety of pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. The most common infections in dogs are Lyme disease, distemper, parvovirus, heartworm disease, and kennel cough.
  • Systemic Conditions. Systemic diseases and conditions are linked with pain and overall organ dysfunction which result in lethargy. Common systemic conditions in dogs are liver disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
  • Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces low levels of thyroid hormones. It causes exercise intolerance, weight gain, cold intolerance, and lethargy.
  • Hypoglycemia. Also known as low blood sugar, hypoglycemia can be caused by hunger or issues with the pancreas (diabetes mellitus or pancreatic cancer). Hypoglycemia can make dogs act more lethargic than usual.
  • Chronic Ailments. An array of chronic conditions in dogs can result in lethargy. Common examples are tumors, osteoarthritis, and heart problems. The lethargy can be the result of pain or general weakness.
  • Medications and Supplements. Certain medications and supplements can make a dog lethargic. For example, gabapentin in dogs is expected to cause lethargy. Also, CBD oils can trigger lethargy if given in excess amounts.

Is My Dog Lethargic or Just Tired?

Is My Dog Lethargic or Just Tired

Lethargy in dogs can look similar to tiredness but the two conditions differ in the underlying cause.

For example, a healthy dog that spent the whole day playing at the dog park is probably just tired. On the other hand, a dog living with a chronic condition that suddenly appears out of it is likely lethargic.

Also, some dogs naturally have low energy. Namely, dog breeds like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Basset Hounds have lower energy levels than hyperactive dogs like Siberian Huskies, Beagles, and Jack Russell Terriers.

As a pet owner, you should know your dog’s normal behavior so you make a judgment call on whether they are lethargic or just tired.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog Being Lethargic?

You should be concerned if your lethargic dog is acting weird for more than a couple of days. A lethargic dog is also worrisome if it shows additional signs and symptoms.

Namely, you need to seek veterinary help if your dog’s lethargy is accompanied by loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, jaundice.

A lethargic dog can be suffering from a life-threatening illness like congestive heart failure or even cancer, so early diagnosis and treatment are vital.

How do You Treat a Dog With Lethargy?

How do You Treat a Dog With Lethargy

The best treatment for a lethargic dog depends on its underlying cause. Lethargy is a symptom and will resolve as soon as its trigger is addressed.

Pay attention to the other symptoms your lethargic dog is showing and explain to the vet exactly what you have noticed. The more information you give the vet, the easier it will be for them to find the issue.

Adequate veterinary care is expensive. To prepare yourself for such expenses, it is advisable to invest in a good pet insurance plan. With OneVet, you get 24/7 access to a licensed vet for only $19.99 a month.

That’s not all, with the same plan, you get pet health insurance that includes coverage for all pre-existing conditions for up to six dogs and a $3000 emergency fund for vet bills.