Is my dog lethargic? 

Article At A Glance

  • While dogs need a lot of sleep, lethargy is a real issue in dogs
  • You can spot lethargy in dogs by keeping your eyes out for certain symptoms, such as excess tiredness, slow reactions, and loss of appetite
  • There are a variety of ailments that may cause lethargy in dogs, such as stress, diabetes, or pain

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • What is lethargy in dogs?
  • Signs of lethargy in dogs
  • Common causes of lethargy in dogs
  • How to treat a lethargic dog
  • Dog Lethargy: Conclusion

While most dogs love going for walks and spending time outdoors, dogs also love to sleep. The average adult dog sleeps between 12 and 14 hours per day, and puppies sometimes sleep as much as 18 to 20 hours per day.

Because dogs sleep so much, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a dog that’s relaxing and a dog that’s suffering from lethargy.

Is your dog lethargic? How can you tell? Read on to learn everything you need to know about lethargy in dogs. 

What is Lethargy in Dogs?

In medical terms, lethargy is a pathological state where one experiences a state of inactivity, sleepiness, or unresponsiveness. Humans, as well as dogs, can experience lethargy. It’s important to understand that lethargy is not a disease or illness. Rather, lethargy is a symptom of a disease or illness. The diseases and problems that can cause lethargy can range from issues to serious, life-threatening illnesses. Therefore, it’s very important to pay attention to your dog’s energy levels to ensure they’re not suffering from lethargy. 

Signs of Lethargy in Dogs

So, how can you tell if your dog is actually suffering from lethargy and not just trying to get in a little extra R&R? Here are some of the main signs and symptoms of lethargy in dogs:

  • Excessive tiredness, grogginess, or slowness
  • Sleeping for extended periods of time (or sleeping a lot longer than normal)
  • Lack of interest in normal activities, such as playing fetch or going for walks
  • Slow reactions to sensory stimulations
  • Acting out of character 
  • Appearing dazed or confused
  • Shunning food and water in favor of sleeping
  • Not responding when you call them 

For example, let’s say your dog eagerly greets you at the door every day when you arrive home from work. One day, you arrive home to find your dog lying on the ground with no interest in your arrival. If this happens repeatedly, there’s a chance your dog is suffering from lethargy.

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Common Causes of Lethargy in Dogs

Lethargy in dogs doesn’t just come out of nowhere. As we mentioned earlier, something has to cause it. Here are some of the most common causes of lethargy in dogs:

Heart Problems

There are various cardiac issues that can lead to lethargy in dogs. For example, valvular dysfunction occurs when a dog’s tissues aren’t getting enough oxygenated blood. This can lead to lethargy and exercise intolerance. Later symptoms might include lack of appetite, coughing, excessive panting, and shortness of breath. Identifying the lethargy early on can help you treat the cardiac issue before it gets worse.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which a dog’s thyroid gland is underactive. As dogs age, their thyroid glands sometimes don’t work as efficiently as they used to, which can lead to their bodies not producing enough of the thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism can make your dog lethargic, and it can also cause them to gain weight and lose their hair. However, once a veterinarian diagnoses hypothyroidism, treatment is simple. Typically, your dog will just need to take daily medication and go to the vet for routine checkups.

In addition to lethargy, weight gain, and hair loss, here are some other signs of hypothyroidism in dogs:

  • Cold intolerance (your dog appears to get cold easily)
  • High cholesterol levels
  • A slowed down heart rate
  • Excessive shedding
  • Increase susceptibility to skin and ear infections 

Some dogs may also develop other abnormalities due to hypothyroidism, such as fat deposits in the corneas of their eyes.

Diabetes

Diabetes can also lead to lethargy in dogs. As is the case with humans, diabetes in dogs is caused by an insufficiency in insulin. In addition to lethargy, dogs suffering from diabetes are also likely to experience thirst and urination. Most dogs who develop diabetes are between the ages of 7 and 10. If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll likely have to start giving insulin shots to them.

Successful treatment will also often require blood and urine tests, regular exams, and weight monitoring. 

Pain

As much as we wish our dogs could live a completely pain-free life, at some point, your dog is going to experience pain. In fact, a recent study found that almost 20 percent of dogs suffer from chronic maladaptive pain in their lives. Your dog may be in pain for a variety of reasons. For example, they could be in pain due to an injury, such as a bite from another animal or an abscess. Or, your dog may be suffering from pain due to a chronic illness, such as arthritis, dental disease, or cancer.

Often, when your dog is in pain, they begin acting lethargic. It can often be difficult to figure out the source of your dog’s pain, so you may need to take them to a vet to get a proper diagnosis.

Stress

Like humans, dogs also experience stress. Often, it’s the owner’s habits that lead to stress in dogs. For example, if you changed your work schedule, welcomed a new family member to the house, or moved to a new home, your dog may begin to feel stressed out. Dogs are creatures of habit, and any small changes in their schedule can cause their stress levels to rise.

If you suspect that your dog is stressed out due to a recent lifestyle change, there’s not much you can do other than to show your dog some extra love and attention until they’re used to their new schedule. 

Mental/Emotional Disorders 

Mental and emotional disorders can also cause your dog to become lethargic. If your dog appears to be otherwise healthy outside of the lethargy, look for signs of:

  • Depression
  • Malnutrition
  • Boredom

Make sure you’re aware of your dog’s current mental state when determining the cause of their lethargy. If you suspect that your dog is feeling bored, lonely, or depressed, you may need to take some extra time to bond with your dog. Or consider taking them to doggie daycare so they can socialize with other dogs.

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Other Causes of Lethargy in Dogs 

There are many other issues that may be causing your dog to be lethargic. These include:

  • Inflammation
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Immune system problems
  • Cancer Glaucoma
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Dehydration
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Hypothermia
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Skin diseases
  • Hormonal changes

Aging can also cause your dog to become more lethargic, so as your dog ages, keep an eye out for signs of them slowing down. 

How to Treat a Lethargic Dog

So, if your dog is suffering from lethargy, is there anything you can do? The answer is yes. Here’s what you can do:

Take Your Dog to the Vet 

While it’s normal for dogs to feel extra tired from time to time, if you suspect that your dog is suffering from lethargy, you should take them to the vet. Because lethargy can be the result of so many different issues, it’s important to get a professional opinion.

Your vet can determine if the lethargy is due to a small issue or if there’s a larger problem at hand that needs to be addressed. 

Let Your Dog Rest 

If your dog’s lethargy is due to a physical illness, it’s important that you give them plenty of time to rest. At least temporarily, you should cut out the long walks or runs with your dog. However, if your dog is suffering from lethargy due to boredom or depression, you may want to exercise them more.

Feed Your Dog a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet 

Feeding your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet can do wonders for their overall health, so make sure you’re giving them the right food. If you’re not sure what kind of diet you should feed your dog, consult with your vet. 

Dog Lethargy: Conclusion 

If you notice that your dog is lethargic, don’t panic. There’s a chance that the lethargy will pass, and your dog will be back to normal in no time. If your dog’s lethargy is due to separation anxiety, check out these top home remedies. 

Written by: Mead Johnston
Mead is an experienced dog trainer, writer, and lover of animals. She has always been surrounded by animals and had a passion for learning more about them every day. This passion grew tremendously when Mead brought home a Great Pyrenees x Golden Retriever named Mac in 2018. Mead has continued to learn more about dogs whenever possible and wherever possible, while also helping so many wonderful clients. Her goal is help her clients and their dogs become confident in their daily lives. As a dog trainer, she often helps clients who are starting off with a puppy or they might have an older dog that is presenting challenging behaviours. Mead believes in the all-natural uses of Pet CBD to help our furry loved ones live longer, happier and healthier lives.

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