Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Lethargy in dogs, explained

The essentials

  • Canine lethargy is usually a symptom of another health issue — Dogs can become lethargic when they’re injured, sick, or poisoned, among other reasons.
  • Tiredness and lethargy aren’t the same thing — While it’s normal for dogs to be tired after exercise or play, they should still be able to go about their everyday routine.
  • Consult your veterinarian for lethargy treatment — Your vet will be able to determine the cause of your dog’s lethargy and solutions.

Dogs love their rest. Most adult dogs spend around 50% of the day sleeping, 30% relaxing, and just 20% being active. So how do you know when your best friend is tired versus lethargic?

There are several underlying causes of canine lethargy, which can include an injury, infection, or metabolic disease. Your veterinarian can help you get to the bottom of your pup’s lack of energy and determine the best remedy for the problem.

What is lethargy in dogs?

Canine lethargy is prolonged fatigue that makes it difficult for your dog to get up and go about their everyday activities, like neighborhood walks or playing with toys. This energy depletion is typically a symptom of a health issue your dog may be experiencing rather than a condition in and of itself. If your fur baby is disinterested in their usual stimulants like a ringing doorbell or their food bowl getting refilled, it may be time to make a vet appointment.

Is lethargy in dogs normal?

Like humans, dogs can feel drained after a long day of physical activity or stress. If you’ve just gotten back from a camping trip or playing outside on a hot summer day, then your dog will likely enter couch potato mode upon returning.

On the other hand, if your dog hasn’t done anything too mentally or physically exerting and is lounging more than usual, then they may be experiencing lethargy. Even low-energy breeds like to get their daily dose of exercise and playtime, so owners should be concerned if all their dog wants to do is lay around.

Tired dogs versus lethargic dogs

With all the rest our snuggle babies like to get, it can be hard to gauge whether they’re feeling lethargic or just being a dog. Let’s compare a tired dog and a lethargic one:

Tiredness Lethargy
Listlessness Still willing to go about daily routine A lack of interest in walking or other everyday activities
Appetite Will get up if you offer treats or feed them, drinks sufficient amount of water Unmotivated by treats or meal
Delayed reactions Jumps up at the doorbell or their owner coming home May take a while to get up and investigate stimulants, if at all
Temperament changes Tired only after a normal bout of energy Not as active or playful as normal
Prolonged rest Will get up feeling energized after a nap Will continue resting after long periods of sleep

Common causes of lethargy in dogs

Canine lethargy is typically emblematic of another health condition your dog may be experiencing. Here are some common causes of a pup’s sudden energy depletion:

  • Injury. Moving around may exacerbate a dog’s pain when they’ve been injured, causing them to lie around instead.
  • Infection. Lethargy is symptomatic of several viral and bacterial infections in dogs, including canine influenza, Lyme disease, and Bordetella.
  • Metabolic disease. In some cases, your dog’s lethargy may be triggered by hormones like insulin or cortisol. Metabolic diseases include diabetes and Cushing’s disease.
  • Allergies. If your dog’s low energy is paired with incessant scratching, they may be experiencing seasonal allergies.
  • Depression or anxiety. Dogs distressed from anxiety or depression may become lethargic. Keep an eye out for shaking or loss of appetite as well.
  • Poisoning. Seek emergency veterinary care if your pup’s lethargy is paired with vomiting or labored breathing, as this could be a sign of poisoning.

Lethargy at different life stages

Age is certainly a consideration when it comes to determining if your pooch is lethargic, and potential causes. Dogs have different energy expectations at different life stages, so you’ll have to take that into account when they’re snoozing the day away.

Here’s how to spot lethargy in dogs of all ages:

How to tell if a puppy is lethargic

Puppies are known for their high energy levels and require a lot more sleep than their adult counterparts. Because of their small stature, they burn energy quickly and need ample rest to recuperate.

To differentiate between tiredness and lethargy in puppies, you’ll have to consider their behavior after they wake up from their slumber. A healthy puppy should return to their hyper and playful state after they rest long enough, while a lethargic one may be slower to get up and move around. If they’re not easy to rouse, hypoglycemia or infection may be present.

How to tell if an adult dog is lethargic

Adult dogs require less rest than puppies but still spend a great deal of their day in the horizontal position (perhaps curled up like a ball). The more you get to know your dog’s personality, the easier it will be to spot lethargy because it’s just any depletion from their normal energy level.

Does your canine companion usually perk up when you enter the room? Do they sprint to the kitchen when you open the cabinet you keep their treats in? What about barking uncontrollably when the mail person comes or the neighbor’s dog gets let out?

Then you’d likely raise eyebrows if they suddenly stopped doing any of these things and just lied in place. As mentioned, you can expect your best friend to be drained from a healthy dose of exercise and play, but if they’re spending all their time in bed without stimulation, you should call the vet.

How to tell if a senior dog is lethargic

Dogs slow down as they get older, so it’s not out of the ordinary for a senior dog to spend more time resting than they did when they were younger. But while increased fatigue is to be expected, it can also be a sign of one of the many health conditions that elderly dogs are prone to, like arthritis.

It will be more difficult to spot lethargy in senior dogs than in puppies or adults because their temperament is generally much more laid back. This is why routine vet visits are important for older dogs to catch problems like kidney disease or diabetes early.

When is lethargy in dogs an emergency?

While not all signs of lethargy in dogs are cause for alarm, there are a handful of additional symptoms to watch out for. When lethargy is accompanied by these symptoms, seek emergency veterinary care:

  • Pale gum color. In addition to being a sign of anemia, pale gums can also be symptomatic of anemia or internal bleeding.
  • Blue or purple tongue. Though some breeds like Chow Chows and Shar-Peis are known for their blueish tongues, a normally red tongue could turn blue or purple from a lack of oxygen.
  • Distended abdomen. Large, deep-chested breeds like Great Danes and boxers are prone to bloating, which happens when a dog’s stomach fills too quickly with food, gas, or fluid and can twist. Other signs include restlessness and unproductive retching.
  • Vomiting. Vomiting along with lethargy can be a sign of a serious condition requiring urgent veterinary care. 
  • Labored breathing. Signs your pup is struggling to breathe include restlessness or pacing, increased panting, persistent coughing or wheezing, increased respiratory effort, and running out of breath during non-strenuous workouts. Labored breathing could be caused by many things, such as exposure to toxins, various diseases, or trauma. 

End-of-life lethargy in dogs

Nobody wants to think about potentially losing a family member, but in severe cases, lethargy can be a sign that a dog is about to die or has a poor quality of life. Consult your veterinarian regarding end-of-life care for a painless transition.

How vets treat lethargy in dogs

Because lethargy is usually a symptom of something else, your vet will need to start by performing a physical examination to determine the root cause of your pet’s fatigue. Diagnostic testing like x-rays, blood work, and other tests may be necessary for further evaluation.

Upon finding the source of your dog’s lethargy, your vet will put together a treatment plan. This could include medication such as antibiotics or antiemetics, fluid administration, or other supportive care. Depending on the condition that is diagnosed, more invasive treatment may be necessary, such as surgery in the event of a tumor.

They say “a tired dog is a good dog,” but a lethargic dog warrants concern. At the end of the day, you know your dog best. If they’re lethargic for more than 24 hours or show any other symptoms, it’s best to call your vet or visit an animal hospital.

Frequently asked questions

When should I take my dog to the vet for lethargy?

Dogs whose lethargy is accompanied by other symptoms like loss of appetite or shaking should be brought to the veterinarian for a check-up. Even if there are no other symptoms, you should make an appointment if the lethargy lasts over 24 hours.

Why is my dog lethargic all of a sudden?

There are several causes of canine lethargy, including injuries, infections, systemic disease, and poisoning. If your dog also has pale gums, labored breathing, or is vomiting, go to your nearest ER vet immediately,

What can I give my dog for lethargy?

Consult your vet before trying to treat your dog’s lethargy on your own because it may be a sign of an underlying condition that hasn’t been properly diagnosed.

Is my dog lethargic or just tired?

While tiredness can be expected after a long hike or time spent in the sun, dog’s with prolonged fatigue may have lethargy. A tired dog will likely still get up when it’s time for dinner or the doorbell rings, while a lethargic dog may be reluctant to move even when stimulants are present.

When should I be concerned about my sick dog?

Certain symptoms that don’t go away on their own, like lethargy or trouble breathing, should warrant concern from owners. Consult your vet if your dog has symptoms that persist more than a day.