Lethargy in dogs

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

All dogs love their daily walks, well most of them anyway so if your dog seems tired and unenthusiastic about going out or doing other activities, they usually enjoy such as playing or eating it can be a bit of a worry.

There could be an obvious reason for your dog feeling lethargic – maybe it’s very hot or perhaps your pooch is exhausted after a long walk or adventure, but it can also be the first clue you get that your dog isn’t feeling quite himself.

What is lethargy in dogs?

You know your dog and you know what’s normal for him, however, if your dog’s tired all the time and you can’t explain it away, you’ll want to find out why. The cause of lethargy in dogs can be down to many things, as it is a symptom that something’s wrong and not an ailment in itself.

Try not to get too stressed out as it may be because of something quite minor that’s easily treatable but it can be indicative of a chronic underlying condition or a serious illness, and that needs to be addressed.

What causes lethargy in dogs?

If you are thinking to yourself ‘my dog seems more tired than usual’ it’s natural to worry about what’s causing it.

It could be something really simple, for instance, my oldest girl appears very lethargic and goes right off her food when she’s coming into season. Perhaps your pooch has had a change in his daily routine which has stressed him out, maybe he’s started attending an exciting new dog daycare centre – that can really tire a pup out!

If your dog is a senior he might just be slowing down, the ageing process affects our canine companions in much the same way as it does us, humans, they need more sleep and become less active meaning they need fewer calories hence losing some of their appetite.

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Some older pooches start to suffer from osteoarthritis, a painful condition which might be another reason that they don’t want to move about so much. Senior dogs are also more prone to obesity and that in itself can leave them feeling drained of energy, preferring to spend all their time snoozing in a sun puddle rather than going for a good sniff in the great outdoors.

One of the most common reasons for young dogs and puppies to lacklustre is a parasite infection, and this one is avoidable so be sure to keep up with your pups worming regime.

Poor nutrition can be a factor in dogs of any age, low quality, highly processed dog foods that contain a high proportion of fillers like wheat, don’t really contain the optimum amount of nutrients to keep your dog healthy and happy. Think about it, if you ate a diet of bread and butter with a just a smidgeon of protein, you’d be pretty tired and lack enthusiasm for life, wouldn’t you? The same goes for dogs!

Dehydration is one to really be aware of, especially in summer, if your dog isn’t drinking he will definitely lack energy, try to encourage him to take some water but if he won’t and when you pinch his skin it doesn’t spring back immediately it’s probably wise to talk with your vet.

Another food-related cause of your dog being very tired, usually along with other symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting might be down to him ingesting something that doesn’t agree with him such as rancid food or something that is toxic to dogs e.g. garlic, onions, chocolate or chemicals.

Just like us, dogs can suffer from anxiety and depression which can cause them to lose interest in things they normally enjoy, never feel silly to go to your vet and say ‘my dog seems sad and tired’ if you are worried about his mental health.

Lethargy can also be a symptom of many other conditions including anaemia, respiratory problems, pancreatitis, cancer, heart conditions, liver disease, anal gland problems, urinary tract infections, parvovirus, an infection or dental issues, so don’t hesitate to take your dog to visit the vet if he is acting out of character and lethargic for more than 24 hours, sooner if you are worried about his other symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of lethargy in dogs

Dogs sleep a lot, in fact, our canine companions will spend almost half their lives napping, usually though if they catch a sniff of their food being prepared or hear the sound of their lead jangling, they are suddenly wide awake and ready to take on the world.

A tired dog that doesn’t respond to his normal stimulus is clearly a reason for concern.

Dog’s with lethargy often seem to have lost all their energy, have a reduced or no appetite and can even appear depressed as well as spending an inordinate amount of time asleep. Your pooch might be acting out of character, for example by being intolerant of other dogs they usually get along with or seeming disinterested in cuddles, toys or human company.

Sometimes your dog's tiredness might be accompanied by other symptoms too such as shaking, diarrhoea, breathlessness, restlessness or it could be that you think your pooch appears disorientated or weak.

As you can see there really are so many different symptoms that might accompany your dog’s listlessness depending on the reason behind it, but one thing’s for sure your furry friend can’t tell you what’s causing it and the only way to find out is by having him checked out at the vet.

How to treat lethargy in dogs

In some cases, if your dog’s tiredness is due to overexertion or a mild passing bug, 24 hours rest and relaxation is probably all your pup needs to bounce back to his normal self, eagerly greeting you at the door again with his tail wagging furiously.

However, if his symptoms go on for longer your dog really needs to visit the vet. His treatment will vary widely depending on the condition he is diagnosed with. Some issues such as a parasite infection or a dietary indiscretion can probably be resolved quite simply, but if it turns out to be a more serious problem such as canine diabetes, heart problems or a respiratory disease your pet may require a longer-term treatment plan.

If your vet thinks that inadequate nutrition is to blame or if your pooch has been found to be suffering from pancreatitis or IBS you might find that transitioning your dog onto a low processed, healthy diet such as Pure could make a marked difference to your furry friend's energy levels.

Pure is also fabulous for senior dogs who might need something more than a bowl of dry biscuits to tempt them to eat, as dogs just like us can become more selective later in life, the food is also suitable for dogs that need to keep an eye on their waistline or have dental issues, both of which can be the culprit of lethargy.

What is the best food for lethargic dogs?

A good diet is key to preventing lethargy in dogs of all ages. The best dog food for lethargy should contain quality protein and dietary fibre to provide energy, as well as some complex-carbohydrates that provide slow-releasing energy.

If your pup is eating an appropriate amount of food for their size and age, and it contains these key components, they should have enough energy for the whole day and feel energised enough to enjoy playing and walkies.

However, if your dog is feeling unwell or out of sorts, they can easily become lethargic. Many preventable conditions such as obesity will affect your dog’s ability to move and sap their energy levels, leading to their lacklustre mood and aversion to exercise. Feeding your dog a balanced diet packed full of vitamins and minerals will give their immune system a boost and ensure their body has all the nutrition required to stay healthy and active.

Pure create a range of recipes, all packed full of wholesome goodness thanks to the gently air-dried, natural ingredients. It's nutritious, delicious dinners will help your pooch to maintain a healthy weight, strong immune system, and plenty of slow-releasing energy to keep them happy and active throughout the day.

Another positive of Pure is that it helps to keep dehydration at bay, which is another common cause for lethargy. If it’s a hot day or you’re worried your pup is dehydrated, just use more water in their Pure food to encourage them to eat up and top up their fluids.

It’s also important to consider that some foods can cause lethargy in dogs. For instance, if your dog has bursts of energy followed by lethargic periods, it is likely caused by spikes in their blood sugar. 

Kibble (dry dog food) can inundate their system with glucose from the digestion of simple carbs and sugars, leading to these highs and lows of activity. Such highly-processed foods often use low-quality ingredients too, like protein meal and lots of grains, which won’t deliver optimum nutrition for your dog and over time can lead to a lack of energy as well as deficiencies in some nutrients.

Pure is perfect for pups of all sizes and ages and packed full of wholesome, natural ingredients.