Lethargic dog

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Dogs like to lounge around now and then, but you might have noticed that your dog is unusually lethargic lately. If your dog is lethargic, there are lots of things that could be causing it. It could be that your dog got into something toxic, or it could be something as simple as dehydration or anxiety. Anxiety may also come with symptoms such as your dog chewing its paws.

So, what is lethargy in dogs? Lethargy is a generalized term for decreased activity level. Lethargy isn’t necessarily a condition on its own, but is generally caused by other conditions. Because of this, lethargy is one of the most common clinical signs of illness in a dog. If your dog is lethargic, it may very well be the result of an illness.

While lethargy in dogs can be caused by lots of different things, it can also be a sign of a serious illness. If your pet has been lethargic, they should be checked out by a vet immediately to determine if a serious illness is present. Here’s what you need to know if your dog has been feeling lethargic lately.

What is lethargy?

Lethargy is a condition characterized by a lack of energy. While it’s normal for your dog to take naps and lounge around occasionally, it’s also normal for dogs to have energy and want to play. If your dog is lethargic, you might notice they don’t want to get up and go for walks or go outside to play anymore. There are a host of other symptoms that may be present with lethargy, but it depends on the cause.

In many cases, lethargy is caused by illnesses in dogs. From puppy separation anxiety to cancer, tons of things cause lethargy. Lethargy isn’t a condition on its own, but it’s a common symptom that’s present with  many different illnesses. Because of this, it’s important to visit a vet if your dog is lethargic to figure out  the underlying cause.

Keep in mind that lethargy is very different from your dog simply being lazy. While a dog that’s just being lazy might get out of its bed for a treat or to go for a walk, a lethargic dog may be slower to respond to stimuli. It’s important to learn what to watch for when it comes to lethargy in dogs; these different cues will help you determine when to take your dog to the vet.

Sleeping dog on bed

Signs your dog is lethargic

If your dog is particularly lazy, you might be wondering what the big deal is when it comes to lethargy.  Lethargy in dogs is much different from simple laziness, and there are signs you can look for to determine whether your dog is being lazy or there’s something wrong. Here are some of the signs you should watch for if you’re worried that your dog is lethargic:

  • No interest in playing or going for a walk
  • Slower to react to sensory stimulation
  • Generally acting out of character
  • Excessively tired, groggy, slow

Signs of lethargy in dogs

As soon as you notice these signs, you should consider taking your dog to a vet for a proper diagnosis. Lethargy is often a sign of an illness, so it’s important to get a diagnosis and figure out the best treatment option.

Symptoms that May Be Present with Lethargy

The following symptoms are commonly seen in a lethargic dog, and may help you and your vet determine the reason for your dog’s sluggishness:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Pain
  • Breathing issues
  • Restlessness
  • Disorientation
  • Behavioral issues
  • Weakness
  • Shaking

A dog with a fever, lethargy, and no appetite may be a sign of a serious  illness, so it’s important to talk to your vet about the symptoms your dog is experiencing. You should also contact a vet immediately if your dog is vomiting and is lethargic.

Common Causes of Lethargy in Dogs


Lethargy can be caused by one of several types of infections. It could be that your dog has heartworm, an external parasite, or some type of bacterial or viral infection that’s causing lethargy.

Metabolic disease

Dogs may also experience lethargy as a result of metabolic diseases,  ranging from hypothyroidism to   diabetes in dogs. Lethargy caused by these diseases often presents itself with other symptoms, in addition to lethargy


Certain medications may lead to lethargy in dogs. If your dog is lethargic after starting a new medication, talk to your vet to figure out if that medication could be the cause.


Anemia is a blood condition characterized by an abnormally low amount of red blood cells in the blood vessels that can cause lethargy. Anemia typically comes with symptoms including dark stools, bruising, and pale gums.

Toxic Ingestion

Your dog may also be lethargic because they ingested something toxic. Toxins that make your dog feel bad will lead to lethargy, so make sure you rule that out. If you believe your pet has ingested a toxin, please contact your veterinarian immediately, as treatment for toxin ingestion is time sensitive.

Trauma or Injury

An injury or other trauma may lead to lethargy in dogs as well. If your dog is injured, it’s important to visit your vet to make sure the injury is treated properly and heals the right way.

Anxiety or fear

Anxiety and fear are common emotions in dogs, but excessive anxiety or fear can lead to lethargy. A vet or dog trainer can help you discover ways to relieve anxiety and make your dog feel better.

Urinary Tract Infections

Lethargy can be caused by UTIs as well as other infections, so make sure your dog is checked for a UTI.


Your dog could be feeling lethargic because it’s dehydrated. Make sure your dog is getting enough water and see if that helps with the lethargy.

Respiratory problems

If your dog is having trouble breathing, that can also lead to lethargy. You should always visit the vet if your dog is experiencing respiratory issues.


Glaucoma is a painful condition and not only affects your dog’s eyesight, but can also lead to lethargy. If your dog has glaucoma, your vet may be able to recommend treatment to help reduce lethargy.


Cancer is a common disease in dogs, so it’s important to rule it out as a possible cause for lethargy. Your vet can perform tests to determine whether or not your dog has cancer.

Common causes of lethargy in dogs

Treatment for a Lethargic Dog

If your dog has been showing signs of lethargy for more than a day, getting treatment is important. However, proper treatment for a lethargic dog depends on the diagnosis, because it could be a simple problem or it could be a serious illness. Understanding the root cause of lethargy is key when it comes to deciding on the best treatment option.

My Dog is Lethargic: Frequently Asked Questions

When should I be concerned about my dog being lethargic?

You should be concerned if your dog has shown signs of lethargy for more than a day. This may be an indicator that your dog is suffering from an illness, so you should visit a vet to get a proper diagnosis if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.

What can I do if my dog is lethargic?

The most important thing you can do if your dog is lethargic is to determine the underlying cause. Treatment for lethargy depends on the root cause, so getting a diagnosis from a vet is an important first step in getting your dog healthy again.

What are the symptoms of a lethargic dog?

A lethargic dog may be reluctant to play or go for a walk, have a slow reaction time, and act out of character in general. If you notice these signs for an extended period of time, visit a vet to figure out what’s wrong.

Is lethargy in dogs an emergency?

For the most part, lethargy in dogs isn’t an emergency. However, lethargy can be an emergency because it can be caused by so many different things. The best thing you can do is take your dog to the vet to get a diagnosis.

Lethargic dog

Final Notes

When you love your pets, there’s nothing more important than making sure they’re happy and healthy. Lethargy can be a big problem in dogs, and it may be a sign that there’s a bigger problem. From how to stop a dog from barking to how to recognize and treat lethargy, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities as a pet owner.

The good news is, Dutch makes it easy to get your dog quality treatment from the comfort of your home. We can connect you with vets who can help you figure out what’s wrong with your pet and prescribe medications that you can receive at your doorstep. If your dog is lethargic, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine if a serious illness is present. 




  1. Kovalkovičová, Natália, et al. “Some Food Toxic for Pets.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology, Slovak Toxicology Society SETOX, Sept. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984110/.

  2. Kovalkovičová, Natália, et al. “Some Food Toxic for Pets.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology, Slovak Toxicology Society SETOX, Sept. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984110/.

  3. “Diarrhea.” The Animal Medical Center, 21 Sept. 2020, https://www.amcny.org/pet_health_library/diarrhea/.

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