My Dog is Lethargic and Not Himself: Unusual Dog Illness Symptoms to Watch out For –

Dogs and humans can have more in common than a lot of people may think. Especially  when feeling unwell is involved. When a person is feeling sick, they can get sluggish, lazy-like, sleepy, and do not want to leave their bed, plus the idea of food and water may not be as pleasing as it was the day before.

Dogs are the same way, except (unlike people) they cannot tell you what is wrong or what to do about it. And, they cannot give themselves medicines or take themselves to the vet so you will need to do all of that for them. This is called lethargy if it lasts for two or more days and could be one of the symptoms of having a pet that has a common cold or some serious health problems.

What is Lethargy?

Lethargy is linked to having a lack of energy and zero enthusiasm. It can be how a person feels when they are under the weather and it can also happen to dogs. Pet owners know their dogs the best and they could be able to tell if they have a sick dog or if their dog is just being a lazy dog.

It is common for dogs to get tired after they had a lot of exercise or house guests have come over for a visit and they got too excited. They would usually need a day, and in the case of older dogs- two days, to get rested and be back to themselves.

However, one of the warning signs is when they still lack energy after two days for older dogs or one day for the young ones. This could be a way that they are telling you that you have a sick dog on your hands. 

Warning Signs of Lethargy in Dogs

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A pet owner should know their dog inside and out since lethargy can get often confused with a tired or lazy dog. A rule of thumb is that if your dog’s behavior is different to how they usually act this could be a cause of concern. A lazy dog chooses when they are active and usually have a reason behind moving either it is to protect a family member or to go and eat their dry or wet food.

However, if a lazy dog does not move when they usually do or even react to you calling them then this can be concerning. All dogs tend to like routine and their behavior is often predictable. If your dog is naturally lazy it does not mean that they are suffering from lethargy.

They will still respond to their name and will still have an appetite for their dog food, regardless of how much they usually eat. Dogs like to eat dog food, but not all dogs eat a lot.

The symptoms of lethargy usually are usually the following:

Your dog is sleeping a lot more than they usually do. Some dogs can sleep up to 10 hours a day so if they go over those hours by a lot and there is no reason for it, i.e. too much exercise or being over excited the day before then this is one of the symptoms. They could also lack energy and they do not respond when they are called.

They do not react to their surroundings in any way that is normal. This means that they do not play with their toys or greet you when you arrive from work or a day out. Another one of the symptoms of lethargy is if your pet seems confused or dizzy.

Another one of the obvious symptoms is a loss of appetite. They do not want to eat food or drink water and would rather sleep regardless of how hungry they could be. Dogs need to eat and your pet knows this.

As mentioned, some dogs do not eat a lot, they take what they need while other dogs could finish all their food, another pet’s food and even your food if given the chance. But they do not have an appetite regardless of what type of food is in front of their noses. A loss of appetite is a major concern, especially if it lasts for a day.      

When to Take Your Dog to the Vet

When you have a sick pet, your main goal, as for any pet owner, is to get them help as soon as possible. If you notice that after a day or two that they do not have an appetite, are sleeping a lot, do not respond to your call and look confused, the best course of action would be to book an appointment with your vet and take your pet in.

Lethargy can indicate many different health problems from the common cold, infections, dog diseases, pain, chronic conditions or a life-threatening illness.

It would be a good idea to tell your vet everything you have noticed about your pet that is out of the ordinary for them regardless of how small you may think it is. Your vet will know what to look for and more information about your dog’s condition would help them out in seeing what they could be up against.

Your vet does not treat lethargy by itself since it is only one of the symptoms of an underlying health issue. They will go for the cause behind the lethargy and once that is solved your dog will go back to its normal, responsive, having a healthy appetite self.   

However, if you do not notice any other symptoms, then the vet may ask to do some tests to get to the root of the problem and these tests could be Baseline lab test, blood tests with blood count, a urinalysis, fecal exam, x-rays or even a biochemical profile.

After this first round of tests are done and something unusually is seen in the results then the vet may ask to do more tests such as MRI or CT scans, cardiac ultrasounds, a neurological exam, biopsies, or bacterial cultures just so they can know what medicine and treatment your pet will need to do in order to get over their lethargy and the root cause of it.

Mental Health

There could be many reasons why you would be saying to yourself ‘my dog is lethargic and not himself’ and one of the reasons, which is not talked about as often as it can be, is poor mental health. Your dog could be suffering from depression, feeling unhappy, or anxiety and these may lead to the symptoms of lethargy.  It is important to keep an eye on the mental health of your pet since they could be feeling lonely, bored, or something or even someone is missing in their lives.

You could have a lost dog that they are also missing a lot or you all have recently moved to a new place that they are not yet used to or it has even been raining for way too long. Things that would affect you could also affect them. For your pets, your vet would hopefully be able to help out in this regard as well.

What Else Causes Lethargy in Dogs  

Besides depression and other mental health issues there could be many other things that cause lethargy in dogs and here are eleven dog diseases that could be behind your pet’s poor appetite, sleepiness and unresponsiveness, which are the common symptoms of lethargy:

         Diarrhea- this could be the reasoning behind your dog’s lacking of wanting to eat their food

         Upset stomach- this can lead to vomiting and another reason behind their rejection of food

         HGE- Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis is a disease which causes the gastrointestinal tract to become inflamed and the symptoms of this is bloody diarrhea and vomiting. This could be deadly if it is not treated as soon as possible

         Medications- there is a chance that your dog could be having a negative reaction to certain medicines, Vetoryl capsules being a common one that may cause lethargy in dogs 

         Bloating- if your dogs has eaten too much or has done exercise after eating too much then their stomach may become enlarged and get twisted which could result in different types of emergency conditions. This could also be another reason behind why they do not want food and since they cannot eat their food they may slip into depression 

         Heart Disease- since the heart is the powerhouse of anybody and your dog having a heart disease could slow them down because not enough energy is getting produced leading to them experience lethargy. Heart disease could even lead to  congestive heart failure

         Lyme Disease- this can be spread by infected ticks and it could cause pain in the dog’s joints as well as leading to kidney disease

         Kidney Disease- this could be more common in older dogs compared to younger ones, but it is still a disease to watch out for regardless of age

         Liver Disease- a disease in the liver can lead to lethargy as well as other health problems since the liver is an important organ that cleans out toxins

         Kennel Cough- this is also known as Infectious Tracheobronchitis which is an infectious respiratory disease that infects the trachea and bronchial tubes. There is a vaccine against it

         Pain- Dogs can feel pain in their joints, organs, throughout their entire bodies. They may not yelp or limp which are common symptoms of healing pain, but instead do not bother moving or getting out of their bed

However, there can be a number of other reasons behind your dog being lethargic such as cancer, fever, dehydration, heart and respiratory conditions, poisoning due to foreign bodies in their system, or even have experienced a physical trauma etc.

Lethargy is only one of the symptoms that could be caused by many other things which your vet would be able to help with.

Young Dogs

Lethargy in dogs can happen regardless of the age of the dogs, but there is a slight difference between young dogs or puppies when compared to older dogs. Puppies could often attach foreign bodies such as parasites, ticks, fleas, heartworms and hookworms which could cause lethargy in dogs of a young age.

However, they could also end up suffering from congenital heart disease, fevers, malnutrition, anemia, pneumonia and Parvovirus which could also be behind in their lack of energy, decreased appetite and the other symptoms that show lethargy in dogs.    

Older Dogs

The older a dog gets the slower they often become. This is the natural progress of age, but you would still need to keep a closer eye on them since their lethargy may not be as obvious. Lethargy in dogs that are older could be caused by osteoarthritis (deterioration of the cartilage in joints) which could mean that they feel pain when they move around too much especially if their pain is pronounced.

Other reasons behind lethargy in dogs or a certain age could be heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, general pain, hypothyroidism, and tick-borne diseases, to name a few. If you see that your old dog is not eating their food, they are experiencing too much pain, there is any blood in their droppings or they are vomiting too much and often then take them to the vet straight away.  

How to Try to Manage or Prevent Lethargy in Dogs

Lethargy in dogs could be managed and prevented by doing certain things with your dog that does not cause them pain and relaxes them such as exercise. Exercise is a great way to improve your dog’s health and help to prevent heart disease, diabetes and it can even decrease their weight gain.

However, an overweight dog or an older dog may take some time to get used to exercising so start off slowly. The breed of your dog can also be a determining factor on how much exercise they would need to do some research into your dog’s breed to know how much you can push them.

Food is an important factor in living and having your dog eat healthily can also help against heart disease and other types of diseases. You should make your four-legged friend maintain a good, healthy dog’s diet so that they can get all the nutrients that a dog’s body need in order to become strong. Plus, having them at a certain weight can help decrease the pressure on their joints and it could give them a good appetite. 

Affection can be a great way to help your dog if they experience depression or are lonely. However, you may not be enough since dogs are usually pack animals. This can mean that some dogs like to be around other dogs. If you only have one dog try to take them to the park so they can play and interact with their own kind. However, if they are not interested in other dogs do not force it since this may stress them out.

Another thing you can do for them is to make sure they have a safe space. This can be a place for them to hide if they do not like guests or have a fear of fireworks and other loud noises. If your dog is usually outside in the garden for the night and there are fireworks, you may have to go outside and check on them to see if they are alright or you can leave the door open until they come in and close it behind them. Try to comfort them if they want and do not be too surprised if they have lost their appetite briefly because of the noises.


Lethargy in dogs is something to look out for, since it could be the result of something more serious like liver, kidney or heart disease etc. You should know your dog’s behavior when they are healthy and well so that you can compare and contrast if something is not right.

To tell if your dog is lethargic and not being themselves notice the signs such as: if they sleep too much if they have lost their appetite, if they do not come or notice you when you call them and if their mood and energy is gone.

Dogs tend to show and not tell so a lack of appetite and an increase in sleep could be clear signs that they are either experiencing a fever or have a heart disease since lethargy can be across many different types of illness.

If they are not back to themselves in a day or two it would be best to take them to the vet and go from there. A dog with a healthy appetite and illness like heart disease or liver disease would be a great pet to have so make sure they stay as healthy as they can be.

About the Author: Lauretta is a contributor to and a cofounder at, a great resource for lost pets.

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