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Lethargy in Dogs – Causes and Treatments of an Overtired Dog

Picture of a Basset Hound sleeping

If your canine friend is usually a happy fellow, who only seems to want to play and go to the park, you might feel concerned if he or she starts to act a little lazy. Some dogs will not want to get out of bed or will refuse to climb the stairs, and others might not even have an appetite for food or water. 

Keeping an eye on your dog’s general behavior can make it possible for you to keep track of potential health problems and take our friend to the vet in due time. In this post, we’ll look at what causes lethargy in dogs, how you can tell if your dog is lethargic, and how you can prevent this from happening in the future. 

How does a lethargic dog behave?

First of all, the symptoms of lethargy have to be known by all dog parents so that they can know when it’s time to take action. Most dogs sleep around twelve hours per day, but puppies sleep for many more hours, with some snoozing for as many as twenty hours a day. 

Lethargy is synonymous with excessive sleeping, but that doesn’t mean that the dog is behaving normally when he or she is awake. Usually, low energy and exercise intolerance are present along with the dog’s tendency to take a nap all the time. Dogs that have gone through trauma or stressful events, such as a move, for example, or even a visit to the vet, will sleep more when they feel safe.

This is a mechanism that allows them to replenish the energy they need on a regular basis and that the stress level has depleted. However, if this is the case, lethargy shouldn’t be present for more than one to two days. 

A dog that is lethargic doesn’t show any interest in toys or any other activities, might be confused, and also unresponsive to commands. As we might have mentioned at the beginning of the post, lethargic dogs aren’t crazy about drinking water or eating food, and let’s face it — every dog has a great appetite. While some dogs might get picky and refuse certain types of food, they will still consume their favorites, whether that means kibble, canned food, or treats. That doesn’t happen with lethargic dogs. 

What causes lethargy in dogs?

The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors, but the animal’s age seems to be the most important aspect. Needless to say, puppies don’t become lethargic for the same reason as geriatric dogs would, simply because they haven’t begun suffering from conditions such as arthritis or heart disease.

In puppies, lethargy can be caused by a wide variety of infectious diseases from Parvovirus to Canine Distemper, but it can also be caused by parasites (such as hookworms). If the puppy has a severe flea or tick infestation, he or she will be lethargic because of anemia. Other diseases that cause this symptom, among others, are congenital heart disease, malnutrition, fever, or pneumonia. 

In geriatric animals, lethargy is common in dogs that are overweight or obese, or that are suffering from cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, or hypothyroidism. Infections and tick-borne diseases can cause lethargy, too. Older dogs tend to sleep more compared to their adult counterparts, and in most cases, this is a natural change that takes months and years to happen. 

When is it time to go to the vet?

Lethargy is a symptom, so it is not a disease per se. Therefore, the cause of this clinical sign must be discovered. If you see that your canine friend is lethargic for more than 24 hours, pay attention. If it goes on for more than 48 hours, you have to take your dog to the vet clinic, and that only if the dog has eaten and consumed water. Dehydration can be quite dangerous, especially in the warm season, so if your dog doesn’t drink any water for two days, that can cause serious issues. 

Except for cases where the animal is suffering from cancer, for example, and you have no way of knowing what organ is affected or there are no other symptoms, lethargy is almost always accompanied by other clinical signs. If the dog has bloody diarrhea, he is losing not just fluid, but also blood, so it’s only natural for him or her to become lethargic.

A dog that has a fever will be lethargic, no matter the cause. If the dog vomits several times throughout the day and you don’t see any improvements, no matter what you have tried to do, you should take your canine buddy to the vet. 

In all of these situations, you have to look at the bigger picture and imagine what dehydration can do to your pet’s body. That’s why it’s important to act fast or at least get in touch with the veterinarian by phone. 

What can a vet do?

Finding the cause of the lethargy is paramount when it comes to treating the symptoms. The vet will ask you several questions to understand the history and what the problem might be. 

A physical examination will be performed, but laboratory testing might be necessary, in most cases. Besides that, your dog might have to have an electrocardiogram done or X-rays and other types of imaging (ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI). Once the cause is discovered, the appropriate therapy can be initiated. 

Is there something you can do at home?

Keeping an eye on your dog to check and see whether there are any symptoms besides his/her lethargy is the best way of going about things. You can also measure your pet’s temperature, and if it’s above 102.9 degrees F, you need to get to the vet clinic as soon as possible. 

Let your pooch rest, but do keep in mind that a normal fatigue episode shouldn’t last for more than two days, and during that time, the dog should always eat something and drink at least some water. 

Depressed dogs can be lethargic, but not all lethargic dogs are depressed. While lethargy can be a symptom of a serious disease, it can also be a symptom of depression. 

A depressed dog can sleep all the time, lose some interest in food, play, or walks, and might start to hide in safe places. Some dogs can develop behavioral problems such as excessive licking and chewing. A sick and lethargic dog doesn’t behave the same, especially one with a fever – his/her health is affected, not just his/her behavior. 

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