My dog is lethargic, what should I do?

Lethargy means sluggishness, drowsiness or dullness. A dog that’s lethargic may show no interest in going for a walk, even though that’s usually the highlight of their day, or they might not want to play.  Sometimes lethargy in dogs can be due to the weather, perhaps it’s very hot, or being tired out after an extra long walk. But it can also be the first sign that something is not quite right with your dog.

Lethargy, weakness and sudden tiredness are common signs of illness in dogs, but they are rather vague — lots of different problems can make your dog appear lethargic and weak.

Image of dog in pain for Vets Now article on pain in dogs

Why is my dog lethargic?

If your dog is getting on in years it may become steadily more lethargic. This could be down to osteoarthritis or another age-related condition that’s causing pain or exercise intolerance.

If your dog is younger but suddenly starts appearing weak and lethargic it may signify a more serious problem. In either case, you should contact your vet for advice straight away or, if it’s out of hours and you feel it’s an emergency, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or 24/7 hospital.

There are several reasons that could cause your dog to be lethargic. The most common causes are:

  1. Infection. Any kind of infection, including parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough and leptospirosis, can make your dog lethargic.
  2. Metabolic disease — many chronic conditions can leave dogs weak or lethargic. These include heart problems, liver problems, diabetes, ad hypoglycaemia.
  3. Medications — a broad range of medications can make your dog lethargic or weak. If you notice weakness after starting a new drug or using a new flea or worm product, call your vet immediately.
  4. Tumours
  5. Pain
  6. Trauma
  7. Diarrhoea
  8. Hypothyroidism
  9. Anaemia — this is often caused by parasites such as a flea infection or intestinal parasite. A sign of severe anaemia is pale gums.
  10. Poisoning — from toxic foods, such as garlic and onions.

Because there are so many things that can cause lethargy in your dog, it’s always best to contact your vet if you have any concerns.

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