A lethargic dog – or sluggish, as you may describe it – can be worrying if it comes out of the blue. There can be many reasons why your dog is lethargic, and your dog appears tired, sleepy or uninterested in eating or drinking – we can understand why you might feel slightly worried about it. 

In this article, we’ll be helping you figure out why your puppy is lethargic. We’ll also talk you through some common symptoms to tell if your dog is truly lethargic or just tried. If your dog is lethargic, you’ll also want to know what to do, so we’ll fill you in on that too. Looking for a dedicated training programme for your puppy and help from a team of fantastic puppy trainers? Download a trial of the Zigzag puppy training app today and you’ll get access to it all.

dog resting in bed
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Why is my dog lethargic?

Various factors can bring on lethargy in dogs. These include the temperature of the environment, stress or anxiety, an adverse reaction to medications, illness, and certain medical conditions. Puppies are frequently lethargic when ill, after a stressful event, or after their vaccinations.

Heat can make dogs lethargic

If you live somewhere that has a warm climate (let’s be honest – we kind of wish this was the case in the UK) or it’s a hot day, you will notice your dog becomes lethargic. You know what it’s like to be hit by a heatwave – it’s just too hot for them to move around and do much. 
The heat can also make your dog pant or breathe fast, so keep an eye on that too.

Your dog may become lethargic due to stress

If your dog is overwhelmed, stressed out and unable to cope, they may shut down or become lethargic. Kind of like you when your boss asks you for those reports you haven’t handed in yet. 
Being placed in a frightening situation or being exposed to too many things at once can also cause your puppy to become lethargic. To avoid this, socialisation should be done at their pace, and experiences should be positive. Our app tells you all about that, don’t worry (and become lethargic).

If your dog is sick or ill they will be lethargic

If your puppy or dog is sick or has been vomiting, they’ll often become lethargic too. It makes sense. Throwing up makes anyone subdued.

Your dog is in pain

Dogs in pain are frequently lethargic. There can be many reasons for feeling pain, arthritis or joint problems being the main ones. These are much more common in adult dogs, but puppies also get sore from growing pains, which could lead them to be lethargic.

dog cuddling toy in bed
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Your dog or puppy may be anaemic

Parasites like fleas, worms or other gnarly things can cause anaemia, making your puppy lethargic. Our guides have all kinds of good information on how to get these silly nasties out of the way!

Your dog might be reacting to medication

Common dog medications such as wormers and flea treatments can make dogs feel under the weather and lethargic. Yep, sometimes with puppies, you gotta go through lower than low to feel better than ever.

Your puppy might just be really, really tired

Puppies need to sleep a huge amount. More than you expect. Around 18 hours a day, in fact. Don’t be surprised if your new puppy sleeps a lot – this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lethargic, just a little snoozy.
Once you start taking them out for walks and exercise, you’ll start seeing naps start to pop up a lot more.  Our article on puppy sleep habits explained has a lot more to tell you about this. 

Your dog might be depressed

Yes, depression can sadly also happen to dogs. If your dog has become lethargic, it could be a sign that they’re struggling emotionally. As humans, we don’t really think about how our dog’s mood is most days and what might make them feel sad. But the truth is, they might be grieving, missing one of the family when they go out, or just having an off day due to hormonal changes. 

Make sure you keep an eye open for this!

What are the signs of lethargy in dogs?

If your dog is lethargic, there will be some tell-tale signs such as:

  • Refusing food or water
  • Reduced activity overall and sluggishness
  • No interest in toys or treats
  • Unenthusiastic about doing very much

If you’re thinking your dog has any of these signs, we recommend you book a consultation with your vet – we’re sure you want to keep your puppy as happy as ever, right? Read our full guide to puppy vet visits to teach your dog that seeing the vet is no big deal and that they actually make things a whole lot better.

french bulldog on bed
Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

What do I do if my dog is lethargic?

If your dog has stopped eating and drinking

If your dog or puppy is refusing food and drink and is generally not acting like themselves, a consult with the vet might help rule all the bad stuff out. 

If your dog has been vomiting or has the runs

If your dog has been sick, it’s good to feed them a bland diet to let their tummy settle. Getting fluids into a dog that has been vomiting or had diarrhoea is important so they don’t get dehydrated!

Cook them some homemade food

Feeding dogs a balanced diet is important so that they receive the correct nutrition, but if you’re feeling extra, you can get into making homemade meals and treats. How lucky are they! …Or not. 

Cool a hot dog down

If you’re in a hot climate and your dog is lethargic, it’s time to get creative. Get the doggy paddling pool out, feed them some pupsicles, or simply pop them in a cooler area of the house!

Try boosting their mood with games and play

If you think your dog is depressed, try some mood-boosting fun training games or play with an interactive toy with them. Getting some new toys and playing is a great way of building a relationship with your dog. Problem-solving and playing actually help dogs to feel happy! That’s a good enough reason to just do it all the time, right?

Give your dog some love

If your dog is feeling under the weather, extra cuddles and loving attention will never be too much. Showing them affection will be reassuring for them, and let them know that you’re there for them.

Talk to your vet if your dog is lethargic

As always, if you think there is something medically wrong with your dog, you should contact your vet first rather than trying to diagnose it yourself. We don’t want any chances of them being sick!

So there you have it. We hope you haven’t become lethargic yourself after all of this!

Dogs and puppies can be lethargic for many reasons, some more worrying and requiring vet attention than others. If you’re worried about your dog being lethargic, it can be a good idea to keep a diary to track what they eat, the amount of exercise they’re getting, what the weather is like and if they’re on any medication. This helps us figure out what’s causing the lethargy, and once we know the cause we can look at helping them feel more like themselves. 

If you’re worried about your dog having worms or fleas, our articles on puppy worms and flea treatment for puppies will tell you everything you need to know. 

Come on then, you know you want to download the Zigzag puppy app. Using the most up-to-date science-based methods, we’ll help you train your puppy with a programme specifically designed for your dog’s breed, and give you lessons based on their stage of development. Our professional dog trainers will be happy to help with any hiccups you run into – literally any day of the week.

Obedience is only the tip of the iceberg. Your puppy will come out confident, happy and ready to take over the world.