dog just lays around
Pet Health Questions and Answers

Why is My Dog Lethargic and Not Eating or Drinking?

Any time a dog is suddenly lethargic, it’s natural for you to worry about their health and wellbeing. A canine that loses their lust for life, and will not eat or drink, is especially concerning.

Why is my dog lethargic, and not eating or drinking? The main concern is that your dog ingested toxins or has a serious health concern. They could just be fighting a minor viral infection though, or be experiencing transient pain. The problem may be psychological, such as anxiety or depression.

Monitor your dog carefully. Many canines can experience ‘off days,’ and that’s nothing to worry about. If your dog’s questionable demeanor passes 24 hours though, you should take action. This in-depth guide explains the many potential explanations for listless canine behavior.

My Dog Won’t Eat or Drink and is Weak

It’s always worrying when a dog is acting out of sorts. It’s particularly concerning if your dog won’t eat or drink, and just lays there. Food and exercise are two of a dog’s favorite activities, after all.

More often than not, an illness may be to blame. This could be a physical or emotional ailment. Some of the conditions that lead to lethargy and a lack of appetite include:

  • Depression. Canines can become depressed, and lose their lust for life. This is common after losing a beloved owner, or a long-term pack mate.
  • Anxiety. If your dog is constantly anxious, it will take its toll. A dog that doesn’t feel safe and secure will withdraw into themselves.
  • Fever and Contagious Illness. Dogs are as susceptible to contagious illnesses as humans. Your dog may just be under the weather, which will pass.
  • Injury or Trauma. Dogs get into all kinds of adventures, and they’re typically active. This can lead to injury and trauma though, and that’s not always obvious, such as injury to the paw.
  • Physical Pain. If you have a senior dog, they may have arthritis. Constant pain takes its toll. Alternatively, your pet may have transient pain. That’s still enough to leave them out of sorts.
  • Side Effects of Medications. Just like that of humans, canine medication often comes with side effects. If your dog is being negatively impacted, you’ll need to change their prescription.
  • Toxicity or Poisoning. Dogs are intelligent animals, but they make silly decisions surrounding food. If your dog has ingested a toxin, such as a weedkiller, it will be reflected in their health.
  • Poor Diet. If your dog eats the wrong foods and lacks appropriate nutrition, their health will be impacted. It’s hugely important that your pet eats a balanced, high-quality diet.
  • Parasitic Infestation. Your dog can be affected by several parasites. Fleas and ticks are the most common. Intestinal worms also make their home in canine stomachs.
  • Serious Illness. Cancer, liver disease, and various conditions can be to blame.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to resolving this issue with your dog. Never assume that your dog is just lazy and it will pass. That might be the case, but it’s unlikely.

Sadness and Depression

Depression may seem like a complex condition that only impacts humans, but dogs experience it too. It’s not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but the impact is just as severe.

The most common trigger for canine depression is extreme pining. If a dog has lost their owner, or a fellow pet, they’ll be heartbroken. This will manifest as lethargy and lack of interest in engaging with the world. That includes eating food and drinking.

Canine depression is hard to watch, and unfortunately, it can’t really be aided. The dog needs to work through their sadness by themselves. They’ll do this eventually. They need lots of love and patience during the process, though.

dog won't eat or drink

Anxiety and Worry

Anxious dogs will lack appetite, and may become very lethargic. They could also go to the other extreme and pace constantly. Either way, their anxiety needs to be managed.

To achieve this, identify the stress trigger and remove it from the dog’s life. If another pet is bullying them, keep them separate. If they fear loud noises, such as the vacuum cleaner or thunder, give them a quiet room of their own.

Continue down a path of trial and error. It takes a lot of time and patience to calm an anxious dog. You’ll need to ensure that you’re up for the challenge.

Praise desirable behavior and ignore anything you disapprove of. Scolding an anxious dog helps nobody. You’ll be back at square one, and likely harm your relationship.

Some dogs are anxious by nature. This is likely in the case of rescue dogs that have been traumatized.  This may require specialist help from a behaviorist, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

If the problem persists, your dog may need anti-anxiety medication to raise their quality of life. You can find natural supplements. If they do not help, seek a prescription for a vet.

Fever or Infection

A body temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or above is considered a fever in dogs. A dry nose and red, sunken eyes may also accompany this. Naturally, your dog will also be lethargic and lose their appetite.

The most common viral ailment for dogs is kennel cough. This is similar to human ‘flu. As the name suggests, your dog will emit a dry, harsh cough. This sounds like a honking goose, and can be worrying if you’re not familiar with it.

Like human colds, dogs mostly need to let these infections run their course. Most canines only really suffer for a day or two. After this, they’ll reluctantly start to eat again. They may be sluggish for around a week, though.

Never give a dog human medication, such as paracetamol. This is toxic to canines.

Injury and Trauma

Dogs usually let you know when they’re injured. Your pet will approach you for reassurance and comfort. Alternatively, they may retreat into themselves, whimpering and whining.

A simple way of testing for injury is to stroke and pet your dog. Ordinarily, your pet will welcome this attention. If they yelp and refuse to let you touch parts of their anatomy, they’ll be hurting.

Your dog may have a minor complaint, i.e. a pulled muscle, which will heal itself. It could be something more serious. Minor fractures, for example, are not always visible to the naked eye.

Your dog may also have experienced a traumatic event. A neighborhood pet could have attacked them, for example. This will leave your dog shaken and reluctant to go outside.

With attention, affection, and reassurance, your dog will get over this. Canines can go into shock, which is dangerous. You also need to ensure the trauma does not spark a permanent phobia.

dog lethargic and not himself

Pain (Joint, Teeth, etc.)

Many pains leave dogs lethargic and reluctant to eat and drink. Conditions such as arthritis, for example. If it hurts to walk to a bowl, your dog will avoid it. They may think it’s the food or water that’s hurting them.

Canine arthritis cannot be cured, but can be managed. Investigate dietary changes and supplements that will boost your pet’s mobility. Invest in a sizeable, comfy bed for your dog to relax in.

Other parts of your dog’s anatomy may be causing them pain. Check their teeth. Toothache is no fun, and it can seriously hamper your dog’s quality of life.

Also, consider whether your dog has a sore throat. They may have cut their throat in a sharp blade of grass or plant. Offer a teaspoon of honey.

Side Effects of Medications

If your dog takes regular medication, it’s possible that they’ll experience side effects. Temporary loss of appetite is also a common factor when a dog undergoes vaccinations.

In the latter scenario, your dog will bounce back quickly. Usually, it’s as little as 24 hours before they’re their old selves again. If it’s any longer, something more sinister is afoot.

Return to the vet that prescribed the medicine, or administered the vaccination, in such a case. If it’s an ongoing prescription, it will need to be changed.

Tests may also be required to ensure your dog’s body is not rejecting the vaccine.

Ingested Toxins

Lethargy and refusing to eat are common symptoms in a dog that has been poisoned. There are a great many toxins out there, including common human foods, plant life, and chemicals.

A dog that has been poisoned will likely lay down and pant heavily. This is because toxins frequently impact their liver and kidneys. If you suspect that your dog has ingested toxins, urgently call the Pet Poison Helpline.

If your dog recently consumed the toxin (less than 30 minutes ago), inducing vomiting may help. You can use hydrogen peroxide for this. Offer one teaspoon (around 5ml) for every 10 lbs. of body weight.

Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so. If your dog is not in otherwise perfect health, hydrogen peroxide can cause further issues. Also, some materials are caustic. Your dog may burn their mouth or throat while vomiting.

If you seek professional help, the toxin will be flushed out using intravenous fluids.

Poor Diet

If your dog has an inappropriate nutritional balance, it will be reflected in their behavior. They’ll be lethargic, and refuse to eat what’s put in front of them.

If you ate something that left you feeling wretched, you’d avoid it in future. The same applies to canines. They have long memories when it comes to unpleasant experiences.

Ensure that your dog’s diet is balanced, age-appropriate, and of the highest quality that you can afford. The more pure meat produce and protein, the better. This can apply to both wet and dry food.

It may take trial and error to find the perfect food for your dog, but it’s so important. Poor nutrition can significantly shorten a pet’s lifespan.

lethargic dog with labored breathing

Parasites (Worms, Fleas, Ticks, Etc.)

Fleas and ticks can have a significant impact on any canine. They can spread disease if they have previously fed from a questionable food source.

Prevention is the best way to prevent parasites making your dog sick. Maintain regular flea and tick treatments. Keep this up during the winter too. Parasites are less active in cold weather, but they may have laid eggs in your home.

Worming is every bit as important. Tapeworms and threadworms can cause enormous problems for your pet. Ensure that your dog consumes a worming treatment at least once every three months.

If you do spot a parasite on your pet, deal with it immediately. Don’t wait for nature to take its course. The longer the parasite feeds on your dog, the more likely long-term repercussions become.

Serious Illnesses in Dogs

Many illnesses can impact a dog’s energy levels and hunger. Any dog that behaves uncharacteristically could be prone to severe sickness.

  • Cancer. The Drake Center profile the cancers that affect dogs. Different strains of the disease have various symptoms. Lethargy and a loss of appetite are universal warnings, though.
  • Addison’s Disease (aka Hypoadrenocorticism). This hormonal disorder affects a dog’s adrenal glands. Addison’s can be fatal, but it’s treatable with medication if caught early.
  • Dementia. Senior dogs that are approaching the end of their lives become increasingly weary, and refuse to eat.
  • Diseases of the Heart or Liver. These are arguably the most critical organs in a dog’s body. When they fail to function appropriately, the dog’s entire body breaks down.

How Long Can a Dog Survive Without Eating?

This depends on the individual dog. If a canine is carrying extra weight, they’ll have more fat reserves to call upon. The dog’s age and physical condition will also play a part.

A healthy dog can live 3 to 5 days without eating anything. Just because they can though, it doesn’t mean they should. There is a big difference between surviving and thriving.

A dog skipping a meal won’t harm them. A dog fasting for 24 hours, while not ideal, is not lethal. Anything longer than this merits investigation. Dogs will never willingly go hungry. Something is causing a lack of appetite.

How Long Can a Dog Survive Without Water?

Much like food, a dog can survive around 3 days without water. The impact of this will be more pronounced, though. The longer a dog goes thirsty, the more significant the effect on their body.

Dogs need to hydrate regularly. Their bodies are made up to 80% water, and just like humans, that needs to be topped up. Dogs may not sweat much, but they lose water all the same.

Canine dehydration is a serious concern. If your dog is reluctant to drink, there will be a reason. It won’t be as simple as your pet finding plain water boring. Dogs actually like the taste of water.

If your dog is unwell and experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, water becomes even more critical. These side effects leave canines dehydrated. If your dog doesn’t drink, take it more seriously than a reluctance to eat.

Is My Dog Lethargic or Tired?

It’s vital to understand the difference between lethargy and simple tiredness. Dogs are energetic, but they still love to sleep. It’s when this dozing overtakes anything else that you should worry.

You’ll have an idea of whether your dog is tired, based on their day’s activity levels. If they spend several hours chasing their ball throughout the park, they’ll naturally be shattered. They’ll contentedly slumber for hours afterward.

Even if they didn’t have much physical exercise, mental stimulation tires a dog out. Taking them somewhere new, with a range of unique smells, will get the brain firing. They’ll doze off afterward, dreaming of their new favorite place.

You know your dog best. This means that you’ll know their typical energy levels. Some canines sleep for hours after a busy day. They’ll then wake up full of beans afterward.

A tired dog will likely still eat. If not, they’ll undoubtedly drink water. If your pet fails to do this, they are slipping into the realm of lethargy. This is, naturally, much more concerning.

My Just Lays There and Won’t Play

If your dog suddenly loses interest in their toys, there could be a scientific explanation. The journal Animal Cognition explains this, as canines are prone to a condition called neophilia.

Dog brains are hardwired to always seek new experiences. This means they can quickly become bored with the familiar. That includes toys. This may be frustrating, as you spent good money on them, but your dog can’t help it.

dog won't eat or drink and is weak

If your dog sits and stares at their toys and refuses to engage with them, rule out neophilia as an explanation. There are several ways that you can do this:

  • Keep your dog’s toys in a sealed crate, and rotate them a few at a time. If your dog has constant access to the same toy, it will fall off their radar. If they haven’t seen it in weeks or months, it will feel new.
  • Change the style of toy that your dog has access to. Switch between plushies, puzzles, noisy toys, and things to chew. This will provide your dog with ever-varying stimulation.
  • Spruce up your dog’s toys with new smells. Rub them in the grass of your pet’s favorite park or field. This will pique their interest again, and provide more stimulation.
  • Get involved. Dogs will always be more interested in playtime if you join in too. Tug toys are ideal for this. It’s a great way to bond with your pet, and it’s fun for everybody.

If these techniques do not reignite your dog’s interest in playtime, further investigation is needed. Your pet’s lethargy has a more concerning cause. Start by sparking their imagination, though.

My Dog Refuses to Go Out for a Walk

Arguably the most worrying canine behavior of all is refusing to exercise. If your dog lays and stares at you when you call for walkies, take action.

Confirm that your dog’s refusal to go outside is not due to external factors. Many dogs loathe the rain, and refuse to walk in wet conditions.

Try to encourage your dog to go for a walk. Techniques for this include:

  • Change your command word. If your dog is disinterested in exercise, “walkies” will become an unwelcome word. Use a different term, like, “let’s go out.”
  • Start small. If your dog is lethargic, a hike of multiple miles will be unwelcome and potentially traumatic. Re-introduce walkies with gentle strolls around the block, gradually increasing the distance covered.
  • Invite another, friendly dog on the walk. If your pet is social, this may be the encouragement they need. If walking means spending time with their friends, many dogs will start to enjoy it.

By making exercise a fun activity, you can rule out laziness. What’s more, this exercise will stimulate a dog’s appetite, and they’ll be thirsty afterward.

My Dog is Lying Around and Panting

A lethargic dog with labored breathing is concerning. A little panting is perfectly natural and healthy. If your dog appears to be panting without good cause, something is wrong.

Typically, abnormal panting relates to one or several of these scenarios:

  • The dog is laying around panting when their body temperature is not particularly high. This suggests they’re not just cooling off.
  • The panting is loud, and it sounds like it’s an effort. The dog may sound like they have a dry throat, for example.
  • The dog is struggling to pant. In such a situation, the problem runs deeper than just panting. They’re finding it an effort to breathe.

If it’s hot, heatstroke is likely to blame. A body temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit in a dog is cause for concern. They must cool off and rehydrate.

If your pet has an issue with critical organs, heavy panting will follow. This may be caused by sickness, or the consumption of toxins. The panting is a warning that their body is struggling to produce enough oxygen. Seek urgent medical help.

Your dog may be anxious or frightened. Canines can hyperventilate when under significant stress. Calm your dog down and remove whatever triggered this panic attack.

My Dog is Lethargic and Shaking

A dog shaking is never something to ignore, especially if they’re also sluggish. There are several explanations, which vary from mild and easily resolved to significant risk.

  • Dogs shake when they’re too cold. That’s easily fixed. Drape a blanket over them, offer a hot water bottle, or cuddle them.
  • Dogs shake when they’re scared. Are fireworks being set off outside, other loud noises?
  • Dogs shake when they’re in pain. Your pet may be living with a hitherto-undiagnosed medical condition. Start by looking for signs of bloated stomach, or misplaced limbs.
  • Dogs shake when their muscles have been pushed too far. If your dog has had a busy day, watch them carefully. Their muscles should stop trembling after a few hours.

Ensure that you know the difference between shaking and a seizure. The latter is a significant problem, and a medical emergency. It suggests that your dog has a neurological issue.

As VCA Hospitals explains, dogs can seem perfectly normal between seizures. Lethargy, and a refusal to eat or drink, escalate the problem considerably. Watch your pet carefully.

Dogs are intuitive creatures. They know when something isn’t right within themselves, and this will be reflected in their behavior. Loss of appetite and listless lethargy are common warning signs.

Any symptoms lasting beyond 24 hours should be investigated. Dogs love to eat and walk. If they lose interest in these key activities for a prolonged period, something is amiss.