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Is My Puppy Tired or Lethargic?


Even if you’re an expert pet owner and have worked with lots of puppies, it can be so difficult to determine what’s wrong when they are feeling unwell. When you search the internet for causes of things like vomiting and diarrhea, there are giant lists dedicated to all types of illnesses. 

Some health problems are more obvious than others. It is easy to see vomit on the floor or a loose pile of stool in the grass. But what happens when your puppy is more quiet than normal? 

How can you tell the difference between your puppy being simply tired versus very lethargic? In this article we look at the difference and explore some potential health issues that may cause lethargy in puppies. 

Behavior for a healthy puppy

Most healthy puppies have boundless energy. Newborn puppies or puppies younger than six to eight weeks tend to be quiet but alert. They may not be too interested in toys or playing at this age, but they should always be receptive to nursing or eating food. Older puppies should be very bright and alert, and many of them are eager to play with toys, with other pets, or with their owners. 

happy puppy

The average puppy may nap at unusual hours of the day. This is especially true if the puppy has spent a good portion of the day running and playing. Just like children, puppy’s bodies need time to grow and develop during sleep cycles. Tired and sleepy puppies usually nod off right away and then wake up feeling energized again. They may go right to their food or water dish, or they may look to eat a snack or play with a favorite toy. It is rare for a healthy puppy to remain tired for long periods of time. 

When is a puppy considered to be lethargic?

Lethargic puppies are those who appear tired, even after taking a nice nap. They are quieter than other puppies, and it is especially concerning if they are normally very active and then suddenly not moving much. Lethargic puppies may also avoid eating and drinking, and they will show virtually no interest in their toys or fun activities. They may not enjoy their walks outside as much as normal, and they may try to get back inside the house right away.  

Why is my puppy lethargic?

There are many different causes for lethargy in puppies. Some can be simple while others require extensive hospital care. If your pup is lethargic, it is important to get them seen by a veterinarian for a physical examination and possible diagnostics. 

Gastrointestinal problems 

Puppies are prone to various gastrointestinal problems. They can become gassy like human babies. They can have intestinal parasites that cause vomiting and diarrhea. Bacterial infections can cause gastrointestinal upset, and severe viral infections like parvovirus can cause debilitating diarrhea, severe dehydration, and even death without aggressive supportive care. If a puppy has ingested something that they shouldn’t have, the object can cause a physical obstruction or can act as a poison, causing any number of additional symptoms. Contact your vet right away when this occurs. 

They’re in pain 

Puppies in pain are likely to appear lethargic, or they may try to run and play but then immediately stop. They may also cry and whimper. If a certain limb is affected, puppies will avoid placing weight on it. These puppies may still eat and drink normally, but it is important to address pain within the first 24 hours since it started. 

puppy in pain

They aren’t eating well for some reason 

When young puppies aren’t eating well, their blood sugar can drop quickly. This is called hypoglycemia. Severe hypoglycemia can cause puppies to appear non-responsive, and they can even have seizures. Many vets encourage owners to keep supplements like Nutri-Cal handy because they are high in sugar, and corn syrup can also help. This should be applied to a puppy’s gums when they are lethargic because the sugar is absorbed quickly this way. Puppies who aren’t eating need to be evaluated by a vet on the same day it is first noted. 

How can you help your lethargic puppy?

If your puppy is lethargic, try to make notes about what you are seeing. A checklist can help you and your veterinarian make decisions about your puppy. The following questions are an important part of determining your puppy’s medical history: 

  • Is he eating and drinking normally? What food does he eat, and does he receive snacks?
  • Could he have ingested something unusual?
  • Is he coughing or sneezing? Has he had any vomiting or diarrhea?
  • Is your puppy urinating normally?
  • Could your puppy have injured himself in some way? 

It is best to make an appointment for your puppy as soon as you can. If your veterinarian doesn’t have any open availability within the next 24 to 48 hours, you may need to contact a local urgent care facility or an emergency veterinary hospital for immediate care. The veterinarian may recommend various diagnostics such as fecal testing, blood work, urine testing, and in some cases, x-rays. If your puppy is severely ill, he may need intravenous fluid therapy and hospitalization. 

Lethargic puppies will appear tired for more than just a few hours.

It can be difficult to determine if your puppy is just tired or is truly lethargic. Keep in mind that a good nap should help restore a healthy puppy’s energy, but lethargic puppies will appear tired for more than a few hours. They may also turn their nose up at their food and may want to avoid some of their favorite pastimes like running or playing with toys. Lethargic puppies should be evaluated by their veterinarians as soon as possible, and a thorough medical history is an important part of finding a diagnosis for your puppy.

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