My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself: Moody Pets and Other Problems
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Many owners have been noticing symptoms of a mental disorder in their pets. In fact, it seems dogs can become moody with no clear cause. Some turn aggressive, others slump into depression, and the owners are left confused by these developments. The concerns they raise range from my dog is lethargic and not himself to anxiety meds for French Bulldogs. Here we’ll try to address some of these issues.
Anxiety, depression, and related disorders have long been on the rise in humans. Entire service industries, medical and otherwise, have sprouted in order to tackle these issues. The same problems are occurring in dogs, but the response hasn’t been as strong. At the end of the article, we’ll also look into the strategies for dealing with moody pets’ owners.
Our family has lived with a cat and a dog for years. The kitty came first; a cranky Maine Coon who bossed us around, but we adored her. The pup came later; a young Whippet, very friendly and easy-going. They got along famously, playing and sleeping together. She was bossy to him as well, but he was incredibly lenient.
Two years ago, our daughter moved out and took the kitty with her. We thought the Whippet might miss her, but somehow, he didn’t seem to mind. He was still a happy, friendly pup (by now fully grown and neutered). He still ate well and slept well. The one thing we noticed was that he didn’t play around the house much. (Though he still loved to run, of course.)
Yet recently, he’s grown grouchy and aggressive. He growls if disturbed even slightly, and barks at all strangers. Whippets don’t normally do that! We tested him for thyroid disorder, but he came up clean. The vets found no physical injuries and no clear cause of distress.
We thought he might be missing his old playmate, so we brought in other cats and dogs. Unfortunately, he’s even more passive-aggressive around them. He just lies around and snaps when they approach him. He gets a good run-out when we take him out for a walk, so it’s not about exercise. It honestly feels like my dog is lethargic and not himself — and I just don’t know what to do about it.
Around the house, it’s like he doesn’t want to do anything anymore. Is it possible that it’s boredom that’s driving this newfound aggression? How do we help him deal with the aggression if he’s also stubborn and sluggish?
It’s Tricky to Pin These Things Down
Aggression comes in many different flavors, but for most dogs, it’s based on fear. Trauma that they go through tends to stick with them. This is unlikely to be the case here, as such events are usually easy to identify.
Generally, boredom is more often a symptom of a problem than a cause of one. A puppy that’s both lethargic and aggressive might be suffering from hypothyroidism. But if tests have disproved that, we must look further.
Some dogs — Whippets included — react poorly to common digestive or dental issues. These are easy to overlook in a standard check-up but can drive the animal to aggression. If the dog’s mood swings coincide with meals, this might be something to reexamine.
Separation anxiety can also pose a problem for many dogs. It usually occurs when owners leave, but we’ve also seen it tied to other pets. If the other animal’s absence is difficult to bear, the dog’s behavior can start to shift.
As with humans, the state of each dog’s mental health is a story of its own. The Whippet in question may have quietly dealt with losing his feline friend. His resulting issues may have taken years to manifest outwardly. Sadly, it might also take years of canine behavioral therapy to fully resolve them.
So yes, the pooch’s grouchiness does sound unusual, and it might have something to do with boredom and lethargy. Still, these are unlikely culprits on their own. They might have the same cause as the aggression, brought about by abandonment or even digestion issues.
My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself Anymore — Sudden Changes in Behavior
I have had the same dog for almost a decade now. Milo is a Golden Retriever, and just the best dog ever. I know that every owner says this, but it’s true in my case. I’ve never seen a dog that happy and well behaved. He has barely even had any health issues since joining our family.
Recently, though, Milo has ended up in a slump of some kind. It’s like he is tired all the time, eating and sleeping but doing little else. Three different vets and one behavioral specialist couldn’t find what’s wrong with him. I tried telling myself he was just moody and it would pass, but it still hasn’t. Finally, I had to face the facts: my dog is lethargic and not himself anymore.
I’m not prone to panic or despair, so I think my take on the situation is rational. For about a year, I’ve been trying to cheer him up, but nothing seems to be working. I feel so helpless that it’s literally bringing me to tears. Isn’t there anything I can do?
Let’s Find Out Why That’s the Case
Issues like this are known to occur as animals approach old age. Owners notice their dog becoming less active and more lethargic. Many would reasonably attribute these issues to aging, but that is not always the right call to make.
Have there been changes in Milo’s environment before the problem arose? Additions to the family, or maybe departures? As is the case with children, dogs often react poorly to these sudden shifts. Human adults have ways of predicting and dealing with changes; children and pets do not. That’s why we step in to help shoulder the burden.
Of course, it’s never easy to pinpoint the event that causes the initial mood swing. It’s still easier with dogs than with children — fewer psychological factors to account for. But even if we learn what the original cause may have been, that doesn’t always help us resolve the issue. What we can do instead is compensate for it — offer the dog something to make up for what he’s lost. If he’s lonely, try introducing him to new friends. If he lacks privacy, adjust to give him some alone time. It’ll be touch and go for a while, and there’s rarely any guarantee of success.
If we have an idea of what caused the lethargy onset, there’s always a chance to resolve the issue. But in the end, we might have to admit defeat. Perhaps the dog is just slowing down with age? After all, when we turn 60, we’re rarely as jaunty as we were at 20. This doesn’t necessarily mean Milo is unhappy. It certainly doesn’t mean he is unloved. What looks like a lethargic dog may just be one going through a perfectly natural process. Sometimes, small adjustments to the owner’s lifestyle will suit the dog’s new rhythm.
I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and related disorders many times over. It’s been a long struggle, but I have things pretty well under control these days. I’ve also been blessed with the companionship of a rescue dog called Joey, which my parents took in. Having him by my side has helped me immensely over the years.
Now that I’m somewhat stable, though, I am starting to notice changes. It’s as if my dog is lethargic and not himself. Put simply, he reminds me of the way I used to be. He has started withdrawing from us, always looking for a place to hide. He used to sleep in my bed or on the couch, but now he prefers the closet. There’s this look on his face, and it’s not just sad puppy eyes. To me, it looks like despair. Sometimes, he even howls for no particular reason.
I’m not sure if all these symptoms are new, or if they’ve been there for a while. It pains me to admit it, but some could have escaped my notice before.
The vets say there’s nothing wrong with Joey. They tell me it’s normal for dogs to grow a little sad and grouchy in old age. They say it’s great that he’s physically healthy. Yet I can’t help but think that — somehow — I did this to him.
I’ve heard about dogs mimicking their owners’ behavior, even their moods. I know for a fact that Joey could feel my pain — I relied on this over the years. Is it possible that he’s still there, in the dark place from which I barely escaped? I’m trying to be there for him like he was there for me, but it’s not enough. Could I have really been the cause of his depression?
Not as Relevant as It Might Feel, but Possible
This is a known phenomenon — some dogs do develop symptoms of their owner’s mental disorder. In our experience, however, this is usually only a superficial resemblance. Dogs are highly empathetic beings; if they recognize an owner’s distress, they can mimic that distress. What they can’t mimic, however, are its underlying causes. They might be sad for a time, acting lethargic and lifeless, and that is a serious issue. But as soon as the owner’s condition improves, the dog should adjust accordingly.
If the dog remains depressed after the owner recovers, the causes of their respective conditions are likely unrelated.
Not to sound cold, but the owner’s role in causing a dog’s illness isn’t as important as her role in the dog’s recovery. We recommend looking for practical solutions — there are canine behavioral specialists to consult. There are medications for dogs suffering from clinical depression. Wallowing in self-deprecating pity won’t help the dog and might harm the owner. Sometimes, the best way of caring for our dog is making sure that we also have adequate care.
My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself After a Vomiting Spell
Six months ago, our family dog got sick and couldn’t keep his food down. We got him into treatment as soon as possible, but it took a while for the tide to turn. For about two weeks, he vomited frequently and seemed very listless. It wasn’t easy, especially for the kids, to watch him just lie about in recovery.
Eventually, his physical condition improved, and he started eating again. He was off the IV and back on his feet. We thought he’d soon return to his old ways, playing and running around, but that never happened. He was still acting sulky and listless, which worried us.
We took the dog, a four-year-old Labrador, back to the vet. They ran some tests but came up empty-handed. Apparently, he’s physically healthy, but his habits have changed. So, my dog is lethargic and not himself, but it’s not clear why.
He now sleeps almost twenty hours a day, and rarely plays with other dogs. It’s been heartbreaking to watch him go through this for half a year. The vets are unsure if he’s still recovering, or if he’ll stay like this forever.
We’re looking into behavioral therapy right now, but we wouldn’t want to burden him. If this persistent lethargy is an aftereffect of the illness, it seems cruel to make him readjust.
Look for Underlying Causes, Watch for Recurrence
Mental health issues in dogs very often accompany physical illness. Animals tend to suffer stoically through their recovery, but grow sluggish and inert. If a dog is lethargic even after his physical condition improves, there are two possible alternatives.
First, there may be another underlying cause for the depressive episode. Perhaps the illness was just a trigger, and there are other issues affecting the animal’s behavior. If this is so, we’d have to go through the list of possible causes and see which apply. A canine behaviorist might help if we conclude that the behavioral quirk can be adjusted. Should this prove too much for the dog to handle, antidepressants are also a possibility.
Second, triggering illness may not yet be fully defeated. In this case, the lethargy could still be a symptom of the physical issue. We wouldn’t neglect its treatment, but the focus would have to be on persistent physical illness. If the original treatment failed to fully eradicate the infection, there could be a serious recurrence coming.
Overall, we’d recommend a two-pronged approach. It’s important to investigate both sides of the issue simultaneously. The dog is lethargic, and his mental suffering must be addressed. At the same time, if a physical issue was overlooked, that can’t wait either. A new battery of tests for infection combined with canine antidepressant treatment might do the trick.
Our family dog has been down in the dumps for a while now. He’s a two-year-old French bulldog who was once a lively little critter. But since a few months ago, something has changed.
Now, my dog is lethargic and not himself. It’s as if he’s completely lifeless. He mopes about for much of the day, but he used to be quite active (as far as bulldogs go).
We took him in for check-ups, but the vets said he was in peak physical condition. They couldn’t tell us what’s wrong, or when he’ll be back to his old self. They asked the usual questions: maybe we’d moved house, had a new pet or a newborn baby? No, no, and no. As far as we could tell, the dog has grown lethargic for no reason at all.
In the end, they suggested medication. The first two antidepressants had little to no effect. Then they offered to prescribe anti-anxiety meds but warned us that these are pretty strong. That is what finally gave me pause.
Having been on benzodiazepine myself, I know that this type of medication should be taken seriously. The vet suggested it as an option to consider, so we’re unsure how to proceed. How much of a risk would there be of worsening the dog’s condition? He’s currently not anxious at all, more depressed than anything. I know there’s a balancing effect there, but we’re also worried about the dosage. (He’ll eat whatever is put in front of him.)
Sometimes It Can Be the Way to Go
Some reservation is often warranted when considering drug therapy for a dog. On the other hand, there is also such a thing as being overly cautious. We’ve known lethargic dogs to benefit greatly from what are technically anti-anxiety medications. And those misgivings regarding the two different drug classes are rarely necessary.
In the treatment of humans as well as animals, the same medications can be prescribed for seemingly different problems. Depression and anxiety can manifest in very different ways, but as psychiatrists will tell you, these often go hand in hand. Different chemical imbalances can cause one or the other, but the same type of treatment often works for both. SSRI drugs, for example, are highly successful in treating anxiety as well as depression in humans. The same class of drugs is also offered for dogs, depending on the disorder.
Without knowing the specifics of the French bulldog’s case, we can only recommend accepting the doctor’s suggestion. Making sure that the dosage is right for the dog’s body mass should assure a safe treatment. Still, we’d monitor his condition closely, just in case.
The dog’s healthy appetite shouldn’t pose a risk in and of itself. It’s vital to stick to the prescribed dosage, of course. Assuming it’s in tablet form, it should never be up to the dog how much of the medication he consumes. If unable to maintain the correct dosage, perhaps look into herbal solutions instead.
My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself Because I’m Pregnant
At the time when we decided to bring a baby into the world, our poodle was with us for almost two years. We’ve spoiled him awfully, but haven’t regretted it for an instant. He’s used to being lavished with attention, from us and from anyone else who walks through the door. This, we realized, would have to change.
We’ve read all the books and advice columns, listened to doggie parents and people parents alike. Can’t be that hard, we thought. Over the forty weeks, we’ll do the responsible thing and slowly wean the puppy off. In time, he’ll learn that he can’t always get what he wants. Needless to say, things haven’t quite worked out that way.
The baby isn’t even born yet, and the dog is already feeling incredibly neglected. It breaks our hearts to see him that morose, but we’re trying to stay strong. We know that it’s for his own good in the long run. But honestly, it’s like my dog is lethargic and not himself at all.
Recently, we’ve even hired dog walkers. Other people are walking our precious pet! We’re neglecting him now so that it would be easier to neglect him even later!
Could it be that we’re doing this in vain? The dog is taking it harder than we thought he would, and we might have no choice in the end. What if he doesn’t adapt by the time the baby comes? Would we have to find a new home for him?
It Won’t Feel as Bad Then as It Feels Now
We sympathize completely, as does any dog owner who’s had to discipline a spoiled pooch. Those longing, lonely, disappointed glances can be difficult to bear. But there really is a silver lining there. Dogs, in general, are remarkably adaptable creatures, and poodles are great with children. In time, your pet will realize that extra family members mean more attention for him, not less.
That transitional period can be rough, though. It’s usually best to make new rules early on, in the later stages of the pregnancy. We recommend outlining physical boundaries at this time too. If the baby’s room is to be forbidden ground, the dog should learn this well before the baby’s arrival. If he often barks and loudly enough to disturb the baby’s sleep, train him against that before it becomes an issue.
It might also be a good idea to get the dog accustomed to certain smells, sights, and sounds. If the scent of baby lotion or borrowed clothes piques his interest now, he might ignore it later. The same applies to the loud sounds that baby toys make or even recordings of a newborn crying.
But we wouldn’t worry too much about having to give the dog away when the baby comes. Owners who end up taking that measure of last resort are few and far between. What’s important is that dog owners/parents stay as mentally sound as possible. Raising children and wrangling puppies are very different tasks, but both tax the same resolve.
Help! My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself! — What the Owners Expect from Pet Care Professionals
The Right and Wrong Ways of Answering an Owner’s Questions
Finally, let’s consider how an owner’s concerns should be addressed by pet health care professionals. We all know how important it is to be attentive and obliging, but that’s not always easy. Pet owners in distress can be sensitive, vulnerable, and demanding. With that in mind, here are the guidelines that we think would be helpful in everyday practice.
Listen to What the Owners Are Saying
Owner’s frustration with pet health care providers often stems from the feeling of being ignored. Experts can come off as dismissive or conceited, but everyone deserves to be heard. Could we shrug off a parent’s concern for their child’s health? Of course not. The same should apply to the owner of a dog in distress.
Try to Alleviate Any Feelings of Guilt
A pet owner often worries they might be the cause of their furry friend’s condition. “What did I miss? Why didn’t I prevent this? Is it all my fault?” It’s irrational, but it does happen. The pet care professional should let the owner raise this concern, then help them put it aside. While trying to solve the problem, don’t worry about assigning blame. (There’s plenty of time for that later.) When the owners see reason in this, they become much more cooperative.
There’s No Such Thing as a Dumb Question
Some dog owners compulsively churn out theories about their puppy’s condition. They’re under a lot of stress, but even these half-baked ideas can be potential contributions. The vets shouldn’t dodge them or openly dismiss them. If an owner says my dog is lethargic and not himself anymore, don’t reply with it’s probably anything. Don’t automatically write it off as old age. Instead, consider all that the owner has to say and try to offer a range of possible solutions.
So My Dog Is Lethargic and Not Himself — But There Are Solutions.
Few things are more difficult for dog owners than to watch their beloved pet suffer in silence. Behavioral changes are a complex issue, in animals as well as humans, but they are not impossible to resolve. It might take a lifestyle adjustment, a strict regimen of mood-altering drugs, or even compassionate acceptance of nature taking its course.
We hope that dog owners can find some comfort and inspiration in the cases described above. Whatever it takes, don’t lose hope and keep searching for a solution.