If your dog is lacking in energy, this can be a sign that something is medically wrong. Any changes in behaviour or demeanour should first be reported to your vet and a full and thorough examination undertaken. Loss of energy and general lethargy/apathy can be symptomatic of circulatory disease or metabolic conditions such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism. General causes may include pain and a high temperature which can be symptomatic of many canine disorders. It is always better to be safe than sorry and don’t rely on Dr Google or the opinions of those who are unqualified to offer advice – seek professional help first and foremost. Once your vet has ruled out any underlying causes, the following may be helpful in addressing the problem.
Be honest. Is your dog carrying a little too much weight? Has he gained weight recently even if just a small amount between now and the last time he was on the scales. Even a small amount of excess weight can be significant, and the more weight a dog has to carry, the more strain there will be on his joints, circulation and other vital organs. If your dog has gained weight recently and there is no metabolic reason for this, one of the best things you can do is help him to regain his normal energy levels is to slim him back down to his optimal weight. Make sure if you do decide to put your dog on a diet that you do so with professional guidance.
Your dog’s diet is very important in relation to his energy levels. As per the first point, you don’t want a fat dog, but you do need to make sure your dog is provided with sufficient fuel to support the exercise that he undertakes. Some diet related possibilities for a loss of energy may include :
a) A very sudden and unaccustomed reduction to the dog’s calorie intake (this could be caused if he’s refusing his food or not eating enough, or if you have reduced the food intentionally to aid with a diet or are bringing a puppy down to lower adult rations, but rather too quickly).
b) A change to a diet with a different nutrient balance (i.e. the way in which the protein, fat and carbohydrate is proportioned within the food). Different dogs digest, metabolise and utilise different diets to different degrees of efficiency and sometimes a product with alternative ingredients and/or a different nutrient balance (the way in which the protein, fat and carbs are balanced) can make a difference for the better in the case of a dog who is lacking in energy since different feeds affect the blood sugar, serotonin levels and rate at which energy is released. If your dog was faring very well on his original diet then it may be wise to revert to this, or at least look for an option which contains similar percentages of protein, fat and carbohydrate (and also one which has a similar calorie content and suggested feeding volume).
c) A change to the timing and / or frequency of feeds. This too can affect the blood sugar, serotonin levels and rate at which energy is released. Try reverting back to the original routine to see if matters improve. Most adult dogs with a normal digestion fare very well on two meals per day. Others may thrive better on three (although do always take care not to exercise too near to a mealtime either side).
Slowing down is a natural part of ageing. So long as your dog has a clean bill of health; if he is getting older, you may need to accept that just like people, he might not be up to such quite long works or periods of play as he used to enjoy in his younger days. He’ll still require plenty of physical and mental stimulation, but you may need to pace your walks a little more slowly. Perhaps more lead walking rather than free running may help, or if your dog loves to run, a shorter period off lead. Swimming is great for older dogs and is very good for their muscle tone and definition, so trying out a hydrotherapy pool for some supervised fun in the water could be an option to consider. Do make sure older dogs are examined if they are becoming stiff after rising, after exercise or in the colder weather. Arthritis and degenerative joint disease are very common, and if your dog is uncomfortable this may cause him to be reluctant to exercise.
Most dogs adore a good amount of exercise (health status permitting), and it’s essential to ensure that they are adequately stimulated and taken for plenty of enjoyable walks. Problems can however arise when dogs that have previously been used to a more sedentary life-style are suddenly expected to partake in more vigorous activities. Have you taken up running and recently started taking your dog with you? If your dog is not used to this, it will time to build up his stamina. Jogging is fairly low impact, and most dogs will take to it well, so start off at a slower pace and let him build up his muscles and get used to higher intensity exercise gradually. Dogs will often tear around off the lead at great speed if allowed, but (for most, but not all!) this tends to be for fairly short bursts followed by a more leisurely period of sniffing and investigation. Let your dog decide the pace and don’t rush him. Allow him rest periods when he starts to slow down. The same applies to canine sporting activities such as agility and fly ball. These sports can be enjoyed at any level, but a novice dog will need to acquire faster speeds and greater stamina over time. If your dog is taking more exercise (e.g. he’s a working dog and it’s the shooting season, or he’s just stepped up a grade at his agility class), he will need more calories - so it is essential to consider reviewing and raising his feed volume or changing to a diet with a higher fat and calorie content to support these increased demands. Contrary to some misguided beliefs, although carbohydrates supply energy, fat is the most efficient energy source for dogs, and one gram of pure fat contains more than double the amount of calories as one gram of pure carbohydrate (or protein). Do exercise caution however with any dog known to have liver or pancreatic problems as fat restriction will be necessary.
Depression will often result in lethargy in both people and pets. It’s important therefore to ensure your dog is happy. Can you think of something that could have caused any upset or upheaval? Examples could include the arrival of a new baby, a new pet in the household, a change to the family routine, the loss of an existing pet or something that has scared your dog (such as a car back-firing, fireworks, storms). Dogs can be very sensitive creatures, so it’s essential to look at all possibilities and enlist the help of a qualified behaviourist who uses kind and ethical methods to get to the bottom of any problem and try to minimise the risk of recurrence.