5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Apathy?



5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Apathy?


Dogs have been our companions since the beginning of time and have adapted to life with us under various circumstances. Their high adaptability is what makes them such perfect companions. As pack animals, they also require a healthy dose of attention, bonding, and activity.

Oftentimes, if these needs are neglected, the dog will show changes in behavior, like fear of contact, lack of interest in any type of interaction, loss of appetite, and more. Neglect is but one possible reason for changes in behavior.

Any changes in your dog's behavior have to be closely monitored in order to determine the possible causes. For instance, if your happy and content dog suddenly becomes disinterested, or even tends to shy away from activities, it's time to find out why. Could it be the change of environment, like moving to a new house? Are you spending enough time with your pup? Could it be an illness that is causing this?

Because dogs are such social animals, they have a highly developed range of emotions that they feel. Have you ever wondered if your dog worries the same way you do, or if they ever have a bad day? How about feeling apathy - the lack of will to do anything? Is this possible in dogs? If so, what leads to such feelings?


Signs of Dogs Feeling Apathy

Apathy is defined as a state with lack of emotions, a state of indifference. When there is something wrong with your dog, the first thing you will usually notice is a change in behavior. If your canine friend seems disinterested in their routine, playtime, and usual activities, this should be a cause for concern. Some signs your dog will show when feeling apathy are:

  • Sniffing – When your dog feels unwell, they will not be interested in their food, toys, or other things they are usually very energetic about. For instance, instead of chowing down their food, your dog will probably only sniff the food but show lack of interest when it comes to eating. One sure sign of apathy is no interest in food at all, closely followed by no interest in toys. Your dog will probably just sniff the toy you bring to them, but they won't move or make an effort to actually interact with the toy (or you) further.

  • Weakness – Your dog might seem like they are completely out of their element, tired, and sleepy. They might try to go home from a walk as soon as you get out the door or show no interest at all in going out. Indicating that you will go for walkies might not even raise a response from your dog; they might just continue lying in one place, showing no will to move at all.

  • Staring – Things or activities that usually elicit an energetic response, like showing the leash for walking or their favorite toy, might just be met with your dog staring at you and then ignoring you.

  • Ears dropping – Dogs signal their emotions with their ears as well. Neutral-position ears tell you that your dog is content and relaxed. Ears that are raised signal that something holds their attention, while dropped ears often signal they are unwell, scared, and wish to avoid the situation they are in at that moment.

  • Whining – Dogs that feel apathetic will often refuse to partake in their usual daily activities. If you try to force these on them, like taking them on a walk, for instance, they might refuse to comply and could even start whining.

Body Language

Signs your dog is feeling apathetic include:

  • Staring
  • Whining
  • Ears Drop
  • Sniffing
  • Weakness
  • Dropped Ears

Other Signs

More cues your dog will give when they are apathetic are:

  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Having No Interest In Play
  • Sleeping All Day
  • Not Responding To Normal Activities

History of Dogs Feeling Apathy


Dogs are social animals and they are also pack animals. They have strong ties to other pets in the household, and to their owners, too. This has to do with their ancestors, as they were pack animals with very strong bonds. Even though we domesticated dogs thousands of years ago, many of their pack behaviors are still ingrained, and being social is one of them. Their strong connection to humans has further intensified the social aspects of their behavior, which is what makes them such good companion animals.

Nowadays, dogs are treated as part of our family, and they see their family as their pack. Interaction is key to keep them happy and fulfilled. This why a sudden and even a gradual change in behavior is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. A change from normal behavioral patterns should always be a reason for concern. 

There are many reasons why a dog might suddenly have a shift in how they act, and one such reason can be exterior factors, such as living in a negative environment. Most often, however, a change in the behavior of a dog that is living in thriving conditions indicates that there is an underlying cause that led to the changes.

Science of Dogs Feeling Apathy


When your dog suddenly starts behaving very differently, it's not a bad idea to go to the vet. The most common cause of apathy in dogs is an underlying health issue: any type of illness, pain or fever, can make this happen. Infections are often a cause for this because the body is focusing its energy on fighting the infection, so the dog doesn't feel like doing much.

Another underlying condition of apathy in dogs is depression. Dogs can get depressed too, and apathy is one of the symptoms.

Mental decline is another cause of apathy. Recent advances in veterinary medicine, combined with the increasingly informed decision-making of owners when it comes to nutrition choices for their pets, have led to a longer lifespan of their companions. This brought some new insights, one of them being that senior dogs can suffer from various age-related conditions, such as arthritis or decrease in mental sharpness. In order to make sure your dog thrives in their senior years, it's important to keep them mentally engaged and occupied.

Training Dogs Who Feel Apathetic


Keeping your dog healthy both physically and mentally is key to keeping them thriving well into their senior years. Training dogs with various behavioral issues is a must, but apathy is just one symptom that often indicates there's an underlying condition.

Before you jump to training methods, it's important to find the real cause. In order to rule out serious conditions, it's best to make an appointment with your vet and do a thorough checkup. Treating the symptom will not solve the issue, in this case. 

Once the cause has been identified, the symptom will go away too. Although depression can be the reason behind apathy, depression can also be symptom, so the best approach here is to go to the vet first.

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Safety Tips for Dogs Feeling Apathy:

  1. It's important that if you think your dog is feeling apathetic that you get to the root of the problem or it can cause behavoural and health issues long-term.
  2. Administer any medication or treatments as your vet prescribes.
  3. Don't stop gently trying to motivate your pooch until they are out of their slump.

Written by Charlotte Ratcliffe

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/08/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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