Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?

Lethargy is a state in which your dog is uninterested in or unable to go about their normal activities. Your dog will act tired, weak, and lacking energy.

Lethargy, particularly severe, most definitely, absolutely is an emergency. Your dog is either very ill, poisoned, in extreme pain or having an adverse reaction to a drug or medication.

Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?

Non-specific but important

While it is a very non-specific symptom, it is a major red flag. Dogs love life and live every moment to the fullest. Imagine how terribly a dog must feel not to want to get up and do anything at all! The more severe the lethargy, the more urgent it is to get your dog medical care.

What conditions can result in lethargy? Pretty much anything that can make your dog feel ill enough.

  • Trauma
  • Poisoning
  • Pain
  • Infections
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Anemia or other blood disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Addison’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Certain medications
  • Snake bites
  • Parasites
  • Dehydration
  • Hypothermia
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Urinary tract problems
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Immune diseases
  • Neurological and neuromuscular disorders
  • Certain eye diseases
  • Musculoskeletal diseases

The big picture

The more severe is the lethargy, the more serious is the problem causing it.

For example, severe internal bleeding, whether caused by trauma, bleeding splenic tumor or clotting disorder will result in severe lethargy. Do you think there is a more fitting example of an emergency than that? What about poisoning? Or severe hypoglycemia? Or liver failure? Severe infection or sepsis?

A recumbent, severely lethargic dog, could be a dying dog!

Add to that the fact that you have no way of discerning between your dog being unwilling or UNABLE to get up. A dog unwilling to get up is likely in severe pain. The reasons for being unable to get up are even worse.

Why am I trying to scare you? Because with a severely lethargic dog you should be scared. And on your way to a veterinarian.

Related articles:
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Lethargy
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture

Further reading:
5 Reasons Your Pet is Lethargic (and When to Worry)

Categories: EmergenciesLethargySymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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