Is Reduced Activity an Emergency? What to Do if Your Dog Seems Down

The key point in determining whether reduced activity is an emergency is the distinction between reduced activity and lethargy.

If your dog only wants to walk instead of running, go outside for thirty minutes instead of an hour, prefers chewing on a toy instead of chasing one, that’s reduced activity. Your dog is still doing what they normally would but get tired sooner or choose to tone things down. This is a gradual change, often so gradual that its significance gets lost.

Make no mistake, such a change is essential to investigate, but it is not an emergency.

Is Reduced Activity an Emergency?


Lethargy is defined as a lack of energy and enthusiasm.

The more acute the onset, the more urgent it is to address it. Sudden or pronounced lethargy is an emergency. A marked lethargy that waxes and wanes can mean an emergency, such as your dog bleeding from a splenic tumor. Whether the tumor is benign or malignant, such bleeding can still kill your dog.

These are important distinctions.

Towards the end, Bruin was showing signs of slowing down reduced activity. Bruin was still excited to go for walks but didn’t last as long before getting tired. He would go up and down the stairs but reluctantly so. There were still playful spells, but they were short-lived. He didn’t have any significant joint issues, but his heart was getting worn out. As much as he wanted, doing things was becoming increasingly difficult for him. Finally, the day we let him go, we took him for his last walk and then made a trip to the vet. The vet almost couldn’t find a heartbeat at all. But it was a gradual process.

On the other hand, every time Jasmine didn’t come to greet daddy at the door, I knew it was an emergency. Likewise, when all Cookie wanted to do was lay down under daddy’s desk, I knew it was an emergency.

If a puppy stops being playful, it is an emergency.

A guideline

While there can be some confusion about the difference between lethargy and reduced activity, let the speed of onset guide you.

If your dog is happy, active, and playful one day and doesn’t want to move the next, it is an emergency.

Do not, however, dismiss a gradual change either. Whether there is pain or slow organ failure, this too should not be ignored.

Related articles:
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Lethargy
Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?

Further reading:
My Pet Is Suddenly Tired and Weak. What Is Causing This?

Categories: Changes in behaviorEmergenciesLethargySymptoms

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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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