One of the most ambiguous and yet extremely important symptoms to watch for in dogs is lethargy.
The quieter your dog gets, the more serious the situation is.
lethargy [ˈleTHərjē] – lack of energy and enthusiasm; state of sleepiness or deep unresponsiveness and inactivity
High urgency, low clarity
Lethargy doesn’t tell you anything about the reason behind it. Anything that will cause your dog to feel unwell can result in lethargy.
While other symptoms might give you SOME indication as to what could be going on, lethargy will tell you NOTHING about the cause.
When your dog becomes severely lethargic, or the lethargy persists for more than a day or two, you do need to see a veterinarian.
Check the vitals
You may notice other symptoms to go with the lethargy, or you may not.
The other day Cookie woke up in the morning quite lethargic. With her, in particular, the change was alarming. The first thing I did was to check her vitals and her gums and look for the presence of other signs.
Other than the lethargy and disinterest in food, there were none. Everything looked normal. If I had found one more worrisome sign, we’d have been on our way to the emergency clinic. Because Cookie otherwise looked good, we gave her a bit of time to get over whatever was wrong. Fortunately, she improved by the end of the day. If she didn’t, we’d have been on our way to the vet the next morning.
Conditions that can cause lethargy in dogs include the following:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Anemia or other blood disorders
- Heart disease
- Respiratory conditions
- Liver disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Addison’s disease
- Certain medications
- Snake bites
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Urinary tract problems
- Electrolyte abnormalities
- Immune diseases
- Neurologic and neuromuscular disorders
- Certain eye diseases
- Musculoskeletal diseases
I wasn’t kidding when I said that virtually any problem could cause your dog to become lethargic, was I?
Acute versus gradual
Another trap that’s easy to fall into is when changes happen gradually over time. So, for example, when your normally active and playful dog suddenly becomes lethargic, you KNOW something is wrong.
But what if your dog slowly becomes quieter and quieter over time?
Such gradual changes are easy to miss.
You might think your dog is just slowing down with age. But I have seen senior dogs who could outplay the youngest of them. It is not age that will slow your dog down. It is most likely pain or another medical problem. Please, do always keep that in mind.
When your dog becomes lethargic, he is talking to you.
He says, “I really feel like crap. Please, do something.” It’s the equivalent of a person saying, “I think I should see a doctor.”
Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?
Dog Weakness and Lethargy: Causes and Treatments