Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dog Medical Emergencies Survey: Is Reduced Activity an Emergency?

9.09% survey participants believe that reduced activity is an emergency.


The key point here 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 important to investigate, but it is not an emergency.

Lethargy is defined as 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. He 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. He still had playful spells, but they were short-lived. He didn't have any major joint issues, but his heart was getting worn out. Doing things, as much as he wanted, was becoming increasingly difficult for him. 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 heart beat at all. But it was a gradual process.

Every time Jasmine didn't come to greet daddy at the door, I knew it was an emergency. When all Cookie wanted to do was to lay down under daddy's desk, I knew it was an emergency.

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

While there can be some confusion what the is 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

Dog Medical Emergencies Survey
Dog Medical Emergencies Survey Results
Is Unproductive Retching an Emergency?
Is Difficulty Breathing an Emergency?
Is Panting an Emergency?
Is Severe Pain an Emergency?
Is Limping an Emergency?
Is Vomiting Bile in the Morning an Emergency?
Is Profuse Vomiting an Emergency?
Are Convulsions or Seizures an Emergency?
Is Loss of Appetite an Emergency?



Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

35 comments

  1. Thanks for such helpful info. Because I've had so many issues with Red, I feel like everything that's "off" is an emergency. Thankfully never the "rush your dog to the emergency hospital in the middle of the night" but definitely a call to the vet as soon as they open.

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    1. I hear you. Sorry you had so many issues with Red. Jasmine's vet was greeted in the office with my phone call many times too. Feels it was part of his morning routine. Come in, talk to Jana, then take coat off ;-)

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  2. Thanks so much for the article, especially as Layla is over 10 and the vet says she is really healthy for her age, I do watch for changes and this was an eye opener

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    1. Thank you, Ruth. Glad Layla is really healthy for her age. Yes, changes is what's important to watch. The more abrupt the change, the more acute the problem.

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  3. So helpful! Since dogs can't talk, it's really important to be cued into their behavior. <3 Dear Mishu

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    1. Thank you; yes it is important to pay attention.

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  4. This is such great information, and there's definitely an important distinction between the two issues. It's hard to tell sometimes, especially with an older dog. I know our dog Lucy, who will be turning 17 soon, has days that she is a little sluggish, and other days when she runs around like a puppy. She doesn't have any issues going on though thankfully, besides pancreatitis and being an old lady :)

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    1. How sluggish? It might be a good idea to run an ultrasound. Splenic tumors, both benign and malignant can present like that. Really down one day ... then blood reabsorbs and looking good again the next. Particularly with a benign tumor, taking out the spleen is life-saving. Not trying to alarm you and depends on how much the difference is but if severely down some days, I'd do this test.

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  5. Great article - it good to understand the distinction between lethargy and emergency.

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  6. That's a really important differentiation. Great article! It's so scary to see your dogs slow down over time, but seeing it happen all of a sudden is definitely a reason to be concerned!

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    1. Thank you. Slowing down over time can happen with arthritis and other chronic conditions most of which can be managed quite well. Sudden lethargy is a different story altogether.

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  7. That looks like a book I need to get! Our little Lyla is getting a bit older and we need to be even more aware of these potential issues by watching for signs like this. Thank you for informing us all about the red flags!

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    1. Thank you; I hope that if you get the book it will provide you with exactly what you need. Let me know if you get it.

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  8. Reduced activity is definitely a sign that something about Mr. N is off. It happens rarely.

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    1. I'm glad it happens rarely and hope the last time it happened was the last.

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  9. This is helpful information. Sometimes in the moment (when you are worried), it difficult to make the distinction. This post really breaks it down, thanks!

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad this was helpful.

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  10. It is so worrying if they lose energy or exhibit any change in behaviour. So far Kilo has had obvious emergency mishaps like eating chocolate.

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    1. The upside about obvious emergencies is that they are so obvious. Glad he made it through all his culinary adventures. <3

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  11. It can be difficult, when you are stressed, to make a clear distinction between an animal being just tired and something being wrong. I think we tend to have an idea of how our pets are doing but worry when they 'seem' unwell. reduced activity is not something I can use as a judgement for cats as they sleep so much anyway - so I monitor health for the seniors with six monthly checkups and know roughly HOW the other cats SHOULD be behaving.

    Silver came in limping and his paws hardly touched the ground before he was at the vet so I suspect I'm a helicopter mum if something sems wrong!! ....... ;-)

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    1. I think dogs (and cats) actually greatly benefit from helicopter parents. I might just be saying that because I'm one of them ;-)

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  12. When I took the survey, I wasn't sure what to answer for this one, because I thought it depended on the circumstances. Like you said, there is a big difference between a dog slowing down in his senior years and a normally active dog or puppy becoming lethargic.

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    1. I had to make it at least a little difficult; the idea was making people think about these things. Slowing down does warrant veterinary attention but a gradual change is not an emergency. Sudden change does.

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  13. This is really scary. Lethargy is hard to recognize if it's pronounced & ongoing. I'll have to watch out for subtle signs. Thank you!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Do you have a pet with pronounced ongoing lethargy issues? Or waxing and waning lethargy?

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  14. Thanks so much! Most people see my 13 year old dog for a puppy. I keep waiting for the day she starts to show her age, as I fear it will be sudden. Thanks for sharing the things I need to look for!

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    1. That is fantastic. I've seen dogs whose age you'd never guess.

      Should not be sudden unless there is an acute problem triggering it. What I've learned that chronic, progressive problems have progressive signs. If something crops-up all of the sudden, the cause is acute as well.

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  15. You are spot on with this - there is a slight, but important distinction between reduced activity and lethargy. It is so important to spend time with your pets and observe their day-to-day routines so that you can see the difference. Pet have ways of letting us know what is going on with them if we are willing to listen carefully.

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  16. When I first got Lola she was frequently sick and her activity level was an indicator that a vet visit was in order. Thanks for some great info.

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    1. Yes, this is a very good indicator that something isn't right.

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  17. Great and really helpful post. I think the important piece is being able to determine when something is "off" and to be sure to visit the veterinarian to check for the underlying reason in a change in behavior.

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    1. Thank you, Bryn. Yes, it is an important piece of information for sure.

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  18. This was interesting. I associated reduced activity with the normal process of aging.

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    1. Hon, aging in itself does not come with any signs or symptoms. Slowing down with age isn't due to age but health concerns. It could be arthritis, it could be anything else. Yes, such things are more likely with age but they are actual health conditions/pain etc. They can be treated or managed for better quality of life and longer and better life.

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