Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dog Medical Emergencies Survey: Is Severe Lethargy an Emergency?

The results regarding this one really scare me. Only 63.64% of the survey participants checked severe lethargy as an emergency.



And that is with the qualifier "severe" included, listed after reduced activity. No one single situation included in the survey got 100% votes for being an emergency, even though some of them are indeed as dire as it gets.

I explained the difference between reduced activity and lethargy in my last post. Reduced activity does require medical attention, but it is not an emergency.

Lethargy, particularly severe, most definitely, absolutely is an emergency.


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 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:
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?
Is Reduced Activity 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.

27 comments

  1. Anytime the word "severe" is included, emergency should be as well.

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  2. Great points. We love our vet, so when in doubt, off we go. I never want to be in the position that if I saw a vet my dog/cat would have survived vs not seeing a vet and died.

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    1. Yes, always err on the side of caution.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this important medical info!!!

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  4. Such an important topic! I hope with a bit of education, like this post, people will take lethargy more seriously.

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    Replies
    1. I'm hoping too. Keeps me going with the blog etc.

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  5. Whenever our dog (or cats) don't act like themselves, we're off to the vet. One can never be too cautious....

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    Replies
    1. That's for sure. Your dog and cats are very lucky.

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  6. The only time that happened to Mr. N, he had pancreatitis and we went to the vet.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Cookie was severely lethargic when she got pancreatitis too. Sorry Mr. N had that; glad all is well now.

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  7. This is hard to believe, any lethargy in a pet is an emergency and can't be ignored. Love Dolly

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    1. Yes, I found that quite shocking. Mild lethargy can probably wait for normal clinic hours, but severe lethargy ... I specifically added the word "severe".

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  8. None of my dogs have ever displayed severe lethargy, but I think I would have taken them to the vet if they had. Now, I know that I will.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you never had a dog this sick. I'm particularly glad you'd be on your way if you did <3

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  9. Kilo and my previous dogs have never had lethargy but I am a nervous Nelly on symptoms. We have had several vet trips much to Kilo's chagrin (he hates the vet and loves food including stolen chocolate). I also love the ASPCA Emergency hotline where you can get a vet if you suspect the lethargy is because of something they ate.

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    1. Yes, poisons could cause that. I think being overly nervous is always better to go with a hiccup than not to go with a real emergency.

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  10. Well color me Warned! Thanks for this series Jana, it's really eye opening.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Thank you, Cathy. Severe lethargy is a major, major red flag that something is really wrong.

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  11. I always love your posts, I am blessed that if I am concerned about something with Layla especially as she is getting older, I email my vet clinic and they reply the same day, if they think its serious they will call me and tell me to bring her in. She thank goodness at the moment is healthy for her age which relaxes me and since I changed her diet and her food includes hemp hearts and turmeric she is even more energetic :)

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    1. Thank you, Ruth. I'm glad you have a great vet to work with. I'm really glad Layla is doing well.

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  12. Thank you for sharing the results of the survey and the facts behind when a dog should go to the vet. this is an important series of posts.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. The series got "inspired" by all the many posts of people looking for answers online while they should have been in the emergency room instead.

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  13. Oh my gosh. Such an important post. Have bookmarked for future reference

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  14. Very important post! I just Pinned it on my "Bark About" board as well. Having an epileptic dog, lethargy was a side effect from meds, sometimes severe, and one I kept a constant eye on. So important to be aware. Thank you for this post!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, glad you find it useful. And thank you for sharing.

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