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Lethargy in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Lethargy is a state of drowsiness, inactivity, or indifference in which there are delayed responses to external stimuli such as auditory (sound), visual (sight), or tactile (touch) stimuli. Lethargy may also refer to the general malaise and decreased activity exhibited by animals that do not feel well.

Lethargy is a nonspecific sign associated with many possible underlying systemic disorders. It may have little to no impact on the affected individual; however its presence may represent severe or life-threatening illness. Lethargy of more than a day's duration should not be ignored, and should be addressed, especially if it persists.

General Causes

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Other blood disorders
  • Cardiovascular (heart and vessels) and pulmonary (respiratory) disorders
  • Chronic inflammation or infection
  • Drug or medication related
  • Electrolyte abnormalities

  • Endocrine (hormonal) or metabolic disorders
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Urinary tract disorders
  • Cancer
  • Immune diseases
  • Certain severe skin diseases
  • Certain eye diseases, particularly those associated with blindness
  • Neurologic and neuromuscular disorders
  • Nutritional disorders
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Skeletal diseases
  • Infectious diseases
  • Exposure to certain toxins
  • Physical trauma

    What to Watch For

  • A general change in demeanor
  • Listlessness
  • Reluctance to play, exercise or perform normal behaviors
  • Hiding, avoiding contact with people or other pets
  • Decrease in appetite or thirst
  • Gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Changes in the level of consciousness
  • Fever

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