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Is Your Dog Lethargic and Limping? Causes & Treatment

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Dogs can be lethargic and limping due to several medical conditions such as parvovirus, leptospirosis, and bone diseases. Dogs of different breeds are affected differently. Consult a vet for a diagnosis if your dog experiences lethargy and develops a limp.

You can how lethargic your dog is based on their normal levels of alertness, and activity and how responsive they are to stimuli in the environment. 

If your dog is limping in addition to being lethargic, it most likely has an injury or disease around the legs, elbows, hips, or paws. 

To treat these symptoms, you have to first identify the cause. Then you can treat it accordingly. 

What Is Lethargy?

Lethargy can be described as exhaustiveness or extreme tiredness. Lethargy manifests differently depending on the breed. Inactive dogs can exhibit lethargy by losing interest in their environment, while lethargy in active dogs is manifested as disinterest in activities they usually enjoy. 

Less Severe Conditions Indicated by Lethargy and Limping

Lethargy and limping are not always caused by severe medical conditions, but can also be a result of less severe conditions:

  • Small limb injuries.
  • Small paw injuries.
  • Less severe infections.
  • Insect bites.
  • Panosteitis.

Lethargy and limping can occur unrelated to each other, requiring separate treatment.

Panosteitis

Panosteitis mostly affects large breeds and can be very painful. It is not life-threatening. It occurs in young dogs under the age of 2 and is often referred to as “growing pains”. 

The main symptom of Panosteitis is limping. Treatment consists mostly of medication to relieve inflammation and pain. [3]

Panosteitis

What Can You Do About Lethargy and Limping?

A thorough diagnosis can only be performed by a vet, but there are some things you can do to find out why your dog is lethargic and limping:

  • Examine your dog’s limbs thoroughly to check for visible injuries.
  • Thorns, splinters, and similar nuisances can be removed by hand.
  • Take your dog to the vet immediately if there are open wounds that are bleeding or other serious injuries such as broken or dangling limbs. 

Severe Medical Conditions Indicated by Lethargy and Limping

Dogs turn lethargic due to several illnesses or conditions. Slowing down is normal if your dog is older. Severe sudden lethargy and limping in young and healthy dogs often indicate severe conditions or injuries. 

Lethargy can be a symptom of blood loss or trauma to the body, as well as the following conditions:

  • Pain or trauma to the body
  • Infections
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Poisoning
  • Medications

Severe medical conditions indicated by lethargy and limping include parvovirus, leptospirosis, and bone diseases.

Parvovirus

Parvovirus

Parvovirus, also called Parvovirus enteritis or PVE, is a contagious disease. It is colloquially known as Parvo and is spread through the feces of infected dogs, contact between infected and non-infected dogs, hands, feet, fabric, and other surfaces that contain the virus. 

Dogs show symptoms of parvovirus after 2 to 14 days of infection. These symptoms include:

  • Severe tiredness (lethargy)
  • Weakness (limping)
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Dogs can become severely dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea. They also become very weak, affecting both their limbs and heart. Hypothermia can occur in severe cases. 

Puppies between 6 weeks and 6 months are vulnerable to infection alongside unvaccinated or partially vaccinated dogs. 

The following breeds are among those most at risk:

  • Doberman Pinschers
  • American Pitbull Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • English Springer Spaniels

The canine parvovirus can be fatal. Dogs that receive thorough treatment early on are likely to make it. The survival rate with swift treatment is between 80 to 95%. Untreated dogs have a survival prognosis of less than 10%.

Treatment for parvovirus is multi-faceted. Antibiotics are often necessary for secondary infections. Dogs may need to be fed via tubes and receive fluids intravenously via a drip to treat dehydration. 

Medication can also be given to prevent vomiting and nausea. Blood/plasma transfusions can be necessary as well. 

Good hygiene and a clean environment help prevent parvovirus. You can have your dog vaccinated annually for complete immunity.[1]

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection. The bacteria is spread via open water, puddles, and the urine of infected wild animals. Dogs can become infected by drinking this water. Leptospirosis spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream. 

Dogs can also become infected if they have a cut that comes into contact with the bacteria.

Dogs that hunt, live on farms, or live near wooded areas are susceptible to Leptospirosis. Marshy, wet areas where water can stagnate are particularly dangerous. Pastures with high levels of irrigation are also high-risk areas.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis include the following:

  • Lethargy.
  • Stiffness in the limbs, resulting in a limp.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dehydration.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Fever.
  • Depression.
  • Runny nose.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Leptospirosis reproduces in the liver, kidneys, nervous system, eyes, and reproductive system. 

Related: My Dog Is Shaking and Limping

The infection can be mild or severe, depending on the strength of the immune system. Early treatment is necessary as leptospirosis is potentially fatal, especially for young dogs.

Treatment for Leptospirosis is similar to that for parvovirus:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Fluid therapy.
  • Blood transfusions in the case of hemorrhage.
  • Gastric tube feeding.

Recovering dogs should get lots of rest, and be kept in a crate or other safe comfortable area. They should be monitored carefully during this time. Toilet breaks and meals should be planned. 

Bodily fluids from an infected dog should be washed away surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected. Latex gloves should be worn for safety when handling your dog while they are sick.[2]

Related: Why Is My Dog Limping & Licking Its Paws?

Bone Diseases

Old Dog Illnesses

Bone diseases can cause both limping and lethargy in dogs. 

Common issues with canine bones are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bone Infections
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia

Older dogs are prone to conditions like osteoarthritis. Supplements, anti-inflammatory medications, and pain medications can help. 

Arthritis does not have a cure but it can be managed. It is the most common chronic condition in dogs. Young dogs can also be affected by arthritis, although it is rare. 

Arthritis is characterized by the degeneration of cartilage at the joints, resulting in inflammation as there is no cushioning to support the movement of the bones. Arthritis makes walking difficult for dogs and could be the cause of a limp. 

Bones can also become infected. Pathogens that enter the blood via certain wounds can affect bones too. Dogs can experience lethargy, fever, and lose their appetite. 

Canine Hip Dysplasia is another common bone condition in dogs. Large breeds are the most affected:

  • Great Danes
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers

This condition occurs when the ball joint of the hip does not fit correctly into the socket. This is caused by the incorrect formation and growth of the bones of puppies. 

Treatment is similar to that of arthritis and it involves symptom management. Surgery is sometimes required in severe cases. 

FAQs

Why Is My Dog Limping and Lethargic?

Your dog is limping and lethargic because it’s affected by a disease, infection, or is in pain due to an injury. It is important to get a proper diagnosis from your vet. 

Why Is My Dog Limping and Lethargic All of a Sudden?

Minor injuries are a common cause of a sudden limp in dogs. Cuts, scrapes, pavement burns, or thorns or glass getting stuck in a paw or leg can cause a dog to limp. Sharp objects can easily cause injury to dogs’ feet, especially if they are outdoors often. 

When Should I Be Concerned About My Dog Being Lethargic? 

You should be concerned about your dog’s lethargy if it continues for 2 days or more. A lethargic dog can lose interest in things they normally enjoy. Dogs can become tired and develop sore muscles from lots of physical activity. The lethargy that is prolonged can be a cause for concern.

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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