August 5, 2019

The Difference Between "Lethargic" and "Low Energy"

Lethargic is a word we hear a lot in the veterinary profession. Pet parents tell us their pet is "acting lethargic" or "seems lethargic" all the time. But is that actually the most accurate way of describing what's going on? Not usually...but we usually know what they mean anyway. Let's talk about the difference between tiredness, lack of energy, and lethargy, and what's the most serious.

The Definition of Lethargy

Well, that depends on who you ask. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as, "lacking in energy; feeling unwilling or unable to do anything." Merriam-Webster says it's, "of, relating to, or characterized by laziness or lack of energy." defines it as, "an abnormal state or disorder characterized by overpowering drowsiness or sleep." Those sound pretty similar, but they're actually saying different things when you look closely. There's a lot of gray area between "lacking in energy" and "overpowering drowsiness," no? It's no wonder lethargy has become a catch-all term for pet parents trying to describe their pet's ailments.


What's the Big Deal?

At the end of the day, it's your vet's job, not yours, to figure out exactly what's going on with your pet. But since our pets can't talk, it's up to us to accurately describe their symptoms. The more information you're able to give your vet, the better equipped she'll be to treat your pet. To some veterinarians, the word "lethargic" means a little sleepy and low-energy. To others, "lethargic" might mean absolute listlessness bordering on loss of consciousness. It's in your pet's best interest for you to give context around the word if you choose to use it or, better yet, try another description instead. There are a lot of words to choose from that provide more context than "lethargic!"

  • Unusually sleepy
  • Unenergetic
  • Tired
  • Out-of-It
  • Sluggish
  • Inactive
  • Slow-moving
  • Unresponsive
  • Apathetic (about eating, playing, etc.)

How to Describe a Lethargic Pet

When in doubt, always provide your vet with too much info rather than not enough. Experienced veterinarians are great at reading between the lines, and knowing whether your pet is a little drowsier than usual today or too tired to eat since yesterday could be the difference between life or death. And remember, try to provide as much info as possible around what preceded your pet's lethargy. Did you go swimming? Did she eat something? Maybe you went on a longer-than-usual walk or she started a new medication? Context is key.

Is your pet feeling lethargic?

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