Listlessness, Lameness, and Collapsing
One of the important things to notice every day about your dog is his level of activity. If your dog is normally bouncing around, begging someone to throw a toy or go for a walk, you should be concerned if one day he is just lying quietly in the kitchen. Any time your dog holds up a paw, is walking awkwardly, or is reluctant to move, you should investigate the cause. Lethargy, lameness, and collapse can all be signs of serious problems.
Normal and Abnormal Lethargy
If your dog is very quiet and less active than normal, think over the activities of the last day or so. Perhaps you were at dog camp and he swam all day for the first time this year. In that case, he is understandably tired and perhaps even a bit sore. If you've simply had a normal day or two at home, however, you need to keep thinking.
Muscle soreness, a fever, even an upset stomach can all make your dog less active. Check gums for pink color (that returns quickly after pressure) to rule out any major internal bleeding. Check your dog's respiratory rate and heart rate — you can check a pulse on the inside of the thigh if you can't feel the heart itself. If gum color, heart rate, or respiratory rate are abnormal, contact your veterinarian.
Lameness can vary a great deal. A stoic dog may walk despite severe arthritis while a puppy may cry and hold a paw up for minutes after having a toe stepped on. As always, it is important to know what's normal for your dog.
If your dog is lame on one foot, carefully examine that leg from the toenails on up. A cracked or broken nail can be very painful. Gently feel between toes for any thorns or cuts. Carefully bend each joint as you move up the leg. Even if your dog is tough and doesn't cry or pull away, his breathing will change as you reach the area that hurts. Any redness, unusual swelling, or tender areas should be considered unusual. Your veterinarian will help you decide on appropriate treatment. For minor muscle pulls, a cold soak with the hose for five minutes and an anti-inflammatory prescribed by your veterinarian may do the trick!
If your dog won't walk on the leg at all, or the lower limb is hanging loosely, you may be dealing with a broken bone. Use extreme care to try to keep the leg from moving and get your dog directly to the veterinarian.
When a Dog Collapses
A dog that has collapsed has a serious problem. It could be heatstroke, serious internal bleeding, or a heart problem. Cancer, the aftermath of a seizure, or bloat can also cause a dog to collapse suddenly. Quickly make sure nothing is blocking your dog's airway and head for your veterinarian. If you suspect heatstroke, apply cold compresses to the dog's head and groin while someone else drives.