Dog with fever

Key takeaway

Dogs get fevers just like humans, but their normal body temperature is higher than yours. Learning how to take your dog’s temperature can help you become a better pet parent by discovering illnesses before they worsen so your dog can live a happy, healthy life.

As dog owners, you know that there’s nothing better than snuggling with your furry friend. You may notice your dog always feels warm, in most cases, you're just feeling the fact that your dog has a higher normal body temperature than you do. That being said, dogs get fevers, and pet parents need to know when their dog is sick and when it's time to visit the vet.

Dogs have an average body temperature of 101 to 102.5 degrees–which is normally considered a high fever in humans.1 A dog's fever is anything above 102.5 degrees, and the higher it gets, the more serious it can become. Knowing if your dog is sick can help you prevent fatal complications while ensuring your dog stays happy and healthy.

Like humans, when dogs have a high fever, it can be fatal, so if your dog is exhibiting signs of illness, consider taking their temperature. This article will discuss whether dogs get fevers, dog temperature, and how to tell if your dog has a fever. Let's get started.

What Is a Dog’s Normal Body Temperature?

A dog's normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees. Of course, some pets might have a baseline that's slightly higher or lower than the norm, but for the most part, your pet's temperature should never be above 104 degrees as it can indicate they are ill.

Like humans, dogs can also experience low body temperatures. When dogs are hypothermic and have a low body temperature their muscles stiffen, and their breathing and heart rates will slow–which can be fatal. While some breeds are able to withstand colder temperatures, it's important to watch your dog closely in more frigid weather to keep them safe. A good rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you to stay outside for long periods of time, it’s too cold for your dog and it's time to bring them inside.

A dog's normal body temperature, hypothermic body temperature and feverish body temperature.

How To Take a Dog’s Temperature

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine your dog's true body temperature because dogs have higher temperatures when they're anxious or excited. Their temperatures can also vary throughout the day, so you should know your dog's baseline temperature before they get sick.

While you might think you can tell if your dog has a fever by touching their nose or any other part of their body and seeing if it feels warmer than normal, that method simply isn't accurate. Your dog could be warm for several reasons, including sleeping under blankets or lounging in the sun. Therefore, checking your dog's temperature with a digital thermometer is the most accurate way to determine whether or not they have a fever.

With that said, checking your dog's temperature is not as easy as it is with humans since they can't put a thermometer under their tongues. Instead, you'll need to insert the thermometer rectally. Some pet stores carry thermometers made for pets to make this process a little more comfortable for them. Here's how to take your dog's temperature with a thermometer.

  1. Lubricate the thermometer with a water-soluble lubricant or petroleum jelly you might have around the house.
  2. Create a safe atmosphere for your pet. If you're nervous about this process, your pet will be nervous, which can make it more difficult for both of you.
  3. Once your dog is calm, lift their tail and insert the thermometer about an inch into the rectum. Once the thermometer beeps, you're all done and can remove it and check the temperature.

Many dogs struggle with this process because it's uncomfortable and some dogs don't like being touched in some areas of their body. If your dog doesn’t deal with nail clippings well, they'll very likely struggle with having their temperature taken. If this is the case, checking your dog's temperature might be a two-person job.

If you're still having difficulty getting your dog's temperature, even with the help of a second person, you can try the ear temperature technique. Instead of inserting it into your dog's rectum, you'll insert an ear thermometer into the ear canal.

Signs your dog has a fever.

For this method, you won't have to lubricate the thermometer. Instead, you'll insert the thermometer gently into the ear canal and hold it at a 90-degree angle with your dog's head. Be careful with this method; you don't want to go too deep into your dog's ear and rupture the canal.

Some dogs will be resistant to having their temperature taken. It's important not to try to force the thermometer into their rectum or ear as you can risk hurting them. If your dog will not let you get an accurate reading of their temperature, take them to the vet and let the professionals safely take care of it.

5 Signs Your Dog Might Have a Fever

Remember, a fever is just a symptom of something else going on inside your dog's body. It indicates that they're not healthy. If your dog is displaying any of the other symptoms of illness, they might have a fever, and in some cases, you should take your pet to the vet immediately.

  1. Lethargy: Most healthy dogs are fairly active, so if you notice your dog's activity levels have decreased, they might not be feeling well.
  2. Warm ears: Warm ears in dogs can indicate that they have a higher body temperature. However, warm ears can also be a sign of an ear infection. If you notice your dog's ears are warmer than usual, look inside them to see if you can see any signs of yeast, bacteria, or mites. Ears that are infected will also have an odor.
  3. Warm, dry nose: Dogs' noses aren't wet all the time, but if your pet's nose is dry throughout most of the day, it might indicate they're not feeling well. That being said, your dog's nose could be dry for a number of reasons. For example, dogs' noses are typically dry when they're napping or just waking up from a nap.
  4. Loss of appetite: When dogs stop eating normally, it's a sign that something isn't right. If your dog won't eat, it could mean they have a fever. However, it could also mean they have anxiety so check your dog’s temperature to be sure.
  5. Vomiting: If your dog is vomiting, it could mean that they ate something they shouldn't have, or it could be a symptom of an underlying illness. If your dog is vomiting after eating and not drinking water, they could have a fever. If vomiting persists for more than a day, consult a vet because you could risk dog dehydration.

While everything we listed is a sign your dog might have a fever, each sign can also indicate something else. For example, warm ears might mean your dog has an ear infection but not necessarily a fever. Additionally, loss of appetite could mean your dog ate something that didn't agree with their stomach. Therefore, the only accurate way to know whether or not your dog has a fever is to check their temperature or have a professional check their temperature.

Know your dog’s normal body temperature and pulse to spot illness faster.

Common Causes For Fevers in Dog

Dogs can have fevers for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Infection: Dogs can get bacterial, fungal, and viral infections like distemper anywhere in their bodies. Another common viral disease is parvovirus which is most common in puppies and causes gastrointestinal illness.2
  • Recent Vaccinations: Vaccinations may cause a low-grade fever in dogs for up to 48 hours after infection.1
  • Toxins: There are many things that are poisonous to dogs, including human foods such as xylitol (artificial sweetener).1 Be careful of any dog poison in your home that could make them sick, and keep any poisonous items out of your dog’s reach.
  • Worms: Dogs get worms from other infected animals, dead animals, and parasites like fleas. If worms in dogs aren't treated, they can damage the dog's organs and lead to death.
  • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis occurs when the dog's pancreas becomes inflamed and swollen, making it difficult for dogs to digest food.

Sometimes a vet will not be able to determine what's causing the fever in your dog, especially if they're not exhibiting any other symptoms. Your vet will likely run tests to rule out specific illnesses, including immune system disorders and cancer.

Cat Urinary Problems to Watch For

Reduce a Dog’s Fever at Home

If your dog has a low-grade fever, you might be able to reduce it from the comfort of your own home. However, if your dog's fever is 106 degrees or higher, seek emergency veterinary care immediately, as this can be life-threatening.1 However, if your dog's fever is around the 103-degree mark, you can help cool their body down with cool water on a cloth and apply it to their paws. You can also fan your dog.

When your dog has a fever, you should always ensure they're drinking enough water to stay hydrated. If you notice your dog isn't drinking at all, it could indicate that they're becoming severely dehydrated and may need to be taken to the vet to receive IV fluids. Other than ensuring your dog is hydrated and trying to cool them down naturally, you should never give your dog any type of human medicine without your vet's approval, as this can poison them.

When Should You Contact a Vet?

It's not normal for a dog to have a fever, so if your dog is acting differently and has a temperature at or above 103 degrees, it's time to talk to a vet. However, if your dog's fever has reached 106 degrees, you should take them to an emergency vet who can take care of them immediately.

Once your dog is at the vet, they can help figure out the cause of their fever by conducting an exam and running tests.

Final Notes

Now you know how to tell if a dog has a fever, but it's likely not as simple as you thought it was. Your dog's body could be feeling warm for many reasons, including if they've just played outside or were sleeping in their favorite sunspot. If you have any concerns about the health and wellness of your pet, it's time to talk to a vet.

Dutch offers online veterinary care for your pet without needing you to leave the house. So, if your dog isn't feeling well, you can get the advice you need to help them feel better without taking on the stress of getting in the car and going to the doctor.

Note: Dutch does not perform emergency services. If your pet has a high-grade fever, take them to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.

References

  1. “Fever in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 26 Dec. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-fever-and-temperature/.

  2. “Canine Parvovirus.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 21 Dec. 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/baker-institute/our-research/canine-parvovirus.