Dog with thermometer

Key takeaway

Dogs can have fevers for several reasons, but fevers typically indicate that your dog's body is fighting off an infection. Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can all cause fevers in dogs. Therefore, it's important to get the appropriate veterinary care to ensure their fever doesn't worsen.

If you sense your dog has a fever, the best way to find out is by taking your dog's temperature with an ear or rectal thermometer. You cannot get an accurate reading on your dog's health by touching their nose to feel if it's hot or cold. Once you have a thermometer, you can determine whether or not your dog has a fever.

If you took your dog's temperature correctly and they have a fever, you may be wondering what to do about it. Being a pet parent is the same as being a parent to a human child, so it can be an emotional experience to discover that your dog has a fever. This article will discuss a healthy temperature for dogs, signs your dog has a fever, how fevers are diagnosed, and common treatments for fevers in dogs.

What Is a Normal Temperature for Dogs?

Normal dog body temperature is between 99.5 and 102.5F degrees.

Dogs are naturally warmer than humans, so a dog's normal body temperature ranges between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.1 Your dog likely has a fever when their temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or above. A temperature of 106 degrees or higher can become dangerous to their internal organs and even fatal.1 Ultimately, if your dog has a fever, you should never let it exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Having a fever is not healthy, so it's important to go to the vet, especially if your dog's fever continues to rise. The best way to get a clear reading on your dog's temperature is to use an ear or rectal thermometer. Taking your dog's temperature can be tricky because those are two places where they may be uncomfortable with you touching.

To take your dog's temperature with a rectal thermometer, always gather your supplies ahead of time and keep your dog calm. Lubricating the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly or lubricant can help make the process more comfortable for your dog and prevent damage to their sensitive skin. When your dog is calm and you're ready, insert the thermometer about one inch into the rectum.1

Depending on your dog's temperament, you may choose to use an ear thermometer that you insert into the ear. However, you mustn't go too deep into the dog's rectum or ear. Sticking the thermometer too deep into your dog's ear can rupture the ear canal.

However, even thermometers can tell you your dog has a fever even when they don't. For example, if your dog is excited, they may become a few degrees warmer. Never take your dog's temperature after exercise or lying in the sun. These activities can make your dog's body warmer and affect the reading.

Signs a Dog Has a Fever

When your dog has a viral or bacterial infection, their natural defenses will react by increasing their temperature in an attempt to kill the bacteria or virus. A fever can also activate the body's immune system, making it easier to fight off the cause of the fever. Since a fever indicates your dog is not healthy in some way, other symptoms can accompany a fever1, such as:

Signs a dog has a fever
  • Red eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Warm ears and nose
  • Shivering
  • Lack of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting

Many of these symptoms indicate a more serious health concern. For example, a fever accompanied by a dog coughing and wheezing, vomiting, and eye discharge can indicate distemper. Additionally, if your dog won't eat or is vomiting alongside a fever, it can signify poisoning. If your dog has diarrhea and is lethargic, make sure to schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to rule out any medical conditions.

Causes of Fever in Dogs

Your dog can have a fever for several reasons. Not only can fevers arise due to your dog ingesting something toxic, but they can also occur as a side effect of vaccinations or medication.1

Other reasons your dog may have a fever include bacterial, fungal, and viral infections,2 such as:

Causes of fever in dogs

  • Ear infections
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
  • Infections due to wounds, bites, or cuts
  • Infections due to dental issues
  • Infections in a dog's organs

Your dog can also have a fever due to other conditions, such as allergies or getting heat poisoning, which can result in a heat rash on your dog's belly. Fever in dogs can also be caused by dietary indiscretion, meaning they ate something something that was toxic.1 Inflammation and even cancer can also lead to a dog’s fever.2

Of course, you should never try to diagnose the cause of your dog's fever on your own. Instead, if your dog has a high fever, take them to the vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment. High fever can cause organ damage and become fatal if your dog is not cared for quickly and properly.

If your dog has a fever after a recent vaccination, notify your vet. They'll be able to tell you whether your dog's fever is a normal side effect. In most cases, a low-grade fever is expected. However, if the fever increases over time, take your dog to the vet for treatment.

Diagnosing a Dog's Fever

Dog fevers are easily diagnosed by vets using a thermometer. However, when you take your dog to the vet, they won't be trying to diagnose the fever; instead, they'll attempt to determine its cause. Since healthy dogs don't get fevers, your vet needs to perform an examination to find the cause.1

Your vet will ask you about the different symptoms your dog is experiencing. For example, your vet will want to know if your dog is dehydrated, not eating properly, or lethargic.

Your vet will conduct a physical exam similar to the annual wellness exam. They may also run laboratory tests, including urinalysis and blood tests, which can provide a more accurate picture of your dog's health.1

Dog covered in a blanket

Dog Fever Treatment

Treatment of your dog's fever depends on the cause of their illness. For example, if your dog has a fever due to an ear infection, your vet will treat the ear infection with medicated ear drops. Once the condition causing the fever subsides, your dog's fever should go away with it. Fevers typically resolve on their own or in response to treatment.3

Since dog fevers can be fatal and cause organ damage and failure, try to keep your dog's fever down. While you should always go to the vet at the first sign of a fever, especially if other symptoms are present, you can help keep your dog cool by putting a wet towel or cloth on them.2 Additionally, it's important to avoid dog dehydration when your pet has a fever. Even though your dog may be lethargic, try to get them to drink water.

When your dog has a fever, monitor them closely and take their temperature a few times a day to ensure the fever isn't increasing. If the fever does increase, you should take your dog back to the vet.

Fever in Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Can I tell if my dog has a fever through touch?

You cannot accurately tell if your dog has a fever through touch. It is a myth that you can tell if a dog has a fever by touching their nose or ears. While their body may be warm, the only way to accurately read your dog's temperature is by using a pet thermometer.

An ear or rectal thermometer will give you the most accurate reading of your pet's temperature to help you determine if your dog is sick. However, if your dog won't let you take their temperature, look for other signs of illness, such as lethargy in dogs, lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Will my dog's fever go away on its own?

Dog fevers can resolve on their own as their body naturally fights off the infection causing the fever. However, some infections can't be fought off easily by the body and will need veterinary intervention. For example, most UTIs need to be addressed with antibiotics. Letting your dog try to fight a UTI on their own can lead to blood in their urine, pain, and kidney damage.

Sometimes dog fevers go away and then come back with no other symptoms. When this happens, it's called a "fever of unknown origin."3 These fevers can be challenging to treat, so you must monitor your pet daily to ensure their fever isn't coming back.

What can I give my dog for a fever?

Never give your dog any human medicine for a fever because it may be toxic for them. Instead, you can help reduce a dog's fever by putting a wet towel over their bodies and ensuring they stay hydrated. If you want to give your pet medicine, consult a vet first. Your vet will want to examine your dog to diagnose them and develop a treatment plan.

Final Notes

A fever is your dog's way of fighting off an illness, which can happen due to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. If you want to know if your dog has a fever, use an ear or rectal thermometer to get an accurate reading. Once you've determined your dog has a fever, take them to the vet as soon as possible. If your pet has a fever and other symptoms, it can indicate a serious health issue.

With Dutch, you can get your concerns addressed and obtain the treatment and medications your pet needs from the comfort of your home. Dutch offers non-emergency telemedicine services for pets that can help nervous dogs avoid the vet. As a result, pet parents can have peace of mind knowing their pup will be properly taken care of.

References

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

  2. “Help! My Dog Has a Fever, What Should I Do? | VMSG Vet Blog.” Veterinary Medical and Surgical Group–OC (VMSG-OC) , https://www.vmsg-oc.com/site/blog/2021/06/30/fever-in-dogs.

  3. Lunn, Katharine F. “Fever of Unknown Origin in Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/metabolic-disorders-of-dogs/fever-of-unknown-origin-in-dogs.