What to do if a dog has a temperature

Sabine Berger
Small brown dog laying on a bed

Having a fever is bad enough if it happens to yourself – seeing your precious pooch burning up and feeling poorly, however, is even worse. But what actually counts as a fever for dogs? And what’s still a normal dog temperature? How to check a dog’s temperature to begin with? And what to do if your four-legged friend really is running a fever?

To make sure you’re properly prepared in case your fur baby ever seems to feel under the weather, we’ve put together a handy article for you that answers all those questions and more.

What is a normal dog temperature?

Have you ever noticed how wonderfully warm your dog feels when it curls up next to you on a cold winter day? That’s because a normal dog body temperature is much higher than a normal human body temperature. So, what should a dog’s temperature be and what temperature is too hot/cold for dogs?

While your own body temp should be somewhere between 97.6 and 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 36.4 and 37.5 degrees Celsius), dog temps should be between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 38.3 and 39.1 degrees Celsius). Humans with a temperature of over 101 degrees Fahrenheit would feel very poorly; puppers, however, feel just fine at those temps – so no worries just because your pooch feels pretty warm in comparison to yourself.

Dog fever symptoms

Apart from feeling unusually warm, there are a few rather distinct symptoms, though, that can be warning signs that your dog is really running a fever. The most common ones are:

  • unusually warm ears and/or nose
  • red or glassy-looking eyes
  • panting
  • shivering
  • tiredness/lack of energy
  • lack of appetite
  • runny nose/eyes
  • coughing
  • increased salivation
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea

If your dog shows one or more of these symptoms, it’s time for you to step in by either taking your pooch straight to the vet, or – if the symptoms are still light or unclear – by checking their temperature to see if they actually have a fever.

Small dachshund sleeping on a person's legs

How to take a dog’s temperature and what types of thermometers can I use to measure my dog's temperature?

While there are several ways to take your own temperature, there is only one sure way to take a dog’s temperature: by inserting a thermometer – preferably a digital one, specifically made for dogs – into your dog’s anus to take its rectal temperature.

To do so, first put lubricant on the thermometer, such as Vaseline or baby oil. Then slowly and carefully insert it about 2-3 inches into your dog’s rectum, activate it, and wait until it beeps to signal it’s finished taking your dog’s temperature. Slowly retract it again, and then check the temperature.

If you don’t have a special dog thermometer at home and are wondering how to take a dog's temperature with a human thermometer, don’t worry: as long as it’s a digital thermometer, intended to take your temperature under your arm, in your mouth, or in your anus, it will also work for your dog. Just be sure to properly clean and disinfect it after you use it on your puppy.

What causes a fever in dogs?

Most fevers in humans occur because of infections – and the same is true for dogs. Viral, bacterial, fungal and other infections can all cause the body to try and ‘burn them out’ by raising its temperature – resulting in a fever. As there are many different infections that can cause fevers, it is important to also pay attention to your dog’s other symptoms to determine where the actual problem lies.

Another reason for your dog running a fever could be if they have ingested toxins. Poisonous plants, household chemicals (like cleaning products or antifreeze), or poisoned treats left outside by animal haters are just a few of the potential sources of toxins your dog may have ingested. Toxins are an especially dangerous reason for fevers in dogs, are often accompanied by extreme salivation, vomiting or diarrhoea, and are always an emergency that requires your dog to see a vet immediately.

A much more harmless reason for fevers is your dog running high temperatures after being vaccinated. Vaccines stimulate infections to encourage the body to build immunity against certain pathogens, sometimes causing the same – if lighter – symptoms as the actual disease. If your dog has been vaccinated in the last two days and has no major symptoms apart from a light fever (under 106 degrees Fahrenheit), don’t be alarmed and just keep a close eye on your pooch to see if its fever gets any worse or if additional symptoms start to occur.

Small white dog laying on a wooden floor

When to bring your dog to the vet

Depending on which other symptoms your doggo has, you might want to take your dog to the vet immediately or wait and see if your four-legged friend’s condition won’t get better by itself before the next morning – for example, if the fever occurs on a Sunday or late at night when it’s much harder to get a hold of your usual vet.

Should your dog’s temperature go over 106 degrees Fahrenheit, though, don’t wait and take them to your vet or an animal hospital right away. The same goes for if your dog’s fever is accompanied by other symptoms, especially persistent coughing, salivation, vomiting, panting or lethargy. If in doubt, better be safe than sorry!

Remember, as a Standard or Premium TrustedHousesitters owner member, you get free, 24/7 phone, chat or video consultations with veterinary experts. Just head to your member dashboard to get in touch. 

How to reduce a dog’s fever

Once you’re sure your dog’s fever isn’t an emergency that needs your vet’s immediate attention, or once your vet has taken a look at your pooch and decided they’re good to go home again, there are a few things you can do to reduce your dog’s fever to make them feel better.

First, soak a towel in cold water and wrap your dog’s paws in it, then put another cold towel over its ears. Careful: do not use ice packs as they might do more harm than good by being too cold. Keep monitoring your dog’s temperature while you cool it down, to make sure its temperature doesn’t fall below 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drinking cold water can also help with reducing your dog’s temperature, so try and encourage it to take a few licks.

Lastly, your vet might prescribe special drugs that can bring down your pooch’s fever. Always apply them strictly to prescription and do not use them without consulting your vet first, even if they previously prescribed them for the seemingly same or a very similar condition.

We all want to see our little fur babies healthy and happy and do everything we can to keep them so – but just in case your four-legged buddy gets sick, it’s good to be prepared. And after reading our article, we’re sure you and your pooch will be just fine should they ever run a temperature. Just let us put it out there one last time, though: even if you know what to do and how, it’s always better to be safe than sorry! So, never hesitate to call your vet or an animal hospital whenever you feel something’s off with your dog, even if it’s ‘just’ a fever.

Need a sitter for your pooch?

Leaving your dog while you’re away on vacation can be a stressful time for any pet parent. But don’t worry! Should your four-legged friend need care while you’re away, you can always rely on TrustedHousesitters’ verified and reviewed dog sitters to provide them with as much love, care and affection as you yourself would – we promise. Plus, all sitters have 24/7 access to our dedicated Vet Advice Line while on a sit, so you can rest assured they’ll be in safe hands while you’re away.

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