Common signs of fever in dogs

According to Dr Pete Wedderburn (BVM&S CertVR MRCVS who writes for We’re All About Pets), common signs of fever in dogs include

  • loss of appetite
  • shivering (not caused by stress or pain)
  • panting
  • lethargy / not wanting to move

If you notice anything out of the norm for your pet, he’s probably feeling unwell.

What causes a fever in dogs?

There’s a chance that your dog is running a high temperature because he got overheated while running around outside.

But most of the time, it’s a non-specific symptom of different possible problems such as an infection or inflammation.

Infections can include UTIs, bacterial or viral infections, ear infections or infections of internal organs such as the kidneys.

Inflammations causing fevers include auto-immune disease, cancer, infected wounds (such as bites) and abscessed teeth.

What is a dog’s normal temperature?

According to Dr Sandhya Nair (Oasis Vet), the normal body temperature for a dog is higher than in humans. It’s between 38°C to 39.2°C (100°F to 102.5°F).

Pug sitting on a bed and wrapped with a towelAnything higher than that would be considered a fever, and any lower would be hypothermia (low body temperature).

A temperature of above 40°C (104°F) is classified as a high fever and a vet should be consulted immediately.

Note: After strenuous activity, it’s common for a dog’s temperature to be elevated. However, it shouldn’t be above 40°C.

How to take your dog’s temperature with a thermometer

When taking your dog’s temperature, it’s best to use a rectal thermometer.

Person inserting rectal thermometer into a dogStep 1: Ensure that your dog is calm or get another person to hold your dog still

You can keep your dog calm by offering him some treats during the process.

Step 2: Lubricate the end of the thermometer

You can either use jelly, vegetable oil or soap (doesn’t have to be lubrication gel). This will allow the thermometer to slide easily into your dog’s rectum.

Step 3: Gently lift your dog’s tail

The rectum is the opening directly under the tail.

Step 4: Insert the thermometer into the rectum* and turn on the thermometer

After the thermometer is in, you can lower your dog’s tail. Usually, once the tail is back in normal position, your dog is not as likely to fuss about their temperature being taken.

*Only insert the metal-coated tip.

Step 5: Wait for a few seconds

Rectal thermometers usually take about 10 – 30 seconds to display a reading.

Step 6: Clean the thermometer 

Once you get a reading, clean the thermometer and put it away for pet use only. Do not use this thermometer for humans, no matter how much you’ve cleaned it.

Advised by:
Dr Sara Ochoa, DVM and Veterinary Consultant for doglab

From Dr Jennifer Coates (DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today):
Ear thermometers are also available, but many dogs dislike having anything placed in their ears.

How to take your dog’s temperature if you don’t have a thermometer

Here’s how to tell if your dog has a fever if you don’t have a thermometer:

1. Feel your dog’s ears and paws

Black dog with head on person's legs and person touching dog's earsDogs have a slightly higher temperature than humans, so his ears and paws should only be slightly warmer than your hands.

It also helps to know the normal temperature of your dog’s ears and paws. If they’re warmer than usual, he might be running a fever.

2. Feel and check your dog’s nosePerson touching dog's nose

If there are signs of nasal discharge (yellow or green), it might be due to an infection. In this case, you should consult a vet immediately.

3. Check your dog’s gums

Person opening dog's mouth from the side to check its gumsSigns of a fever include dry, warm gums that look redder than the usual pink.

4. Feel your dog’s groin area and armpits

Person feeling Pomeranian dog's groin area while sitting on sofaIf these areas feel hot and swollen, it’s likely that your dog is running a fever.

How to bring down your dog’s temperature when he has fever

You’re advised to bring your dog to the vet once you realise he has a fever.

Pug sitting on a bed and wrapped with a towelHowever, if you’re unable to bring him immediately, do the following:

  • Cool the body with a cold bath
  • Dab cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) to his ear flaps and paw pads
  • Encourage drinking small amounts of cool water unless he has been vomiting

Continue to monitor the temperature and stop the cooling process when his temperature reaches 39.4°C (103°F). Otherwise, you risk bringing the body temperature too low (hypothermia).

Note: Don’t give ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol, or antibiotics without a veterinarian’s recommendation as some are toxic to dogs.

Advised by:
Deborah Aronson, Veterinarian of Ivens Bronstein Veterinary Hospital

How long will the fever typically last?

It’s highly dependent on the cause. Some fevers will last for a few hours, but some may last for weeks.

If the fever is caused by an underlying infection or inflammation, it’ll last until proper treatment is received.

When to bring your dog to the vet

For temperatures over 39.2°C (102.5°F) and under 39.4°C (103°F), use the cooling methods mentioned above to lower the temperature.

Golden retriever puppy sitting on table at the vetBut if his temperature continues to rise above 39.4°C (103°F) or lasts for over 24 hours, it’s time to bring him to a veterinary clinic.

Temperatures over 41°C (106°F) are potentially life threatening and may cause lasting damage to internal organs.

Dr Jessica Kirk, DVM of Vet Explains Pets:
It’s best to have your dog seen by their vet as soon as possible to find the true cause of the fever. Remember, dogs have fevers for a reason, so if you treat the cause, you stop the fever.

Nursing your dog’s fever

Seeing your dog unwell can cause a lot of panic and worry.

But according to Dr Coates:
Mild fevers are often beneficial as they appear to make the immune system better able to fight off infection. Moreover, they may also impair the ability of bacteria and viruses to replicate in the host animal’s body.

Thus, as long as your dog seeks prompt treatment, all will be well. Consult any of these vets in Singapore for more information.

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