How To Tell If Your Dog Has A Fever: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment [With Vet Advice]

If you feel like your dog’s temperature is higher than normal, it may be because he just had some playtime or exercise! However, if that’s not the case, there are some ways to tell if your dog has a fever with or without a thermometer.

In this article, we share about how to tell if your dog has a fever, the signs and symptoms, causes, treatment and when to consult a vet.

Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information that should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from a vet. For an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s health condition, please consult a vet. 

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. A normal temperature for dogs should range between 38°C to 39.2°C (100°F to 102.5°F).

Anything 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 higher. However, it shouldn’t be above 40°C.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Fever in Dogs

Pug wrapped in a blanket

Several observable signs can indicate a fever in dogs. It’s essential for pet owners to be aware of these symptoms for timely recognition and response. Common indicators of fever in our canine friends include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Shivering (not caused by stress or pain)
  • Panting
  • Lethargy / not wanting to move
  • Red or glassy-looking eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose/ constant sneezing
  • Warm ears and/or nose

It’s important to remember that any deviation from your pet’s normal behavior or health could be a sign of discomfort or illness. If you observe any unusual changes, including but not limited to the symptoms mentioned, it’s likely that your dog is feeling unwell and may need medical attention.

What Causes a Fever in Dogs?

Fevers in dogs are usually caused by an immune or inflammatory response. The causes can be classified mainly by the following:

1. Infectious causes

Infections, often a trigger for fever in dogs, are caused by exposure to harmful bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. These can include a range of conditions such as:

  • Bites, scratches, or cuts that have become infected
  • Infections in the ear
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Dental issues like an abscessed or infected tooth
  • Persistent viral or bacterial illnesses
  • Organ infections, affecting areas such as the kidneys or lungs

2. Immune-mediated causes

Immune-mediated causes refer to a compromise in the immune system that has led to an immune response. This includes auto-immune disease, polyarthritis and lupus.

A low-grade fever for 24 to 48 hours after vaccination is also not uncommon and results from the interaction between the injection and your dog’s immune system.

3. Neoplastic causes

Neoplastic causes result in tumour growth that can be benign or malignant. Fever is commonly a result of cancer, typically leukaemia or lymphoma.

4. Toxic causes

Exposure to toxic substances can also lead to a fever. This includes ingestion of items poisonous to dogs, such as:

  • Certain human foods like macadamia nuts
  • Human medications, including some antidepressants

How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature With a Thermometer

The most reliable method for measuring a dog’s temperature involves inserting a thermometer into their rectum. Though various pet-specific temporal (forehead) thermometers are available on the market, they are often inaccurate due to the fur covering your dog’s forehead. 

Here’s the step-by-step process of taking your dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer:

Step 1: Ensure that your dog is calm

To ensure your dog remains calm during temperature taking, it’s helpful to have someone around who can gently hold your dog still. This approach not only aids in safely managing any unexpected movements or discomfort but also reduces the risk of a startled reaction, such as biting. Additionally, offering your pup some dog treats can provide a soothing distraction, helping them stay relaxed throughout the process.

Step 2: Lubricate the end of the thermometer

You can either use lubrication gel, petroleum jelly, coconut oil, or Vaseline. This will allow the thermometer to slide easily into your dog’s rectum for better comfort.

Step 3: Gently lift your dog’s tail

Once your dog is calm, lift his tail gently and locate the rectum. The rectum is the opening directly under the tail.

Step 4: Insert the thermometer into the rectum*

Gently insert the tip of the thermometer* into your dog’s anus, about 1 inch deep. After inserting the thermometer, you can lower your dog’s tail back to its normal position. This often helps your dog feel more at ease and less likely to fuss during the process.

*Only insert the metal-coated tip.

Step 5: Wait for a few seconds

Wait for the thermometer to beep if you’re using a digital one, or hold it in place for about 60 seconds if it’s a mercury thermometer. Then, carefully remove the thermometer and check the reading for your dog’s temperature.

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

Ear thermometers are an option, though it’s worth noting that many dogs are not comfortable with objects being placed in their ears. These thermometers function by detecting the infrared heat waves coming from the area around the dog’s eardrum.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Fever Without a Thermometer

If you don’t have a thermometer, there are other ways to gauge the temperature of your dog. Here are 4 steps:

1. Feel your dog’s ears and paws

Man feeling a dog's ears

Dogs 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 nose

Man toucing a dog's nose

If there are signs of yellow or green nasal discharge, it might be due to an infection. Infections are one of the causes of fever. In such cases, you should consult a vet immediately.

3. Check your dog’s gums

Opening a dog's mouth to check his gums

Ensure that your dog is calm before checking his gums. Open his mouth gently using two hands and look out for dry, warm gums that look redder than the usual pink. These are signs of fever.

4. Feel your dog’s groin area and armpits

Checking your dog's armpits and groin

Lay your dog down on his back and gently feel his groin area and armpits. If these areas feel hot and swollen, your dog is likely running a fever.

What to Do If Your Dog Has a Fever

If your dog shows signs of extreme lethargy, blood in stool or vomit, a loss of appetite, or if their fever surpasses 40.2ºC (104.5ºF), it’s crucial to treat it as an emergency and take them to a veterinary clinic.

Equally important is to avoid giving your dog any over-the-counter human medications like ibuprofen to lower the fever. These medications are harmful to pets and could lead to severe health complications or even be fatal.

Having your dog’s fever promptly diagnosed and treated tends to result in more positive outcomes.

Puppy at the vet

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.

Treatment for Fever in Dogs

The treatment for a dog’s fever heavily depends on its cause. Diagnosing the exact reason often requires various tests, such as bloodwork, X-rays, and ultrasounds. 

Sometimes, the cause may remain unidentified despite these efforts.

Fever caused by infections

In cases of infections, the typical treatment involves antibiotics or antifungal medications to combat the underlying cause.

However, for conditions such as pancreatitis, where a specific cure is not available, treatment focuses on providing symptom relief. The recovery period can vary from days to weeks, depending on the severity of the condition.

Fever caused by cancer

Cancer in dogs is usually addressed with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, depending on the cancer type. The response to these treatments varies with some cancers responding well and others not as much.

Fever caused by autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases require a different approach, often involving immunosuppressive drugs to prevent the immune system from attacking the body. Once the immune system has been suppressed, you should notice the fever dropping. 

What Can I Give My Dog for Fever at Home

Woman looking after her dog sick with a fever

If your dog has a fever, there are several measures you can also take at home to help reduce their temperature. These steps are useful for managing your dog’s discomfort and can be effective in stabilizing their condition temporarily:

  • Apply a towel or cloth soaked in cool water to your dog’s ears and paws. This method gently lowers their body temperature. If the fever subsides below 39.4°C (103°F), you can stop using the cool cloth but continue to monitor their temperature.
  • Instead of running a cold bath, use slightly cooler than lukewarm water. Gently place your dog in the water and use a sponge or cloth to apply the cool water on his ears, paws, abdomen, and chest. As this is not a regular bath, you do not need to use soap. Remember to towel dry your dog thoroughly to prevent them from getting cold. Alternatively, if you’re using a hair dryer, then it’s recommended to set it on a low temperature to avoid burning their skin.  
  • Apply cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) to your dog’s ear flaps and paw pads. This can help reduce fever but should be done cautiously.
  • Offer small amounts of cool water regularly to keep them hydrated, especially if your pup hasn’t 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 his body temperature too low which can lead to hypothermia.

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

FAQs About How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Fever

Although warm ears and a dry nose can occasionally suggest a fever in dogs, these signs alone are not conclusive. Typically, a dog’s ears should feel close to room temperature or slightly warmer, and their nose usually remains cool and moist. 

For a more accurate assessment, it's important to look for other symptoms of fever, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, shivering, or an unusual lack of energy. Observing your dog's overall behavior and physical condition is key in determining if they might have a fever.

It's important to encourage your dog to drink small amounts of water frequently to maintain hydration if they have a fever. However, you should avoid forcing them to drink. As for over-the-counter medications, it's important not to give your dog any human fever medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These medications are toxic to dogs and can lead to serious health problems or even be fatal. For safe and appropriate treatment options, it's best to consult with a veterinarian.

Fever in dogs can sometimes subside without intervention as their immune system combats the underlying infection. However, there are cases where the infection is more stubborn and requires medical treatment from a veterinarian.

To help your dog with a fever, you can use a cool compress. Wrap it in a towel and place it gently on areas like your dog's belly, paw pads, and armpits to help lower his body temperature. Ensuring he stays hydrated is crucial; if he’s not drinking water, try offering ice chips.


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