Does Your Dog Have Fever? 5 Simple Causes & Treatment

So your dog’s ears are feeling a bit warm, his nose is a little dry and warm too!

Could it be a fever?

How do you tell if a dog has a fever?

In this article we will look at how to detect a fever, including taking a dog’s temperature, the potential causes of fever and what steps to take when dealing with a fever:

Dog with thermometer in their mouth

How Do I Know if My Dog Has a Fever?

Detecting Fever in Dogs: Common Symptoms

Understanding your dog’s typical active and resting behavior, including panting and body temperature, is an important first step before diagnosing health conditions.

Your dog’s body temperature is a vital parameter used for medical diagnosis.

The typical body temperature for a dog is between 99.5 – 102.5F (37.5°C – 39.2°C).

A dog’s temperature is between one and three Fahrenheit higher than a human’s 98.6°F (37°C), this can be one reason why it may be difficult to detect fever in dogs.

The respiration rate for a healthy dog is anywhere between 15 and 40 inhalations and exhalations a minute.

The heart rate for a small healthy dog is anywhere between 120-160 beats per minute and for a large dog 60-120 beats per minute.

Any change in these normal ranges for your pooch suggests something may not be right.

Your dog’s core body temperature is very tightly controlled, as it is in all healthy mammals, through gaining heat (i.e. basal metabolism) and losing heat (e.g. conduction and evaporation).

What is Fever?!

Fever, know as pyrexia by vetinarians, is defined as a body temperature higher than normal.

So an elevated body temperature in your dog.

We’ve established that the body temperature of a healthy dog is between 99.5 – 102.5F.

Fever is defined as a body temperature between 103 – 106F.

Dog Body Temperature Heath
99.5 – 102.5F Healthy
103 – 106F Fever
106F + Serious/Fatal

This increase in body temperature can also be accompanied by a range of symptoms including:

  • Red eyes/Glassy-looking eyes
  • Warm/hot ears
  • Warm, dry nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy/fatigue
  • Shivering
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Panting heavily

If you suspect your dog has a fever. The only accurate way to be sure of their increased body temperature is to check using one of the options below.

How to Take a Dog’s Temperature

A veterinarian taking a dog's temperature
Dog’s don’t particularly like either approach, so another pair of hands is always helpful to distract and comfort!

Firstly, take your dog’s temperature.

This can be done with a thermometer – a dog or human one, just remember to mark it clearly if you’re using a human one!

Although it’s not the most glamorous side of dog ownership, your dog’s temperature can only be accurately taken from the rectum or the ear.

It’s widely accepted amongst the scientific community that the best measure of your dog’s core body temperature is using a rectal thermometer.

It can be done in less than a minute with a digital thermometer, so it’s not as bad as it sounds!

Rectal Thermometer

For a rectal temperature reading, use petroleum jelly to lubricate the end of the thermometer.

Insert the thermometer about an inch into your dog’s anus.

Make sure to lift their tail out of the way.

The manufacturer instructions for your thermometer will indicate how long it should take to gain an accurate reading.

This should typically be up-to 30 seconds.

A digital thermometer will flash with the reading.

Auricular Thermometer

Ear readings can be very accurate when carried out properly, but, the thermometers can be a little more expensive.

These thermometers measure the infra-red heat waves that are emitted from the ear drum.

Ensure you place the thermometer into the horizontal ear canal to gain an accurate reading.

Again, manufacturer instructions will indicate how long it should take to gain an accurate reading.

Top-Tip

Remember to clean and disinfect your thermometer after use.

If it isn’t possible to gain an accurate reading from a thermometer, warm ears, nose, armpits and groin area is a good indicator of raised temperature.

How to Tell If a Dog Has a Fever Without a Thermometer?

Whilst not the best option, it is possible to tell if a dog has a fever by touch.

This method is best recommended in cases of emergency (i.e. without the tools above) or by an experienced veterinarian.

You can use the handy checklist below:

  1. Nose – look for a dry nose with nasal discharge
  2. Back of their ears – very hot to the touch
  3. Groin/Armpits – look for swollen lymph nodes
  4. Paws – very hot to the touch
  5. Gums – swollen and red (i.e. not pink)

Top-Tip

The condition of your dog’s ears, nose and armpits sometimes doesn’t correlate to their health and wellbeing. It isn’t always that simple. If in doubt, consult a professional.

Causes of Fever in Dogs

Causes of Fever in Dogs
Your dog has their own built in thermostat known as the hypothalamus

Your dog will develop a fever in response to inflammation, infection, response to their routine vaccines or poisons and pesticides.

Like in humans, dog brains also have a built in thermostat called the hypothalamus.

This regulates body temperature to maintain the status quo!

In most cases, fever resolves by itself or in response to antibiotics.

So, my dog has a fever, what should I do?

Some fevers will resolve without intervention, some will need antibiotics, but if it is a persistent or prolonged fever there could be other underlying health concerns.

We will now consider some of the causes of fever in dogs, whether it is safe to treat at home or whether veterinarian advice is needed.

Inflammation or Infection

Fever is often a response to inflammation or to fight off infection; in order to to prevent the growth and reproduction of pathogens, the body temperature rises.

Common causes of fever in dogs are:

  • Infected bite, scratch or cut
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Ear infection

Any of these can be treated successfully by a veterinarian prescribed antibiotics.

Dog in the arms of a veterinarian

Routine Vaccines

Your dog can also develop a fever as a side effect to their routine vaccinations.

This will usually pass within 24-48 hours.

If you know the fever is a response to their routine vaccines, ensure they have access to water, lay cooling mats out for them and ensure they have access to the cooler parts of the house.

Monitor their temperature to ensure it doesn’t increase further.

If they still have a fever greater than 103F after 48 hours contact your vet.

Poisons or Pesticides

When a dog ingests something they shouldn’t, they can often present with a fever.

Consider if your dog could have had access to any of the following:

Substance/Product Symptom
Foods Chocolate, Onions, Raisins, Xylitol, Alcohol or Mouldy foods.
Household Cleaning Bleach, Detergents, Oven cleaner, Drain cleaner or Dishwasher salt or tablets.
Medication Prescription or Over the counter.
Garden Fungi or Plants/Flowers.
Garage Pesticides, Herbicides, Rodenticides, Anti-freeze, Wood treatment or Insecticides.

If you think your dog could have been poisoned, seek veterinarian attention immediately.

Do not attempt to make your dog sick as some toxins are caustic and can irritate the oesophagus on the way back up!

Other Types of Fever in Dogs

There are also instances where fever is a symptom of other concerning health issues such as:

and you guessed it, tick borne disease!

A tick biting a dog
Tick bites in a dog can cause rocky mountain spotted fever

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that attach themselves to humans and animals!

Whilst they are are attached, they feed.

Unfortunately, during their feed they can transmit a whole host of diseases including; Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Q fever, Lyme disease and babesiosis.

Ticks should be removed as soon as possible to minimise disease and damage.

The symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever usually present 4 or 5 days after being bitten by a tick and include:

  • High fever of 103 – 106F
  • Nosebleeds or blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Swelling of body parts – also known as edema

A milder fever associated with a tick bite can be more indicative of lyme disease.

The symptoms to look out for would be a reduced appetite, painful or swollen joints, lameness and fatigue.

If you find a tick on your dog, remove it as soon as possible.

Ensuring you have its whole body.

If you are concerned your dog may have a tick borne disease, pop it in a container and take it with you to your veterinarian.

How to Bring Down a Dog’s Fever

So, should I try to bring down my dog’s fever?

Some veterinary guidance says not!

Whilst they acknowledge that prolonged fever above 106F, can cause organ failure, fever less than 106F is the body’s way of fighting the inflammation or infection.

How Should You Comfort a Dog With an Increased Body Temperature?

You have multiple options to comfort your dog during high temperatures:

  1. Use a damp drying coat or towel.
  2. Constant supply of fresh cooled water.
  3. Ensure your dog has access to shade and to the coolest parts of the house.
  4. Feed your dog ice cubes

Top-Tip
Ironically, if you have a drying coat (for those winter months), soak it in cool water, wring it out and pop it on your dog.

Ensure you remove it as soon as it’s no longer cool. Otherwise you’ve just layered them up!

You can also do this with towels and place them on your dog whilst they are lying down.

Cool mats are a handy addition in your dog cupboard.

Although you can get electric mats, most are filled with water or gel.

They can be easily washed and are pretty robust!

They work by absorbing the heat from your dog’s body.

Most will hold their cooling properties for about an hour, then simply leave unused for approximately an hour to reset.

It can take time for dogs to get used to the sensation of a cooling mat, use rewards to encourage them on to the mat, or give them a chew whilst laying on it.

Dog water bowl
Always have fresh water available to your dog. Refill throughout the day to keep it cool.

Although there is mixed advice on giving ice cubes to dogs, the general consensus from veterinarians is that it is safe to do so in moderation. So, they can lick them, or you can add a few to their water bowl.

Never use human medications with dogs!

Yes, NSAIDs do help to bring temperatures down in humans, but your dog isn’t human.

Stay away from the medication cabinet! No aspirin for dogs.

If you are concerned, get in touch with your veterinarian.

Lastly, reduce your dog’s exercise levels. Don’t worry about getting those daily long walks in. Your dog will want to please you, so will do what you ask him to!

Ask him to play some brain games instead!

Avoid strenuous activity if your dog is hot and bothered, go for a wander first thing in the morning and last thing at night, the coolest parts of the day.

Remember

These suggestions only apply when your pooch isn’t coping with the warmer weather or they have over exerted themselves a little in the park.

We have established that most common causes of fever do require veterinarian attention.

The sooner you seek their advice, the better!

When you arrive at your veterinarians office, they will want to know when you first noticed the fever, what other symptoms your dog has, whether they have ingested anything toxic, have they been bitten by any insects or ticks and whether they have been around any other sick dogs.

They will usually carry out a range of physical and diagnostic tests to establish the cause of the fever.

Treatment is usually in the form of antibiotics, NSAIDs or corticosteroids.

What’s the Difference Between Fever and Hyperthermia?

A fever is high body temperature as a result of infection or inflammation.

Hyperthermia is a high body temperature as a result of hot environmental temperatures or exercising.

The most common cause of a high temperature in a dog is not a fever, but, being exposed to extreme heat or humidity.

Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia.

Both warrant veterinarian assistance!

Summary

We know that dog’s body temperatures are higher than humans as a baseline.

But you know your pooch, if those ears or that nose feels a little bit hotter than normal, it’s worth taking their temperature. The best way to take their temperature is with a rectal thermometer.

It could be something as simple as an ear infection, but, it also may not be!

Watch for the symptoms we’ve mentioned and comb through his fur for any ticks. Check the house for anything he shouldn’t have eaten, but did. Know the difference between fever and hyperthermia and get in touch with your veterinarian.

John Woods Autho Bio Picture
John Woods is the founder of All Things Dogs, member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, graduate in Animal Behavior & Welfare and recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.

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