What to Know About Fever in Dogs

bulldog mix puppy sleeping under a blanket on a couch

Just as a fever is a sign of inflammation, infection, or general malaise in humans, the same is true for dogs. Sometimes a fever is just a manageable side effect and sometimes it’s the main cause for concern. Knowing the difference, when it’s time to get to the vet, and what to do to help your dog is important. Here’s what to know about fever in dogs:

What are the Signs of Fever in Dogs?

Aside from taking your dog’s temperature, your dog may show other signs that they might have a fever and some of them are the same symptoms of a fever in humans. Shivering, loss of appetite, coughing, vomiting, and a lack of energy can all be signs of fever in dogs. They may also have red eyes, warm ears, and a warm, dry nose.

The nose test has been a traditional way of telling if your dog has a fever. With the nose test, a wet and cold nose means your dog is fine while a dry and warm or hot nose means your dog has a fever. Although you can use the nose test and it is sometimes accurate, you won’t know for sure that your dog has a fever unless you take their temperature.

How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature

Getting an accurate reading of your dog’s temperature is usually only possible with an ear or rectal thermometer. It won’t be fun for you or your dog, but it is necessary to determine whether they have a fever and how intense it is.

Having the right thermometer and one meant just for your dog in your dog first aid kit is a big help. A digital thermometer that can quickly register a temperature is the best bet. Here’s how to take your dog’s temperature whether you have an ear thermometer or a rectal thermometer:

How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature With an Ear Thermometer

Of the two thermometers, the ear thermometer is the less invasive option and is generally the easier one to use. They are usually more expensive than rectal thermometers, but you and your dog will likely appreciate the investment. Because these thermometers are placed deep into the ear canal, make sure you are not using a glass thermometer.

Each thermometer may have its own set of instructions, so make sure you follow any that are specific to the one you have. In general, you want to secure your dog so you can safely insert the clean thermometer into their ear. Try to keep them and the thermometer still for the amount of time needed for an accurate reading, which is usually about 60 seconds for a digital thermometer.

Once you have the reading, gently and quickly remove the thermometer and let your dog shake freely if they want to. Note the reading somewhere for easy reference in case you need to contact the vet and then clean the thermometer before storing it.

How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature With a Rectal Thermometer

If you have a rectal thermometer for your dog, start by making sure it’s clean. Then, lubricate it with baby oil or petroleum jelly. Secure your dog and gently insert the thermometer about an inch into your dog’s rectum. Remove it gently and quickly as soon as you get a reading.

Record the reading somewhere for easy reference in case you need to consult your vet and clean the thermometer thoroughly before storing it in the first aid kit. It also doesn’t hurt to give your dog some extra pets, their favorite toy, or a treat for their trouble.

What is a Normal Temperature for Dogs?

A normal temperature for dogs usually falls between 99.5–102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This is quite a bit higher than the human range, so it’s important to keep that in mind when you check your dog’s temperature.

In general, a dog is considered to have a fever when their temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. At 106 or higher, a dog’s fever can damage internal organs and become fatal.

What Can Cause a Fever in Dogs?

Your dog can end up with a fever anytime they are fighting an infection or their body is dealing with inflammation. This means the causes can be external or internal.

Vaccinations Can Cause a Temporary Low-Grade Fever

It’s not abnormal for dogs to have a slight fever for 24-48 hours after receiving a vaccination. Similar to humans, their bodies are adjusting to the new substance. Generally, this resolves after a day or two and is not dangerous as it is only a low-grade fever. However, you should keep an eye on things and contact your vet if the fever increases or lasts longer than 48 hours.

Infections Often Cause Fever in Dogs

If your dog has a scratch or a cut that has gotten infected, they could have a fever as their body tried to fight and heal it. The same is true for ear infections, which is why it is important to regularly check and carefully clean your dog’s ears as needed.

An abscessed or infected tooth or gum disease can cause a fever, which is another reason why practicing good dental care for dogs is essential. Urinary tract infections, ongoing bacterial or viral diseases, infections of organs, and more can all cause a fever in dogs.

Eating the Wrong Things Can Also Cause a Fever

The ingestion of poisonous materials or toxic foods can also cause a fever in addition to other symptoms of gastrointestinal upset. If your dog has ingested antifreeze, medications for humans, toxic plants, toxic foods, foods that just upset their stomach, etc., they may drool excessively, vomit, have diarrhea, have a fever, etc. If you see any of these symptoms or suspect your dog has ingested something dangerous, make sure you get them to the vet.

What Should You Do When Your Dog Has a Fever?

Go to the Vet

Most of the signs of fever in dogs are also symptoms you should never ignore in your dog. If you see them and/or your dog’s temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you should call your vet for advice and an appointment immediately. If their fever is close to 106 degrees, get to an emergency vet because they are in dangerous territory.

Follow Your Vet’s Recommendations

Because a fever can be caused by so many things, your vet may need to ask you a lot of questions and run some tests in addition to a physical exam to determine the underlying cause.

If it is caused by an infection, your vet will likely prescribe medication to treat it. It’s also possible that they may not be able to determine the root cause. In either case, it’s important to follow the vet’s instructions to help your dog feel better.

Help Reduce Your Dog’s Fever

There are some things you can do to help reduce your dog’s fever once you’re back at home after the vet. Unless your vet has specifically recommended against it, you can apply cool water around your dog’s paws and ears with a soaked cloth or towel until their temperature drops below 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can also try to get them to drink some water to keep them hydrated and cool them down. After that, it’s just a matter of monitoring your dog, keeping them comfortable, trying to keep them hydrated, and going back to the vet if the fever returns or spikes or if they are showing other symptoms.

Do Not Give Them Medication Unless Your Vet Recommends It

Although it may be tempting to give your dog over-the-counter medication, it’s important to only do so under the advice of a veterinarian to make sure you are giving them the right ones and in the proper dosage.

Although there are over-the-counter medications that are safe for dogs in the right dosage, many medications, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are dangerous for dogs and can even be fatal.

These are just a few important things to know about fever in dogs. If you see anything concerning in your dog, don’t be afraid to call your vet. It’s better to find out nothing big is happening and that it’s manageable than to miss a serious symptom and not get help when it’s needed.