high fever in dogs

High Fever in Dogs: How To Tell If Your Dog Has a Fever

When your kids are under the weather, you know how to feel their skin or use a thermometer to see if they have a fever. But what about your four-legged children? Is there an easy way to see if your dog has a fever when they are displaying other symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting?

Just like people, a fever can be a sign of serious illness in dogs, and it may require a trip to the vet. Below, we’ll explain how to tell if your dog has a fever. 

What Is a Fever in Dogs?

It’s critical to understand average and high body temperatures in dogs before we describe how to tell if your dog has a fever. Otherwise, the number you see might alarm you.

In humans, doctors consider anything over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit a fever. However, it’s not the same for dogs, whose average, healthy body temperature is higher than humans, between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Veterinary experts consider temperatures over 103 degrees Fahrenheit in dogs as a fever. You may want to periodically take your dog’s temperature when not sick so you know their base body temperature.

Signs of Fever in Dogs

Even without taking their temperature, you can look for signs of fever in dogs that might indicate that something is wrong with them. If your dog displays any of the following, you may need to take their internal body temperature:

  • Shivering for no reason
  • Panting, especially if they’re at rest and water is available
  • Glassy or red eyes
  • Warm, red ears and nose (contrary to popular belief, a dry nose is not a sign of illness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose

Sometimes there are other reasons besides illness that your dog might display these symptoms. Taking their temperature to determine whether they’re sick can give you peace of mind and help you make the best decision.

How To Take a Dog’s Temperature

The best way to tell if your dog has a fever is by taking their temperature rectally. You will need a thermometer intended for rectal use. You can buy a special thermometer from a pet store or directly from your vet to keep on hand. Store it separately from your regular use thermometers.

Using petroleum jelly or another water-soluble lubricant, you’ll need to lubricate the end of the thermometer. Once you do, lift your dog’s tail and put the thermometer into their rectum about one inch. Be very careful not to move too quickly or use too much force. Wait for the thermometer to finish reading and gently slide it out.

Have someone help you by holding your dog in a modified bear hug under its hind legs. This prevents them from sitting down. Try to calm your dog beforehand and offer treats to keep them placated. Be aware that even a loving, friendly dog can nip in stressful situations.

What To Do If Your Dog Has A Fever

Now that you how to take your dog’s temperature, what do you do with that information? 

If Your Dog’s Temperature is Under 103

If the thermometer reads under 103 degrees Fahrenheit, your dog does not have a fever. That doesn’t mean you can ignore their symptoms, though. If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms above, you need to monitor them carefully. 

Especially if they’re vomiting or have diarrhea, it could signify a much more serious condition. If they don’t improve, retake their temperature in a few hours.

If Your Dog’s Temperature is Between 103 and 105

Your dog has a fever, and what you do next depends greatly on their other symptoms. We recommend calling your veterinarian and explaining what’s going on. Be sure to mention that you took their temperature and what it was. 

They may recommend bringing your dog in or monitoring them for a while. If they recommend monitoring, continue to take their temperature every few hours to watch for spikes.

If Your Dog’s Temperature is Over 105

Call your veterinarian immediately, or if it is after-hours, take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic. Vets consider a temperature over 106 very dangerous and potentially lethal, so they need immediate medical attention if it’s getting close.

How To Lower Your Dog’s Fever

While you should always seek medical attention for high fever, you may be able to manage a low-grade fever in dogs at home. First, try to coax and encourage them to drink plenty of water. You shouldn’t force them to drink, but keep their bowl clean and cool to encourage them. If they haven’t had water in 24 hours, see your vet.

You can also apply water to their paws and ears. Soak a towel in cool water and apply it to their paws and ears, as long as they’re comfortable with it. You don’t want to cause them more distress. Run a fan nearby to keep them cool.

Causes of Fever in Dogs

Many things can cause a fever in dogs. Like humans, a low-grade fever can simply indicate that your dog’s immune system is working hard to fight something. Some of the leading causes of fever in dogs include:

  • An ear infection
  • A urinary tract infection
  • A tooth or gum disease
  • An infected laceration, injury, or bite
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Ingesting toxic substances, such as cleaning materials or certain types of human food
  • Another infection caused by bacteria, fungi, or a virus

Do What You Can To Prevent Fever in Dogs

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to stop your dog from getting sick. But there are some actions you can take to keep them healthier. Feed them a high-quality diet. Ask your vet for their recommendation for food. Ensure they always have access to clean water and go outside to use the bathroom at least twice a day.

Final Thoughts

Whether you suspect your dog is sick or not, give them lots of love. After all, a happy dog is a healthy dog. Pay attention to their behavior to watch for signs of illness, and take their temperature to look for fever.