Fever in dogs can get serious quickly. It’s good to know what to monitor and what first-aid steps you can take.
The picture below showed my boy Sylvester when he had a fever. When he developed the fever, he already had a root canal procedure scheduled—he came from the shelter with a cavity. Two days before the dentist appointment, he wasn’t feeling well. After taking his temperature, it was clear that the tooth infection had led to his fever. I had been to the dentist with him that week. The dentist told me that cavities—infections—can lead to this. Without this knowledge, I would have been a lot more concerned. But because of this, I was pretty sure what we were dealing with.
His temperature was elevated but not critical. It was Sunday, and the vet was closed. I decided to apply cold paw and head wraps with wet towels. I kept taking his temperature throughout the day to monitor his condition, and I was able to break his fever. It works for dogs the same way I learned it from my mother when I was a child. Before antibiotics, people would use wet towel wraps, which still works. So, as a first-aid measure, you can use this approach to start addressing fever in dogs. But also take your dog’s temperature to the vet as soon as possible.
Essential Facts about Fever in Dogs
The average temperature in dogs is 100.5° to 102.5° Fahrenheit (38.06° – 39.17° Celsius), compared to 97.6° to 99.6° Fahrenheit for humans. This means your dog may feel feverish to you even when its temperature is entirely normal. A better indicator is a dog’s nose. It should be wet and cool. If the nose is not cool, something is wrong.
The word ‘fever’ in dogs is typically used to describe elevated body temperature caused by infection or inflammation. A temperature of more than 103° Fahrenheit (39.44° Celsius) is a fever in dogs.
Dogs can also have higher body temperatures due to hot external temperatures or excessive exercise in humid conditions. This is referred to as hyperthermia or heat stroke. When temperatures reach 106° Fahrenheit (41.11° Celsius), severe and fatal complications can occur.
Although there are no definite signs, some typical symptoms that might indicate illness and fever in dogs include:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of appetite
- Nasal discharge
The only accurate way to tell if your dog has a fever is to take its rectal temperature. Experts recommend using a digital thermometer specifically designed for rectal use in dogs. Most thermometers intended for use in human ears do not work well for this purpose.
To check for fever in dogs, you must take your dog’s temperature. First, coat the thermometer with a water-based lubricant, such as petroleum gel or baby oil. Next, gently insert the thermometer about one inch into your dog’s anus and wait for the results. Most thermometers sold for this purpose will take only a few seconds to register. Instant, electronic thermometers for humans, sold in drug stores, usually also work well. I have one of those in my dog’s emergency medical bag.