Table of Contents
It’s happened to all of us pet owners at some point. You’re lounging around on the couch, and your furry best friend jumps up and snuggles up to you. You notice he feels really warm. You reach down and scratch him behind the ears, and he feels even warmer on the head.
You start to worry, maybe even panic. Is he sick? Does he have a fever? What do I do?!
First of all, don’t panic. There are many reasons your dog could be running a little hot. Next, if you suspect something could be seriously wrong with your dog, get in touch with a vet. There are websites out there, like PetCoach, that allow you to speak to real vets for free. If it’s a weekend or after hours, this is a good option.
However, getting your furry friend physically to the vet is always best if that’s an option and you think he may really be sick.
It’s important to remember, though, that just because a dog feels hot doesn’t mean he has a fever. Dogs’ temperatures run a little higher than our temperatures, so it isn’t uncommon for a dog to feel warm to the touch. Before you run off and spend a lot of money at the vet, it’s important to establish whether or not your dog actually does have a fever.
What’s a Normal Temperature for a Dog?
An average temperature for a dog is somewhere between 100°F and 102.5°F. This is about three points higher than that of a normal human, which is between 97.6°F to 99.6°F. Three points might not seem like a lot, but they can definitely feel hot when you’re loving on your warm doggy, so it’s important to keep calm if your pup feels hot.
Just because he feels feverish doesn’t mean he is.
Does a Dry Nose Mean Fever?
With that being said, knowing how to properly take your dog’s temperature can save you a lot of worry, panic and wasted money at the vet. The first thing you should know is that old wives’ tale you’ve heard about checking your dog’s temp by touching his nose is just that – an old wives’ tale.
While a normal dog nose is wet and cool to the touch, a dry nose on a dog doesn’t necessarily mean he’s sick. In fact, a dog’s nose can become dry for all kinds of reasons. The cold winter months can dry out your pup’s nose, as can sleeping. Dogs with short snouts have naturally drier noses, and older dogs’ noses may also be dry.
Furthermore, just because your dog’s nose is wet and cool doesn’t mean he’s healthy. A sick dog can still lick his own nose, which is what keeps the nose wet and cool. Or he could have just stuck his nose in his water bowl! Although you’ve probably heard this for years, we want to assure you: A wet nose isn’t necessarily a sign of good health, and a dry nose doesn’t mean your dog is sick either.
The only way to truly tell if your dog has a fever is to take his temperature.
Taking Your Dog’s Temperature
Three Types of Thermometers
Sadly, taking a dog’s temperature isn’t nearly as easy as taking your own temperature or taking the temperature of another human. It can be done though. There are three main ways to take your dog’s temperature. These include using three different types of thermometers:
- Digital Ear Thermometer
- Digital Rectal Thermometer
- Mercury Rectal Thermometer
The digital ear thermometers are the easiest ones to use; they’re also the ones with the least amount of accuracy. The temperature of a dog’s ears is subject to change based on the weather, season and climate.
The two rectal thermometers will provide the most accurate results. However, they’re also the most difficult to use because your dog will not enjoy anything being inserted into his anus. If you’re going to use a rectal thermometer, we recommend the digital one because it’s much faster than the mercury one, which must be inserted for a longer amount of time.
A digital rectal thermometer will still be uncomfortable for your furry friend, but it gives you an accurate temperature. Furthermore, it does so almost immediately, meaning you don’t have to leave it inserted for too long.
Whichever thermometer you do ultimately choose, make sure it’s specifically meant for dogs. Thermometers meant for humans won’t work correctly on dogs due to their higher natural temperatures.
Using the Thermometers
It’s best if you only use this thermometer around people your dog trusts. Using a thermometer will make your dog nervous enough just because it’s something odd and uncomfortable. If you add in strangers or people your dog doesn’t like, it isn’t going to go well. Having someone your dog trusts hold him while you use the thermometer can help keep him calm.
It also helps if you have a distraction. This can be a favorite toy or a delicious treat.
Then take the rectal thermometer and cover the tip in petroleum jelly or another type of water-based lubricant. Lift your dog’s tail, and insert the thermometer no more than two inches into the anus. It’s best if you have a trusted friend holding the dog, but if you have to do it alone, restrain your dog by the collar and drape his tail over your arm.
The digital thermometer will beep when it’s ready, which shouldn’t take more than a couple of seconds. Remove it gently and check the temperature.
Digital Ear Thermometer
When it comes to ear thermometers, each specific brand has its own instructions on where exactly it should be placed and how it should be used. Check the instructions carefully before use.
You shouldn’t need a distraction or a helper for using an ear thermometer. While they aren’t quite as accurate, they are much more comfortable. Simply give your dog a tasty distraction, hold him firmly by the collar and use the thermometer. Just make sure you keep his head still so you don’t damage his eardrum.
Remember, if either thermometer reads between 100°F and 102°F, your dog is likely fine. If the thermometer reads 102.7°F or higher, you should take your pup to the vet as soon as possible.
Why Might My Dog Have a Fever?
Dogs can develop a fever for many different reasons. A fever can be the result of some type of underlying infection. It can also be the result of hormonal changes due to aging or being in heat. Fever can also just be a result of your dog becoming overheated.
Assessing which of these could be the cause of your dog’s fever could save you some money on vet bills if it’s simply a case of your dog burning too much energy running around on a hot day.
If you think the fever is from something simple like overheating, monitor the temperature regularly for the next couple hours. If it doesn’t go down, you need to take your dog to the vet because it’s probably something more serious. If you get a temperature reading of 105°F or higher, you need to get to a vet right away. This temperature can be life threatening for a dog.
Reasons My Dog’s Head Might Get Hot
There are actually quite a few different reasons why your dog’s head might be hot, and the most common reason isn’t due to fever. In addition to dogs just feeling hotter than humans, a hot head is also a common side effect of your pet’s natural ability to cool himself.
If your pet has been lying in the sun for a prolonged period of time, that can also cause him to be warm – even hot – to the touch. The same is true if he’s been lying in front of a heater, fireplace or oven. Overheating on a hot day is also a common cause of a hot head.
Just as people can become stressed, so, too, can dogs. If your dog gets stressed out, it can cause him to become feverish. Is there something going on in your home that could be stressing out your pup? Is there a thunderstorm coming in that could be upsetting him? Did you recently get a new pet that might be stressing out the old one? All these things can cause fever.
If your pet has recently been to the vet for a vaccination, that can also cause a fever. This could be from the stress of visiting the vet or from the vaccination itself.
If your dog does have a fever, the next step is to take him to the vet and figure out why he’s sick.
An underlying infection is the most common cause. Your dog could have a bug bite, cut or scratch that’s become infected. Any kind of sickness can also lead to infection. If your dog has some kind of disease or underlying condition, something like diabetes or cancer, those can cause fevers as a side effect.
Another common dangerous cause of a fever is exposure to a toxin or poison. This can be deadly, so it’s very important you get your dog to the vet quickly.
What Are Some of the Signs of Fever in Dogs?
First of all, remember the only sure way to check for a fever in your dog is by using a thermometer, particularly a digital rectal thermometer. However, there are some signs you can watch out for that might let you know if a temperature reading is necessary.
Look for any changes in your dog’s behavior. Has he had a runny nose? Has he been lethargic? Has he been shivering, vomiting, coughing or sneezing? Is he whining? Has he stopped eating or drinking? All these can be signs that something is wrong and that your dog could be feverish.
What Do I Do if My Dog Does Have a Fever?
Again, the most important thing to do is to take your dog to the vet to get some medicine or a shot. However, there are a few things you can do to help lower his fever at home. The first step is to wipe him down with a cool, wet rag. The best spots to do this are on his head, the pads of his feet and behind his ears.
Turning on a fan to cool down the air around him will also help cool him down. Do it slowly, though, because cooling down your dog’s temperature too quickly can cause more harm than good. Monitor his temperature regularly, and once it hits 103°F, stop cooling him down.
Also make sure he drinks enough water so that he doesn’t get hydrated.
Never give your dog medicine meant for humans, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Remember, the important thing is to not panic, diagnose the fever accurately and take your dog to the vet if he does have a fever. Follow these steps, and your furry best friend should be just fine.