How hot is too hot for a dog? If your dog or puppy is ill, you cannot rely on guesswork. As with humans, you need to be sure. Like young children, dogs cannot talk. They cannot tell you how they feel. One of the best ways to determine the severity of an illness is to take your dog’s temperature.
You cannot rely on feeling his nose or ears; you need an accurate measurement of the dog’s temperature before you can decide what to do next. Dogs will get sick from time to time, but you cannot rush to the vet every time your dog looks a little unwell. The only way to know for sure if it is really serious is to take the dog’s temperature.
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Healthy dog temperature
Before you take your dog’s temperature, you need to know what the normal or standard temperature for a dog is. A healthy, happy dog will have a temperature between 100.5° and 102°F. This is slightly higher than the healthy temperature of a human.
When to be concerned
A number of factors can cause a dog’s temperature to rise or fall. You need to be concerned and consult a vet quickly if your dog’s temperature goes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or drops below 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius). At these levels, the threat is serious.
How to take a dog’s temperature
You need to get an accurate, internal temperature to know if your dog has a fever or not. Do not believe the story that you can determine the health of your dog by feeling its nose to see if it is wet or not. This is an old wives’ tale. The most reliable and accurate way to take a dog’s temperature is with a rectal thermometer. A digital thermometer is best, as it is much safer than a mercury thermometer.
It is a task that is easier for two people, if possible. One person can hold your dog while the other takes the temperature. If this is not possible, calm your dog and lay him down on its side.
It is preferable to use a thermometer designed specifically for dogs, but if necessary, you can use a decent-sized human thermometer. They are relatively inexpensive. Shake the thermometer and rub petroleum jelly on it for lubrication. Lift your dog’s tail and insert the rectal thermometer. The depth you need to insert it depends on the size of your dog, but you need to gently push the thermometer in an inch up to a maximum three inches on larger dogs. As you insert it, slowly rotate the thermometer. Once inserted, you need to keep him relaxed and leave the thermometer in for one to two minutes or until it beeps if your thermometer has that feature.
When the time is up, remove the thermometer, clean it with a cloth, and check the temperature by reading the height of the silver liquid on the scale or the digital display.
Using an ear thermometer
Another way to take a dog’s temperature is to measure the ear temperature using a decent ear thermometer. If used correctly, they are extremely accurate. They are slightly trickier to use and more expensive than a normal thermometer but are less messy. The thermometer must be very carefully placed in the horizontal ear canal, and it is essential your dog is kept calm and does not move.
What to do if the temperature is very high or low
Often, a dog could have a very high or low temperature simply because of exertion and exposure to the elements. If this is the case, calm your dog and take action to cool or warm your pet and monitor it closely. It should return to normal levels within an hour or two.
If you have taken your dog’s temperature and it is very high or low, check his overall health. Look out for any of the following symptoms that are also indicative of fever or other illness in your dog:
- shivering, vomiting, fast heartbeat, lethargy, nasal discharge, heavy breathing for extended periods of time, and loss of appetite.
If any of these symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, consult a vet.
If your dog has a very high temperature, the first thing to do is to provide fresh water and encourage hydration. Do not force him to do so, but if your dog is not drinking, try and squeeze water into your mouth or administer it using a dropper. Get your dog to a cool place and use a fan if necessary. Put a cool cloth or ice on his belly, ears, and paws to reduce the temperature if it is dangerously high.
Never give your dog medication designed for human consumption and consult your vet before providing anything to reduce the fever.
If your dog’s temperature is dangerously low, keep the dog calm and warm it with a blanket.
Monitor your dog
If the temperature is extremely high or low and the above cooling or heating measures do not produce results, take your dog to a vet immediately. This is especially true if showing any other majors symptoms and is in discomfort. If the temperature is only slightly elevated or lowered, take the necessary steps to cool or warm it, keep your dog calm and well-hydrated, and closely monitor. If after 24 hours the situation is not better, get to the vet for expert treatment.
Once again, do not rely on feeling your dog’s temperature by hand or checking its nose. It is essential you get an accurate measurement using a thermometer. Do not ignore these extremes of temperatures, as it can cause serious and potentially long-term harm.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.