How to tell if a dog has a fever is an important lesson that any compassionate pet parent could benefit from learning, ensuring you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to properly care for your beloved companion.
At the very minimum, taking a few minutes to learn the symptoms of fevers in dogs -and how to treat them- can mean you’re well prepared to look after them at home, but that’s not all; it could also mean you can identify when your poor pooch’s health problems are a little more serious and a visit to the vets is in order.
That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide, not only outlining the common signs of canine fevers, but also how to cure them and, better yet, how to prevent a fever from occurring in the first place.
Finally, we’ll also answer your most frequently asked questions about fevers so that you really do have all you need to know to help your pet stay in good health.
What is Fever in Dogs?
When we’re talking about a fever, we’re talking about an increase in temperature caused by an infection, by inflammation, or by another issue such as if they ingest something they shouldn’t or have just been vaccinated.
That said, it’s easy to misdiagnose a fever simply because a dog’s temperature is naturally higher than ours to begin with.
While the typical temperature in humans is between 97.6 to 99.6 F, in dogs, it’s usually between 101 and 102.5 F, so you could notice that your dog feels warm and thinks they have a fever even though they’re totally fine.
With that in mind, the first thing you should do is to take their temperature using a good quality rectal thermometer designed for pets.
If their temperature is somewhere between 103 – 105 F, then that’s a good sign of a fever, especially if that elevated temperature is accompanied by some of the other symptoms we’ll discuss later in this guide.
However, if they’re temperature is at 106 F or higher, that could well be a sign of a more serious condition and it’s worth consulting your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How to Tell if a Dog Has Fever: Common Signs
It’s long been said that the easiest way to tell if your dog has a fever is to feel his nose. According to that method, if the nose is cold and wet, then that’s a sign Fido is fit and well. If it’s hot and dry, then he’s probably a bit under the weather.
While a hot, dry nose can be a sign of fever, it’s not the be full of a fever.
With that in mind, here are a few other symptoms you should be on the lookout for:
Lethargy / Low Energy
If your high-energy dog normally loves running around and playing fetch but now you find they’re napping all the time or otherwise acting lethargic, that’s a pretty good sign that something’s wrong.
While lethargy itself doesn’t mean it’s definitely a fever, it is a good sign that you should check out what’s going on with them.
If it’s paired with any of the other symptoms on the list, then treat it as a fever to begin with. If they don’t start to get better despite using the cure methods listed in this guide, then speak to your vet to check that it isn’t something more serious.
If your dog is shivering then it could, of course, mean that they’re cold, but if you’ve done all you can to ensure they’re warm and dry and yet they continue to shiver, then there’s a good chance they’ve caught a fever.
Like many symptoms, red eyes in dogs could be a sign of any number of things, but if their eyes are red and they also show any of the other signs in this list, then it’s likely due to a fever.
If they have red eyes but aren’t showing any of the common symptoms of canine fevers, then it’s a good idea to take them to the vets as this could be a sign of an eye infection, allergies, or another issue such as canine distemper.
Coughing is a fairly common symptom of fever in dogs, but it can also be an isolated case of kennel cough, or a so-called highly contagious disease because it can be picked up in places where there are lots of dogs such as boarding kennels, dog groomers, or doggie daycare.
Fortunately, there is a kennel cough vaccine that you might want to talk to your vet about if Fido regularly comes into contact with other dogs.
If your poorly pup has a runny nose along with other symptoms on this list then it could well be a sign of fever. However, keep in mind that it can also be a sign of kennel cough, allergies, or even more serious health issues.
As with everything we’re discussing here, if you’re not confident that it’s just a fever, it’s always worth seeing the vet.
A fever in a dog can sometimes be accompanied by throwing up, especially if a virus causes the fever or because they ate something they shouldn’t.
If the vomiting doesn’t come with any of the other signs of fever, then it may be a syptom of bowel obstruction or other serious issues that they’ll need medical help with.
Loss of Appetite
Unfortunately, most dogs have never heard of the phrase “feed a fever, starve a cold,” and even if they had, it wouldn’t make them any more likely to want to eat.
If your pooch normally gets excited around dinner time and now they’re suddenly not interested, then that’s a tell-tale sign that something’s wrong.
Again, it could be nothing to do with a fever. A loss of appetite could be because there’s something wrong with their teeth or because of tummy trouble, but if they’re showing other signs of fever along with not eating, then that could be the cause.
How to Cure Your Dog’s Fever
If you’ve checked all their symptoms and you’re certain that your poor little buddy really does have a fever, there are a few things you can do to help them on the road to recovery.
Keep them Cool
Gently apply small amounts of cool water to their fur, especially behind the ears and around their paws. You can do this simply by wetting your hand and stroking their fur, but it may be more effective to soak a few cloths in the water and place them on your dog’s body in the appropriate spots.
If you’re going to do this, remember to keep using that rectal thermometer to check their temperature. As soon as it gets back to a normal level (between 101 and 102.5 F), stop this process so that they don’t get too cold.
Encourage them to Drink
Much as we humans do, dogs can benefit from staying hydrated while suffering with a fever, so try and encourage them to drink some cool, fresh water.
If they’re so lethargic that they won’t wander over to their usual bowl, try using a dog water bottle that they can drink from while you comfort them.
Give Them Time and Space to Rest
The way humans and animals recover from a fever really isn’t all that different. Just like we need to get comfortable and rest until the fever breaks, so too will our four-legged friends benefit from some quality downtime.
One of the easiest ways you can help them do this is to give them a quiet space where they can rest, preferably in their favorite dog bed or other comfortable spots.
If you have multiple dogs in your home, then it’s important to temporarily isolate the one with the fever away from their family until they’re feeling better as fevers can be contagious and, let’s be honest, one sick puppy is easier to care for than two, three, or more.
Check With Your Vet for Proper Medication and Care
If you think your dog may need a little more than just rest and cool water, it’s always best to check in with your vet to see that they get any appropriate medication or treatment that they may need.
This can be especially important to confirm that it really is a fever and not something more serious.
How to Prevent Your Dog’s Fever
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it’s always worth doing everything you can to stop your beloved buddy from contracting a fever in the first place.
Of course, with fevers caused by so many different things, this can be easier said than done, but if you’re taking the normal steps to keep your dog healthy and happy, then this can make a big difference.
Ensuring they get sufficient exercise according to their breed’s usual requirements can make a big difference, as can feeding them healthy, nutritious, high-quality dog food.
A good, grain-free variety like Purina Beneful Grain Free Dry Dog Food can be especially beneficial if your dog is allergic to corn or wheat.
Other steps to help ward-off the kind of infections that result in a fever include:
- Making your recommended check-ups with your vet and ensuring your dog is on a proper vaccine schedule.
- Cleaning their food and water bowls regularly to prevent a build-up of harmful bacteria.
- Be careful about what they put in their mouths.
This means not just paying attention to the food they eat, but also making sure your ever-so-curious pup doesn’t start chewing up flowers and plants that could be harmful while out for a walk, as well as ensuring cleaning products and other potentially hazardous materials are kept safe out of your pet’s reach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to give human medicine to pets?
As a general rule, it’s never a good idea to give human medicine to pets as even a small dose could be harmful. If you feel your dog needs medication, it’s better to check with your vet and get expert advice on the best treatment to give them.
Will my dog’s fever go away on its own?
In most cases, fever in dogs should last no more than 24 hours – 48 hours at most. If they’re still sick for more than two days then it’s very important that you seek medical advice for them.
Can I use a human thermometer to check my dog’s temperature?
If you don’t have time to run out and get a special dog thermometer, then yes, a human thermometer will do the job. For the sake of hygiene, be sure to mark it as being your pooch’s thermometer and get a new one for the humans in your family.
If there’s one key point that we want you to take away from this guide, it’s that while there are many ways to tell if a dog has a fever and to look after them from home, the importance of checking in with your vet shouldn’t be underestimated.
For a while fever symptoms such as red eyes, lethargy, coughing, and vomiting can be a sign of fever if they’re combined with a raised temperature on their own; they can also be signs of other problems that require special treatment.
So, by all means, use this guide to help you get your pooch on the road to recovery, but if you’re at all concerned that there may be something more serious than a fever going on, a consultation from a professional veterinarian is definitely advised.[wpdatatable id=68]
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.