Dealing with a sick pet is often much harder than dealing with a sick child. While children can vocalize their concerns and how they are feeling, and quick at-home tests can provide proof of fevers and illness, dogs are unable to provide us such accurate information. Instead, sick dogs will show us they are ill through behavioral changes. If you don’t know what to look for, you just might miss it.
One common symptom of illness that pet parents attempt to diagnose is a fever, but correctly identifying canine fevers is not as simple as feeling for warmth on a forehead. A dog’s body temperature can sometimes lead parents to believe something is wrong when there is nothing, while other symptoms of illness might be missed.
What is a fever and what’s not?
The first thing to understand when it comes to dogs and fevers is that dogs have a higher body temperature than humans do. While our own body temperatures are right around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), a dog’s body temperature is usually between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees F (37.5 to 39 degrees C). Thus, when your dog leaps up next to you and feels much warmer than you expect, there might not necessarily be anything wrong—the higher body temperature can just feel abnormally warm to us!
Because of this, it’s important to look for other signs when attempting to discern whether your dog is experiencing a fever or not.
The way most pet owners believe they can diagnose fevers—feeling the nose to see if it is warm or dry—is not recommended, since it’s not very accurate (especially during the winter months when indoor air is generally dry). If you own an in-ear thermometer made specifically for dogs, you might be able to take your dog’s temperature at home. However, these thermometers are not always accurate.
Instead, one of the best ways to determine whether your dog has a fever and is ill is to actually watch for behavioral changes, such as a lack of appetite or excessive lethargy, as well as shivering, coughing, a runny nose or red eyes. (Also, note that dogs will not sweat when they have a fever like humans do.)
If you notice your dog exhibiting these signs, you should take it into the vet for an examination. Vets will typically use a rectal thermometer to most accurately measure the dog’s temperature—while you can do this yourself at home, it may be difficult and is better off done by a professional.
Usually, a temperature of 103 to 105 degrees F (39 to 40.5 degrees C) indicates your dog is experiencing a fever. If the fever is higher than that, your dog’s internal organs may be at risk, and the body might begin to shut down. This is an extremely severe situation that requires immediate veterinary attention.
What canine fevers mean
Fevers don’t just appear in dogs for no reason. Much like in humans, they usually indicate a health issue because the immune system is working hard to fight off whatever is causing your dog harm. They can be considered a warning sign for poor health in dogs.
Typically, fevers are linked to inflammation and/or an infection in the body. If your dog recently sustained an injury or wound, that may have become infected, leading to a fever. Examining the wound for infection can help identify if this is the issue. An infection may also be internal, such as in the lungs or urinary tract.
Fevers are also common side-effects of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease. Or, if your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea, it may be experiencing a more severe condition like a virus or gastrointestinal blockage.
Paying close attention to your dog’s symptoms can help identify the underlying cause of the fever.
Helping your pooch overcome its fever
Much like with humans, canine fevers can usually be cured through fluids and rest. You’ll want to make sure your dog is drinking lots of water so it doesn’t become dehydrated. This may be difficult, since feverish dogs may not be interested in eating or drinking.
You might also want to apply cool water around the paws and ears using a damp cloth and use a fan to blow cool air onto your dog to reduce the fever. Carefully monitor your dog’s fever over time to make sure it eventually breaks and does not start to climb again.
Once your vet has identified the underlying cause of the fever, that should also be treated, whether it is an infection, virus or other condition. Your dog’s fever should not last more than a few days once a treatment plan is set in place.