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How to Tell if Your Dog Has Fever & What to Do [Vet Advice]

A vet shares what to do, and when to worry.

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dog with thermometer

A normal dog’s temperature is from 99.5ºF and 102.5ºF. When you feel your dog, he should feel warm to you. When your dog has a fever, with extreme temperatures, that can indicate your furry friend is sick and needs medical attention.

A really high fever can be deadly. The worst fevers I have dealt with in practice are dogs with status epilepticus—seizures that are prolonged. The intense muscle activity during a seizure raises the body temperature to as high as 105ºF or 107º F. Temperatures that high often cause irreparable brain damage.

How to tell if your dog has a fever?

Luckily, most fevers in dogs are lower in temperature and easier to treat! Most veterinarians consider anything 103.5º F (39.7º C) degrees or higher to be a fever. Your dog should always feel warm to you, so the most accurate way to assess body temperature is to check it with a thermometer.

The most accurate thermometer is a rectal one: don’t ever count on your dog holding an oral one safely in his mouth!

iProven Pet Thermometer (Termometro) for...
  • COMFORTABLE FOR YOUR PET - The thermometer can be used for pets and is designed to be comfortable with a flexible tip, making it soft and gentle to use.

Always lubricate the thermometer before pushing it gently into your dog’s rectum. Petroleum jelly is ideal but even water can work in a pinch. New digital thermometers let you know when the temperature is ready to read. This is much faster than the old standby of one to three minutes.

There are also some ear thermometers for pets. These should also give you a fairly rapid digital readout, but they tend to be more expensive (around $35-$45). Surprisingly, many dogs tolerate a rectal thermometer better than an ear reading.

MINDPET-MED Fast Clinical Pet Thermometer for...
  • Fast reading in 1 second without contacting to pets, close to ear,Measuring distance needs to be 3-5cm, 32 memories recall help you monitor pet body temperature better.

Signs that your dog has fever

Just like us, a dog with a fever will “feel sick.” You might notice your dog is:

  • lethargic,
  • not eager to eat his meals,
  • not even interested in his favorite toys or going for a walk.
  • His ears may be red on the inside and feel warmer than usual.
  • A warm dry nose can indicate a fever, though if the ambient temperature is high and the air is dry, his nose will tend to be warm and dry.

A fever is often accompanied by other signs of illness, such as:

  • coughing,
  • vomiting or diarrhea,
  • lameness, or
  • being painful somewhere on his body.

Abscesses from foreign bodies or bites and wounds can lead to fevers. If your dog is having seizures, checking his temperature is more important than worrying about him “swallowing his tongue.“ Dogs can’t do that, and putting your hand in his mouth during a seizure often leads to a trip to the ER for you due to a bite wound.

If your dog has been active outside and starts panting heavily or collapses, he might have heat stroke. While a raised temperature in that case is hyperthermia, not a true fever, the elevated temperature is still potentially deadly. A quick temperature check will let you know if you need to call your veterinary clinic or head there right away.

What do I do if my dog has a fever?

In order to treat your dog’s fever, it is important to identify the cause. You can work at making your dog comfortable in the meantime by putting cold packs in his groin area and on his head. Offering cool or room temperature water is helpful. Some dogs will lick ice cubes. A fan, especially one blowing over a bowl of ice, can help cool your dog off. Putting cool, wet towels over him may also help. Remember to change these frequently.

If your dog’s temperature was in the serious danger range of 105º F or higher, stop your cooling attempts when the temperature drops to 103º. More cooling could lead to hypothermia or a temperature that is lower than normal.

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Do not give him any medication without consulting your veterinarian first. Medications can mask symptoms and make diagnosis more difficult. A fever is secondary to “something,” and you want to treat or eliminate that something, not simply cover up the fever.

What does a vet do if my dog has a fever?

Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination. That could reveal an abscess, a wound, swollen joints from immune problems, or swollen lymph nodes draining an abscessed area or from a cancer such as lymphoma. Harsh lung sounds and a wheeze could be a sign of cancer, infection, or parasites in the chest.

At your veterinary clinic, diagnostics will almost always include a blood chemistry panel and a complete blood count (CBC). A urinalysis is often helpful. The CBC can give your veterinarian an idea if your dog has a bacterial or viral infection. It can also indicate autoimmune problems where your dog’s own body rejects itself. The blood chemistry panel can tell your veterinarian that your dog has a problem in a certain area of his body such as the liver or kidneys. If indicated, your dog may need radiographs (x-rays) or an ultrasound.

A dog with an elevated temperature due to seizures will be treated immediately to get the seizures under control. That might involve a valium enema or intravenous medications.

What treatments are available?

Treatment, especially of a high fever, may require intravenous fluids to maintain hydration in the face of the elevated temperature. Costs will vary dramatically depending on the actual cause of the fever and the diagnostics required. If a simple physical exam and antibiotics are all you need, the cost will probably run $150 to $200. Throw in bloodwork and radiographs or an ultrasound, and you are now potentially looking at $800 to $1000. 

Once your veterinarian has an idea of the cause of the fever, treatment will be aimed directly at that. For bacterial infections, the proper antibiotic will be started. This may require an educated guess by your veterinarian until a culture and sensitivity is back. Any abscesses would be opened and drained if at all possible. If antiviral medications are indicated, those will be administered, though there aren’t many available for dogs yet. Only after all the other treatments are completed are antipyretics (medications to lower a fever) generally given.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I give my dog Tylenol, Aspirin, or Ibuprofen for his fever?

Do not give any human medications (even OTC drugs) unless advised to by your veterinarian. Always let your vet know what medications and/or supplements your dog is already taking.

For how long will my dog be sick with a fever?

Most fevers will resolve quickly once the cause is identified and treatment is started.

What should my dog eat or drink while he has a fever?

Don’t be discouraged if your dog isn’t very hungry while he has the fever. Offer cool, fresh water. Ice cubes made from low sodium bouillon may help to keep him hydrated. If he likes it, cut up watermelon is also a good option. Once the fever breaks, he will be hungry!

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How can i take my dog’s temperature?

The most accurate thermometer is a rectal one (Your dog is not likely to hold an oral thermometer safely in his mouth). for example:

iProven Pet Thermometer (Termometro) for...
  • COMFORTABLE FOR YOUR PET - The thermometer can be used for pets and is designed to be comfortable with a flexible tip, making it soft and gentle to use.


How useful is this page?

Help us improve. Click on a star to rate it:

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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