Does Your Dog Have a Fever? Here's How to Tell
Plus, learn when you should consider a visit to the veterinarian.
Our dogs will generally not be able to tell us when they are not feeling well. Instead, they will have changes in their behavior as well as physical signs and symptoms that can provide clues into their health—including a fever. "Normal body temperatures in dogs range from 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but an elevated body temperature in your dog may be due to a true fever or simply nonfebrile hyperthermia [becoming overheated from high outside temperatures or over-exertion]," explains Dr. Jennifer Freeman, PetSmart's resident veterinarian. "If you think your dog may have a fever, it is critical to visit your veterinarian in order to identify and correctly treat the underlying cause."
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For dogs that are overheated and not feverish, you will want to remove them from the heat and take them someplace cooler. A drink of water and rest could get them out of the danger zone, and help them to feel better. But a fever needs to have the underlying diagnosis in order to find the right treatment, because it could be the result of an illness or an infection.
Signs and Symptoms of a Dog's Fever
Dogs can show signs of their fever in a variety of ways. "Some non-specific symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, shivering, lethargy, or loss of appetite," says Dr. Freeman. "Additional symptoms that might help determine the underlying cause for the fever are coughing, nasal or eye discharge, lameness or painful swollen joints, pale or bright red gums, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal pain, neck or neck pain, or generalized pain."
If your dog is experiencing any of those symptoms, call your vet right away. Even without a fever those symptoms indicate that something is wrong. But you can test if your dog also has a fever by using a rectal thermometer. A consistent temperature above 102.5 degrees could indicate a fever, as long as potential causes of hyperthermia (overheating) are not present.
What to Expect on a Trip to the Veterinarian
"A fever is not a diagnosis but rather a sign of an underlying condition such as an infection, inflammation (including immune-mediated diseases), cancer, or other condition," Dr. Freeman says. "Age, vaccination history, additional signs of illness or a history suggestive of possible exposure to infectious causes [like recent tick exposure] should be considered when attempting to determine the underlying cause and should be discussed with your veterinarian."
Give a detailed description of what you have noticed regarding your dog, as well as where he has been. These can provide clues to your veterinarian as to what could be causing your dog's fever and other symptoms. Maybe your dog picked up the canine flu from visiting a dog park or being boarded when you went on vacation, or picked up a tick during a mountain hike. Once the vet has determined what is ailing your pup, you may be given a treatment regimen to follow. Or, if it's very serious, your dog will need to stay at the hospital to receive fluids and monitoring. The sooner you can get your dog to the vet, the sooner your dog can get diagnosed and treated.