Think your dog is running hot? Learn how to tell if a dog has a fever and what you can do to make him comfortable feel better.

By Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
August 24, 2020
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Yeji Kim

Your dog feels warm to you. Does he have a fever? Maybe not. Your dog’s normal temperature is higher than yours—most dogs normally run anywhere from 99.5 to 102.5 degrees F, so he should feel slightly warm to you on any given day. That’s why it’s so important to be able to spot the signs and symptoms of fever in dogs. Here’s how to tell if a dog has a fever. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Fever in Dogs?

A dog with a fever will have a temperature of 103 degrees F or higher, and he will often show symptoms such as panting, lethargy or acting tired, and shivering. His ears may feel hot and be red. If the fever is related to illness you might notice other signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, or coughing. While dogs with a fever may be thirsty, they often aren’t hungry and will pass on a meal.

Your dog’s nose is not really a good barometer of his temperature. If the air is warm and dry, his nose will often feel warm and dry. Don’t rely on the “nose touch” for a fever diagnosis. The best way to evaluate if your dog has a fever is to take his temperature. Ideally, you should do this once or twice when your dog is feeling fine so you will know his normal.

How to Use a Thermometer on Your Dog

Ear and rectal thermometers can be used for dogs. If you have a “human” rectal thermometer it’s fine to use that, or you can purchase a pet-specific rectal thermometer. To use an ear thermometer, you’ll need to buy one specially designed for dogs. 

With a rectal thermometer, apply a small amount of lubricant before you push it into the rectum. This could be petroleum jelly or baby oil (but cooking oil also works in a pinch). If it is a digital thermometer, leave it until you get a reading. Three minutes is recommended for a non-digital one, so it is worth investing in a fast digital readout.

Ear thermometers must be placed carefully into the ear canal. These are almost all digital and will give a quick readout. If your dog has a sore ear, he may not tolerate using an ear thermometer.

How to Comfort and Care for Your Feverish Dog

Just like us, if your dog has a fever, he may be uncomfortable. The best way to comfort him is to give him a quiet, cool place to rest. Provide fresh, cool water. You can put cool compresses in his groin or on his paws for cooling. Alcohol wipes can also be used on the paws but sparingly.

With a temperature over 103 degrees F, your dog should be seen by your veterinarian or at a minimum you should consult your veterinarian. There is an underlying cause for a fever and that cause needs to be treated in order to bring his temperature down. Do not give any medications without consulting your vet.