How to Tell If a Dog Has a Fever: 6 Vital Tips for Better Pet Health Care

dog having fever
Wyatt Robinson
Written by Wyatt Robinson

A healthy dog is a happy dog. At the top of their health, they are active, playful, and in good temperament. However, dogs do get sick, and we know how worrisome this can be to dog owners. Fevers, for example, can make a dog listless and their bad mood can affect you. Knowing how to tell if a dog has a fever will allow you to take action before things get really bad.

Fevers can be dangerous to dogs if it is not treated immediately. Experts recommend using a thermometer designed for rectal use to read a dog’s internal temperature accurately. However, not all owners have this type of thermometer, so it is important to know how to tell if dog has fever without it. This lets you detect the illness easily so that medication and care can be administered during the early stages of the fever.

This article will talk about the different methods you can use to tell if your dog is sick. Lucky for all of us, determining whether your dog has a fever or not is easy even without the help of a thermometer. There are six different ways to do that. Check out our tips below.

6 Ways to Tell If Your Dog Has a Fever

feverish dog lying in bed

Dogs have fevers usually as a response to an infection or an inflammation. Not many owners know that a dog’s internal temperature is lower than a human’s. A human’s body temperature is normally between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit compared to a dog’s 97 to 99 degrees. A temperature of more than 103°F is considered as a fever in dogs.

The only accurate way of taking a dog’s temperature is by using a rectal thermometer. When this is not available, other ways of telling if your dog is sick can make all the difference. Quick intervention can keep the fever from getting worse so follow these methods to treat your sick dog.

Method #1: Feel Your Dog’s Paws and Ears

examining dog's ears

Dogs with elevated body temperature usually feel hot on their paws and ears. You can use parts of your body that is sensitive to temperature like the back of your hand and your cheeks to tell if they are sick.

Their paws have a lot of blood vessels, and when they have a fever, these areas get hot due to the migration of immune cells from the blood to the area where there is an infection. The increase of immune cells causes heat to collect in the blood vessels.

It is unusual for a dog’s ears to have different temperatures. If one of the ears feels slightly warmer than the other, it could be a sign of a localized ear infection rather than a fever.

See Also: Ear Infection in Dogs

Method #2: Feel His Nose

touching black dog's nose

There is a myth going around that if a dog’s nose is cool and moist, then they are fine, but they are sick when it’s warm and dry. The wetness of a dog’s nose depends on environmental conditions. Your dog’s nose can feel dry and warm if he is exercising or if he’s laying out in the sun. Dry nose could also be a sign of dehydration.

See Also: Best Dog Water Fountain

As for how a dry nose relates to fever in dogs, if you feel your dog’s nose and it’s warm and dry, look for any accompanying greenish discharge. Yellow or green discharge is a sign of fever and infection.

It is important to pay attention to these symptoms because kennel cough also manifests these symptoms. If your dog has a dry nose with colored discharge, it’s important to bring him to the vet as soon as possible.

See Also: Kennel Cough in Dogs

Method #3: Feel His Armpit and Groin

These areas usually feel hot if your dog has a fever. Use the back of your hand to feel for heat in the lymph nodes in the armpit and groin area. The groin and armpit areas of your dog have very little fur. The exposed skin makes it easier for you to feel for elevated temperatures.

Method #4: Check His Gums

checking dog's gums

In a dog that does not currently suffer from any dental diseases, the gums should look shiny and have a pinkish color like our own gums. In a feverish dog, the gum feels warm and dry. Check for areas that look redder than usual, especially if it is a bright red.

Lift up your dog’s upper lip behind the upper canine and place your forefinger there to check the temperature and moistness. Ask yourself: does it feel hot? Is the moistness and color similar to our own? If not, your dog could have a fever. Worse, it could indicate septicemia or infection of the blood.

See Also: Liver Disease in Dogs

Method #5: Check for Signs of Low Body Temperature

dog got cold

A dog that is in shock, feels unwell, or is suffering from infections tends to have a low body temperature. Aside from cold extremities, sick dogs also show symptoms like shivering or having goosebumps. Dogs that are experiencing very low temperatures are very subdued and could collapse. If you feel that your dog is too cold in areas that are not supposed to feel cool, take him to the vet at once.

However, it is important to note that dogs that are shivering are not necessarily always feverish. Shivering can be a response to stress, anxiety, or pain. It can also be a sign of hypothermia—which is life-threatening. If you can’t think of a reason why your dog is shivering, contact your vet at once.

See Also: Dog Trembling

Method #6: Observe His Behavior and Appearance

dog drinks too much

One of the easiest ways to tell if your dog is unwell is by observing his behavior and appearance. If he’s playful, alert, and energetic all the time, and then suddenly becomes weak and sluggish, it’s safe to bet that he is suffering from an infection. If he is weak and thirsty all the time, he could be dehydrated.

It’s important to be alert to changes in his behavior. Check other deviations like:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty defecating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Withdrawing from other dogs or family members
  • Panting for long periods of time even in the absence of physical exertion
  • Their breath will also feel hot against your cheek
  • Your dog will be thirstier than usual because he is losing fluid as he pants
  • A fever can result in achy joints. Check for reluctance to exercise, lameness, stiffness, difficulty in rising, or a stilted gait.
  • Sick dogs are withdrawn, lethargic, and quiet. He can also become uncharacteristically aggressive when touched because he feels irritable and uncomfortable
  • His coat will look unkempt and dry while his eyes will look glassy

What to Do When Your Dog Has Fever

orange dog coughing

Fever in dogs is usually caused by an infection or an inflammation as your dog’s immune system fights off the foreign invaders. Common symptoms of a fever include:

  • Red eyes
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Warm ears
  • Dry nose
  • Shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing

Watching your dog go through a serious bout of fever can be painful for dog owners. Most of us just want to help them feel better as soon as possible. Aside from taking their temperature, here are some other things you should do.

Step #1: Determine the Cause

checking dog for wounds

Knowing the symptoms and recognizing the underlying causes can help you figure out how to react to their sickness. Dog fever can be caused by:

  • Infected cut or bite
  • Ear infection
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Infection in the organs like the kidney or the lungs
  • Abscessed or infected tooth
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Reaction to vaccination

You can check his body for cuts or wounds that could be causing the fever. Dogs who are hurt generally don’t like being touched. If they are running a fever, they will be more aggressive than usual. Make sure to use gentle hands if you’re looking for wounds, cuts, or bites on their body.

Being gentle is very important especially if you’re checking for an infected or abscessed tooth. If you notice that your dog is avoiding being touched in a particular area, that is usually the part that’s hurting or the one that’s causing the fever or discomfort.

Dogs that accidentally ate something poisonous could also manifest symptoms of a fever. Eating toxic plants, antifreeze, human medication, and human foods that are toxic to dogs like xylitol can cause them to become feverish.

Vaccinations can also cause fevers in dogs. Fever due to vaccination is usually low grade and should disappear 24-48 hours after the vaccination. This type of fever is generally not dangerous, but it is still important to monitor his temperature during this time.

Step #2: Try to Lower the Fever at Home

cooling down dog with fan

While you can choose to immediately take your dog to the vet to be on the safe side, if the fever isn’t too bad or it’s only been building for less than 24 hours, you can try to lower your dog’s temperature at home.

  • Encourage them to drink water as much as possible. Water can help bring down their internal temperature and keep them hydrated. Even if their temperature has gone down, it is still important to let them drink water and monitor their temperature to ensure that the fever does not return.
  • You can also bring down their temperature by soaking a towel or cloth with cool water and applying it to their paws and ears. These areas have a lot of veins and can distribute the slightly cooler temperatures around more quickly throughout the body.
  • Other ways you can help him cool down is by placing a fan near him. If he is receptive to the fan, keep it on. Keep the fan on a low setting. If he doesn’t take to the fan or is shivering, it’s best to turn it off.

Step #3: Consult the Vet

taking dog to a vet

If your dog still feels hot and is still lethargic after 48 hours or if there are new symptoms, it’s time to take him to the vet. The vet will be able to conduct a more thorough checkup to assess your dog’s health better.

The course of action for treatment will depend on the vet’s diagnosis. Veterinarians will prescribe medications for the dog once the cause of the fever has been determined.

Even if you have determined the cause of the fever yourself, don’t give your dog human medication. Some dog owners think that giving their pet paracetamol, Tylenol, Advil, and other painkillers designed for humans is alright. This is untrue since some forms of human medication are fatal to dogs.

500 mg of paracetamol, for example, is toxic to dogs, so don’t attempt to give them medicine that’s not prescribed by your vet.

Step #4: Give Them Time to Recover

dog having rest and recovering

Healthy dogs can usually fight off fevers and infections in 24-48 hours. If your dog is a puppy or a senior dog, their immune system could be underdeveloped or sluggish, so it takes more time for them to recover from a fever.

Give them the space they need to fight off the fever but don’t stop monitoring their condition or taking their temperature.

Wrap Up

pug wearing face mask

In most cases, a fever is nothing to worry about. It usually means that the body is fighting off infections and is undergoing repairs. However, extreme temperatures can cause damage to the organs and can be fatal to dogs.

A rectal thermometer is a good idea especially if you have a lot of dogs and can’t monitor their temperature individually. This is also a good idea if you’re caring for a puppy or a senior dog since they are more susceptible to infections and inflammation.

Nevertheless, instruments like thermometers can still break down, so learning how to tell if they have a fever without one is vital. Learning how to tell if he has a fever without using a thermometer can make it easier for you to determine your next course of action. A quick response to his fever can prevent more serious health complications.

What do you think of these methods? Have you tried using any of these methods to tell if your dog had a fever? What other health concerns do you have regarding your dogs? Tell us by leaving your comments below. If, after reading all that, you realize the importance of having a dog thermometer, check out this article to see which one you should purchase.

About the author
Wyatt Robinson
Wyatt Robinson

Wyatt Robinson had a great 25-years career as a veterinarian in United Kingdom. He used to be a member of British Veterinary Association and worked in 3 pet hospitals in London and Manchester. He is shining when he sees his pets healthy and full of energy and it is his duty to help other dog owners to keep their best friends full of life.