Dog fever is not a disease. Instead, it is the body’s way of fighting diseases. Fevers help destroy bacteria and improve the function of the immune system. Occasionally, however, they run too high and cause serious complications.
As a dog owner, it is important for you to be able to identify a dog fever, which is defined as a rectal temperature greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and know how to tell which fevers are emergencies and which ones can be treated at home.
Causes and Signals of Dog Fever
There are a number of potential causes of fever in dogs. Some of these include the following:
A true fever is an increase in the body’s temperature set point. This means that increased body temperature due to running around or being in a hot room does not constitute a true fever. Unlike dogs with fevers, overheated dogs often pant, seek cool areas or exhibit marked distress. Dogs with fevers do not usually exhibit these signs because their brains see the increased temperature as normal.
When running a fever, dogs often show some or all of the following signs:
- Loss of appetite
- Tacky gums
What to Do When Your Dog Has a Fever
If you suspect a fever, you need to confirm it by taking your dog’s temperature. The most accurate way to do this is to take a rectal temperature by having a helper hold the front of the dog while you gently lift the tail and insert a lubricated thermometer approximately ½ to 1 inch into the rectum. When you get a reading, gently withdraw the thermometer. A normal dog temperature is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees.
For a dog with a fever between 103 and 104 degrees, at-home care is probably sufficient provided the pet is alert, eating and drinking and does not have other concerning symptoms such as a painful abdomen, bruising, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, lameness or loss of consciousness. At-home care consists of encouraging your dog to rest and drink fluids and monitoring your pet’s temperature one to two times per day. If the fever lasts for more than 48 hours or rises above 104 degrees, your pet needs to see a veterinarian right away. A fever above 106 degrees can cause severe complications and is considered an emergency.
Avoid submerging your pet in cold water or using other physical cooling methods unless directed to do so by a veterinarian. With a true fever, rapid cooling is a source of metabolic stress for the dog. Also, avoid giving medications without a veterinarian’s approval. Most veterinarians prefer not to treat low-grade fevers because these fevers can be beneficial. In addition, many human fever reducers are toxic to dogs.
How to Treat a Fever in Dogs
The best way to treat fever in dogs is to eliminate its cause. For example, eliminating a bacterial infection with antibiotics should cause the associated fever to subside. If, however, a dog’s temperature rises above 104.5 to 105 degrees, the use of medications to bring down the animal’s temperature is indicated. A popular choice for fever reduction in dogs is the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen. In addition, since many dogs with high fevers are dehydrated, fluid therapy is frequently a necessary component of treatment.