Fever in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment
Having a fever is no fun for humans and the same applies to dogs! It can very distressing when your four-legged friend is sick with a fever and you don’t know what to do to help them. The best advice is to consult your vet because there may be an underlying cause and it may need to be treated. To help you spot when your pooch has a fever and when you should call in your vet, read this quick guide.
What Is a Fever in Dogs?
Fevers are a biological mechanism that happen in most mammals including dogs and humans. The body enters a fever when a special type of chemical, called the pyrogens, start flowing around the bloodstream. They enter an organ in the brain called the hypothalamus which controls temperature regulation. As the pyrogens act on the hypothalamus, the body temperature rises.
Fever is not, therefore, an illness itself. Rather, it is the body reacting to a change that has produced pyrogens and made them enter the blood. The medical term for a fever is pyrexia. It simply means a temperature that is higher than normal body temperature. As a dog owner, you should be aware that the normal body temperature for canines is between 99.5-102.5 degrees F. This means that any body temperature over 103.5 ° F would be considered a fever. However, that does not necessarily mean that your dog is ill. A dog’s temperature can rise if they are excited or stressed too.
Your dog’s body has a fever for a reason! In the case of an infection, the increased temperature makes it harder for bacteria to multiply and helps the body’s immune system work most efficiently. Fevers can also cause problems. If your dog’s temperature gets too high or is raised for a long time, they will need medical treatment. High fever in dogs can be a medical emergency. Also, it is important to ascertain what has caused the fever as that may need treatment as well.
Sometimes, a dog will have a high temperature at least four times in a fortnight but no obvious cause can be identified. Vets call this a dog fever of unknown origin and you may see it written as FUO.
A fever is not the same thing as heat stroke. Dogs can get very hot when they are out in hot and humid conditions or when they have been exercising very hard. This medical condition is called hyperthermia and it is very serious. When a dog’s temperatures rises to above 106 degrees F it is life threatening and you must get your pet to a vet right away.
Symptoms of a Fever in Dogs
As a responsible dog owner, you should know how to tell if a dog has a fever. Unfortunately, there are no fool-proof signs but there are some symptoms that are typical of a fever. These are listed here.
- Your dog will have no energy. They may sleep more than they usually do and seem to be tired and listless all the time. They may not want to play with you or go for walks and they may not even want to get out of bed.
- Depressed mood. Dogs that are depressed often withdraw and are not very active. They do not want to have fun and may go off their food. They may also show signs of anxiety such as howling or whining.
- Their whole body may shake and tremble.
- Loss of appetite. It will be hard to coax your pooch to eat.
- Your dog may vomit or retch.
- Coughing and nasal discharge. You may notice that your dog is coughing or they may have a discharge coming out from their nose.
Whilst these symptoms can be indicative of a fever, they can also be caused by other things. Therefore, you cannot be certain that your dog has a fever.
Taking Your Dog’s Temperature
The only way to be absolutely sure that your pooch has a fever is to take their temperature. In dogs, this needs to be done by taking their rectal temperature and it will involve placing a thermometer into their rectum. If you are not confident enough to do this, it is something that your vet can do for you.
Provided you are careful, you can learn to do this procedure yourself. You will need to invest in a special digital thermometer that has been specially designed to take a dog’s rectal temperature. They usually have flexible probes to cut down the risk of injury and may come with disposable covers. Never use a glass mercury thermometer for this purpose as it is dangerous for you and your pet. Also, the human ear thermometers do not work well on dogs.
How to take a dog’s temperature in five easy steps.
- Get someone to help you and have the probe thermometer and some lubricant (such as petroleum jelly) ready.
- Place your dog in a comfortable position. Smaller dogs may need to be up on a table but larger dogs can remain on the floor. If your dog is likely to bite, you may need to use a muzzle.
- Your helper must restrain your dog securely by kneeling next to them. They should slide their arm under your dog’s stomach and bend it so that dog’s rear body is held against the helper’s chest. Their other hand should be around the dog’s neck towards their ear and they should pull your dog’s head towards them. It is important that you both keep calm and in control.
- Lubricate the thermometer and lift your dog’s tail using your non-dominant hand so that you can see the anus. Hold the thermometer parallel to the dog’s back and touch anus with the thermometer. Keeping the thermometer completely horizontal, insert it into the anus. You will have to push gently and twist it slightly. Do not insert it too far or press too hard because you could puncture the bowel. If you encounter resistance, remove the thermometer and start again with more lubricant.
- Read the digital display on the thermometer and then remove it. Most readouts are available within 60 seconds and some allow you to remove the thermometer and then look at the reading.
Causes of Fever in Dogs
There are a number of potential reasons for fever in dogs so it is important that you consult your vet. Diagnosing the underlying cause of a fever is not easy and can involve several tests.
Your vet will ask you a lot of questions about your dog’s symptoms and what they were doing before the symptoms started. You must tell them about any trips you have been on, any contact with other animals or insects, their recent vaccinations and any injuries or recent illnesses. They will have to have a detailed physical examination and may need some laboratory tests. Sometimes, ultrasonography, echocardiography, and CT or MRI scans are also helpful. Here are some of the most common causes of fever in dogs.
- Infections: These can be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. Any part of a dog’s body can become infected. Your vet will try to diagnose the location of the infection. If it is in the lungs, it is called pneumonia. An infection in the kidneys is called pyelonephritis and in the brain, it is called encephalitis. There may be other symptoms that give an indication of where the infection is located. Some fungal diseases can affect more than one part of the body at the same time. Young dogs are more prone to infections so a puppy fever is often caused by a pathogen.
- Toxins: There are many substances that are poisonous to dogs. Some examples are macadamia nuts and garlic. Human medication is often poisonous for dogs. The body’s reaction can include an increase in temperature.
- Vaccinations: It is important that you give your dog all the vaccinations that are recommended by your vet. Some dogs can react with a low-grade fever that will last for between 24 and 48 hours. Your vet will advise you on how to look after your dog following a vaccination.
- Fever of unknown origin: These are a bit of a mystery! They may be due to problems with the immune system or bone marrow but can also be caused by cancer.
Looking After a Dog With a Fever
If you know that your dog’s temperature is higher than 103 degrees F, you should call your vet. If their fever has risen above 106 degrees F, it should be treated as an emergency. You can help by introducing a dog fever treatment at home. Always follow the advice of your vet when it comes to medication and care.
You can try to reduce the body temperature by dabbing cool (not cold) water to your dog’s fur on their ears and feet. Put them in a cool place and use a fan. Never give your dog human fever medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen as they are harmful to dogs.
Once the fever is over, your pooch will need rest and a nutritious diet to help them recover. You may need to use a high-calorie liquid supplement if they do not have a good appetite.