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Everything you need to know about your dog's temperature

Saint Bernard dog in the snow advice
© Pixabay

Dog temperature is not something that you might automatically think about when living with a pet. You listen out for him coughing, keep an eye on his toilet habits, and observe the way he moves. But when you’re stroking him, warmth usually seems like a good thing

By G. John Cole

However, in cases of abnormally high or low dog body temperature, there is often something more serious going on underneath. As your dog’s comrade, it falls to you to make a temperature reading – and ferry that dog to the vet if it’s outside the average dog temperature.

What is a normal dog temperature

The normal temperature of a dog’s body is between 37.5 to 39.2°C (99.5 to 102.5°F). If your dog’s temperature goes outside of this range, you should contact your vet. And if that temperature falls below 37.2°C (99°F) or rises above 40°C (104°F), you should consider it an emergency.

If your dog’s temperature is too low, he may have hypothermia. Too high, and it may be hyperthermia, or fever.

How to measure dog temperature

There’s no easy way to say this. You need to take your dog’s temperature from his bum. It is not difficult, but it is best if two humans work together on this particular project.

Somebody the dog trusts should hold him still. The second person should shake the thermal thermometer to get it moving, and lubricate it well with Vaseline.

Next, raise his tail, tell him you love him, and push the thermometer into his rectum with a twist. It should go in one-three inches, depending on the size of your dog. Hold it in place (don’t let go!) for two minutes, then remove it, wipe it quickly, and read the temperature.

Dog Temperature-taking tips

Don’t try to take your dog’s temperature from his mouth. At best you will get an inaccurate reading; at worst he might bite you! You need an internal reading.

It is possible to get a reading from your dog’s ear, but ear thermometers are more expensive. The results are less reliable than with a bottom reading unless you’re an expert and really know what you’re doing.

Regarding that thermometer, buy one as soon as your dog joins your family. Label it so that you know it’s just for him! Don’t buy a glass one, as if it breaks it can hurt him.

And remember you cannot judge a dog’s temperature just by touching him or assessing the wetness of his nose. The whole wet nose thing is, for the most part, a myth.

Is a high dog temperature a sign of fever?

High temperature in dogs can mean one or several things.

Dog expert Dr. Dana A. Vamvakias, DVM, CCRT, cVMA points out that there are two main types of hyperthermia. Classical, or non-exertional hyperthermia happens when, for example, you leave your dog in a hot car. (Never do this!)

The other form is exertional hyperthermia,” says Dr. Vamvakias. “where the dog’s activities generate excessive physiological heat, their body fails to maintain adequate cooling, and they go into a crisis.”

You will first notice that your dog is suffering from hyperthermia if he is panting a lot (especially if it gets uncontrollable), his tongue sticks out unusually far, and his cheeks are pulled back over his entire set of teeth. He may seem dizzy or weak, and suffer from diarrhoea or vomiting.

A fever is a slightly different form of overheating. He may have red eyes, warm ears and nose, and be shivering. He may lose his appetite and his energy.

Fever can be caused by an infection, including in his skin (i.e. from a cut or bite), internal organs, or an infected tooth or abscess. It can also be caused by poisonous materials. Sometimes a dog gets a fever for a day or two after his vaccinations: this is normal, but keep an eye on him.

What about low dog temperature?

Low dog temperature can be just as dangerous as high temperature in dogs. When your dog’s temperature dips, his internal systems will slow. His heartbeat may become slow, weak, and irregular. He may shiver, and become depressed or lethargic. And unfortunately, the longer you leave him this way, the less able his body is to recover.

If you notice your dog is cold and he is trying to find heat by cuddling under blankets or his pupils start to dilate, take action. He may have got too wet, or exposed to a draft; it could be the result of a hormone or brain problem. Puppy temperature is particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures, as is that of older and smaller dogs. Check his temperature. If it’s below 37.2°C (99°F) take him to a vet as soon as possible.

How to treat an unusual dog temperature

Treatment for a dog with an unusual temperature will differ greatly according to the cause. It can be a delicate procedure, as heating/chilling your dog too quickly or too much can cause further damage.

Blankets, heating pads, or even warm IV liquids will be used to bring a cold dog back to a safe temperature. It is safe to do so at a rate of 0.5-1.5°C (32.9-24.7°F) per hour. But it is not just about re-warming your dog. Any underlying cause or damage also needs to be addressed.

For a dog with heat-stroke, your vet will use cooling measures, intravenous fluids, and oxygen. Dr. Vamvakias hoses cool water to the groin, armpits, and throat, or helps the dog into a cool bath. Icy towels and fans may also be used. And the cooling process should stop as soon as your dog is back down to 39.5°C (103°F) to avoid the momentum carrying him to hypothermia levels.

Again, if your dog’s temperature was too high, you need to make sure your vet addresses any damage that may have been done. The longer a dog’s temperature is abnormal, the worse it gets.