How to tell if a dog has a fever — with or without a thermometer

By: Nathan Grant

How To Tell If A Dog Has A Fever (Easy-To-Do) Without A Thermometer

What is a normal average body temp for dogs?

You won’t be able to tell if your dog has a fever without understanding her normal temperature. In general, dogs have temperatures between 101 and 102.5 °F. Since this is a few degrees hotter than what is normal for a human, your dog may feel like she has a temperature to you even when her temperature is normal.

There is a variation between breeds and individual dogs as to what is normal. A new study has found that smaller dogs tend to have higher body temperatures, according to NBC News. This may be because smaller animals tend to have higher metabolic rates. Whatever the reason, it is important to note that your small dog will generally run a higher temperature than your large-breed dog. Dogs with thin or no hair may feel hotter to us than other dogs even though their temperature is not higher than that of other dogs.

It is a good idea to become accustomed to normal temperature for your particular dog.  Use the suggested techniques for determining your dog’s temperature frequently so that you will know what her nose, armpits, gums, and general appearance and behavior are like normally.

A complete understanding of your healthy dog will enable you to quickly detect any irregularities. The best way to detect a fever in your dog is to know her well.

Ways to tell if your dog has a fever without using a thermometer

The best way to tell if your dog has a fever is to use a thermometer, usually inserted into the rectum, but occasionally to be used for the armpits or ears. A high-quality ear thermometer is a good tool for every pet owner to have available to them, since measuring temperature rectally can be difficult at home. Thermometers are inexpensive and a valuable tool to help you evaluate your dog’s health.

That said, even if you don’t have a thermometer on hand, or if the one you have appears to be faulty, you can do some other tests to tell you if your dog has a fever. You know your dog well, and if she isn’t feeling well she is likely to tell you with her behavior and appearance. If you suspect that your dog is running a fever, you can examine her paws, ears, nose, gums, armpits, and groin to help you tell for sure.

Dog’s paws and ears

Most of our dog’s bodies are covered with fur, so finding places that naturally do not have hair is a good way of getting as close to your dog’s temperature as possible. Your dog’s paws are a good indication of her overall temperature in neutral external temperature conditions. It is also very easy to feel your dog’s paws, and most dogs won’t be overly bothered by this.

Feeling your dog’s paws is not a good indication of temperature if the ground is cold or hot since your dog’s paws are making continuous contact with the ground. If you would like to feel your dog’s paws to tell her temperature when the ground is hot or cold, set your dog on a thick towel, blanket, or other fabric to allow her paws to return to the temperature of her body.

Ears are similar to paws in that they are good indications of temperature assuming that the outside temperature is not extreme. Ears are one of the first parts of a dog to feel cold in chilly temperatures. If your dog’s ears feel normal but it is cold out your dog may still have a fever. Bring your dog into a heated space for some time and then feel her ears in order to get an accurate gauge of her temperature.

Dog’s Nose

A dog’s nose is a classic way to tell how she is feeling. There are plenty of stories about a dog’s nose being cold and wet. It is true that a dog’s nose should feel cold and wet, but dogs frequently have dry, warm noses in the absence of fever. If you are running your heat or for other reasons, there are unusually dry conditions your dog’s nose may get dry, just like yours does.

If your dog’s nose is dry or warm but there is no other sign of illness like nasal discharge or lethargy, and especially if you are running your heater, you may have no need to worry about fever. If, however, your dog’s nose is dry or warm and with nasal discharge, and your dog is acting lethargic or showing other signs of fever, this can be a good sign that your dog isn’t feeling well.

Armpit or groin

Just like us, your dog’s lymph nodes swell when she gets sick. In the armpits and groin you will be able to feel lymph nodes if they become swollen. On some dogs, you can even see the swollen lymph nodes. Hold your dog on her back or ask her to roll over for you so that you can feel and look for swollen lymph nodes. If your dog is showing other signs of sickness but does not seem to have a fever, swollen lymph nodes can be a good indication that your dog will soon develop a fever.


A dog’s gums are a great indication of overall health. Gums are one of the parts of your dog’s body that you should be very familiar with. Check your dog’s gums when she is active, when she is resting, and at all sorts of different times in her life. By being familiar with the way that your dog’s gums look, you will be able to tell when they are off. It is also important to maintain their dog’s dental help so that gums do not become red and swollen all the time. Unhealthy gums are not a good indication of temperature or healt.

Healthy gums are pink or mottled pink and black, depending on your dog’s coloration. Most dogs have at least some pink on their gums. Gums that are darker than normal may not be getting enough oxygen. Gums that are swollen and reddish can indicate fever.

Moistness, as well as color, is an indication of the healthiness of the gums. Your dog’s gums should feel similarly moist to your own. Dry gums, like a dry nose, can indicate illness.

Low Body Temp

Dogs may develop dangerously low body temperatures due to external conditions or shock. You can feel a dog’s extremities like paws, ears, and gums to tell if her temperature is unusually low. Your dog will also shake or develop goosebumps as indications of a very low body temperature. If there is no clear reason for a low temperature like your dog being outside in the cold for some time, your dog may be seriously ill. A low temperature can develop in the case of shock or sepsis.

Behavior and appearance

You know your dog better than anyone. If she is not feeling well, you are probably the first to know. If your dog alters from her normal routine, loses interest in things that normally give her pleasure, refuses food or treats, or seeks attention from you for no apparent reason and can’t be satisfied, these can all be indications that your dog isn’t feeling well.

Have you ever been told at the beginning or end of an illness that you don’t look good? Just like us, our dogs can simply look sick. Droopy eyes and ears, a tight mouth, or excessive panting can all show pain or illness. If your dog just doesn’t look good, there’s a real chance that she is sick.

Ok my dog has a fever, what can you give a dog for a fever?

If you have thoroughly examined your dog and determined that she has a fever, you are doubtless wondering if there is something that you can do to bring down her fever or if you will need to bring her to the vet.

Here are a few reasons your dog may have a fever and things you might be able to do to address the underlying cause as well as the fever itself.

Common Dog Fever Symptoms  and Underlying Causes

Dogs that have a fever generally acts lethargic, with drooping ears and depressed attitudes. If your dog has a runny or dry nose, red or dry gums, or any of the other symptoms discussed above, you can feel even more confident that your dog has a fever.

Your dog may have a fever because of a simple cold with flu-like symptoms similar to what you might experience. Some bacterial or viral infections like this may be relatively benign, while others can be dangerous. Some like Bordetella, otherwise known as Kennel Cough, can be highly contagious and dangerous for very young, old, or immune-compromised dogs.

If your puppy is showing signs of fever, especially with vomiting and diarrhea, it is possible that she is suffering from Parvo, an extremely dangerous disease that often kills.

Many dogs respond to vaccination with a fever, especially if it is the first time they’ve gotten the vaccinations or if they received multiple vaccinations at a time. If your dog acts mildly lethargic and runs a mild fever after vaccinations or monthly flea/heartworm control, is generally not a cause for concern.

Your dog could respond to any infection with a fever. The culprit could be an infected cut or external injury, an ear infection, a urinary tract infection, a tooth infection, or an infection of some organ. If your dog is displaying a high fever without nasal discharge, and especially if you know of some kind of injury, it is highly possible that your dog is suffering from an infection.

Your dog may also have a fever because she ingested something poisonous. If your dog has recently gotten into the medicine cabinet or trash and is now showing a fever, there’s a good chance it is because she ate something dangerous. A foreign body like a stick or sock that has been eaten can become lodged in your dog’s stomach or intestines and lead to a fever as well.

Tick-related illnesses are another very common cause of fever, especially long-term or recurring fever without explanation or other symptoms.

Why do dogs get a fever (normal immune response – what is the underlying issue)

A fever is a common and normal reaction to a wide range of assaults against the body.  A fever is the body’s immune response to infection. This is because hot temperatures are less desirable for a wide range of viruses and bacteria to live and reproduce. Bringing up the body’s temperature is a generic response that can often have a beneficial effect against all kinds of attacks. It can be so hard to identify the cause of a fever because so many different triggers can cause a fever.

What you can do to lower the fever at home

If you have determined that your dog has a fever but you are not yet concerned enough to bring your dog to the vet, there are things that you can do to reduce the severity and duration of the fever.

There is an old saying that says “starve a fever”. In fact, this is good advice both for dogs and humans. If your dog  Is experiencing a fever, there is a good chance that she is choosing not to eat already, but do not feel it necessary to encourage her to eat, and in fact, it isn’t wise to withhold food.

According to Scientific American, adding food to a body that is having an immune response can further aggravate the nervous system, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system when the sympathetic nervous system is already in overdrive.  Furthermore, when your dog’s body is hypersensitive to potential danger, it could misinterpret something that your dog eats as dangerous and react to it.

How to cool down your dogs temp (hydration/damp towel etc)

The safest way to cool down your dog when she is suffering from a fever is to use plenty of cool water. Encourage your dog to drink more water so that she does not become dehydrated. If your dog is reluctant to drink provide ice chips. Many dogs will lick at ice chips when they will not otherwise drink water.

You can tell if your dog is dehydrated by pulling up your dog’s skin. If the skin springs back your dog is hydrated and if it does not move then she is severely dehydrated.  You can tell how dehydrated your dog is by how quickly her skin returns to normal when you pull it.

You can cool your dog by soaking towels with cool water and wrapping them around your dog’s paws and ears. Keep changing out the towels to keep them cool.

You should not give your dog any kind of human medications like aspirin to lower her temperature. There are veterinary medications that can bring down fever in dogs, and some veterinarians do recommend aspirin for some dogs,  but dogs do not respond to medication like humans do, so you should consult your vet before giving your dog any kind of over the counter medication. Furthermore, since a fever is so often a response to something, reducing the fever may put your dog in more danger than letting it run its course.

Monitor and give them time and rest

If your dog is suffering from a mild fever, it is best to monitor closely, be sure that your dog stays hydrated, and let her rest. Rest and plenty of water is often the best cure for the fever and whatever is causing it as well. If the fever is mild and there are no other concerning symptoms, there is a good chance that your dog will work through it on her own.

Isolate your dog while she is ill so that no other pets are infected. Do not worry, however, about catching something from your dog, as there are very few diseases that cause a fever that can be transmitted from dog to person.

Consult your vet

You will know that it is time to consult your veterinarian if you can detect that your dog’s temperature is higher than 103°F. If your dog has a temperature over 106°F, you have a severe emergency on your hands. Cool your dog down while you bring her to the vet. If your dog is displaying other symptoms of illness like severe lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, or concerning behavioral changes, or if the fever has gone on for more than a day or so without showing marked improvement, it is time to bring your dog to the vet.

It is also a good idea to have your dog checked out if she seems to frequently suffer from mild fevers for no apparent reason, as this can indicate an underlying disorder.

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