So you think your dog has an abnormal temperature, you are worried… But what can I do, Dr. Franck?
Let me guide you through this short guide to know what is normal, and what is not!
To begin with, how do I check my dog’s temperature?
You’ve touched his forehead, ears and paws and all of these seem warm. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. However, it has been shown that this is NOT an accurate way to do it (1). In fact, the ONLY way to know if this temperature is abnormal is to take an accurate measurement with a thermometer!
Okay, Dr. Franck, I understand that my touch is not accurate. Where should I take the temperature and what kind of thermometer should I use?
The temperature taken in the mouth of dogs is quite inaccurate and very inconvenient, so let’s forget about it!
Taking a temperature in the ear is possible with specialized thermometers. However, it is necessary to handle this tool well because false readings are frequent otherwise (2). For example: if it is not placed in the right place in the ear, the figure obtained won’t be realistic.
Rectal temperature (at the anus) is therefore preferable. You jsimply need a (fast) digital thermometer. I’m talking about the ones that take a measurement in 5 to 10 seconds. It’s not because the others are not correct, but it will be more difficult to keep your dog completely still for 1 full minute. In short, you will need to gently insert the thermometer 1-2 cm and wait for the beep.
Be aware that there are other ways to take a temperature as well, however they are less used (3) and therefore will not be covered in this article.
Alright, I understand that I should use a rectal thermometer for my dog, that’s for sure! Can you tell me what are the normals?
It is generally accepted that the temperature can vary between 38 and 39.5 Celsius. That being said, you shouldn’t worry if a dog has a temperature of 37.5 C and seems completely healthy. On the other hand, a fever can be considered when the temperature is closer to 39.8-40 Celsius.
Dr. Franck, my dog has a fever, what should I do?
- First of all, check it again in a few hours to see how it is evolving. If it is stable or it’s still rising, it is clearly not temporary.
- Second, look for other abnormal signs. Be aware that a fever rarely comes on its own, so all the other symptoms are important.
- Third, take note of those readings and any other changes that occured over the past 2-3 days.
- Finally, understand that a consultation at the veterinarian will probably be necessary as further investigation will be required.
Hence, that’s all you need to know for now. I hope this will provide you with some help in the future.
Tell me, I’m curious: have you ever had any funny situations that happened when you tried to check your dog’s temperature?
Source 1. Kennedy CR, Babyak JM, Rozanski EA. The accuracy of tactile assessment of canine nose temperature to identify rectal hyperthermia and hypothermia in dogs presenting on an emergency basis. Can J Vet Res. 2021 Jul;85(3):205-209. PMID: 34248265; PMCID: PMC8243800.
Source 2. Lamb V, McBrearty AR. Comparison of rectal, tympanic membrane and axillary temperature measurement methods in dogs. Vet Rec. 2013 Nov 30;173(21):524. doi: 10.1136/vr.101806. Epub 2013 Oct 24. PMID: 24158324.
Source 3. Goic JB, Reineke EL, Drobatz KJ. Comparison of rectal and axillary temperatures in dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2014 May 15;244(10):1170-5. doi: 10.2460/javma.244.10.1170. PMID: 24786164.
Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.