taking dogs temperature

How to Take a Dog’s Temperature

Like humans, a dog with an unusually high body temperature often signals a health problem. This is often in conjunction with other signs and symptoms that we might be able to observe from our pooch such as loss of appetite, depression, and lack of energy. There is only one way for us to find out if indeed our pet has a fever and that is to take its body temperature. Unfortunately, many dog owners simply don’t know how to take a dog’s temperature.

Understanding Dog Fever

Even before you start concluding that your pet has fever, it is important to understand that the body temperature of dogs is inherently higher compared to humans. Whereas the human body temperature typically ranges between 97.6oF and 99.6oF, Fido usually has around 101oF to 102.5oF. What this means is that, you may ‘feel’ your dog to be especially warmer than your skin temp, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it already has fever. This is a very important thing to understand.

To classify a dog’s body temp as fever, it must be no lower than 103oF but should not also be higher than 106oF as serious complications can already form which can lead to an untimely demise. Regardless, any core body temperature readings exceeding 103 degrees Fahrenheit should be considered as a sign of a possible inflammation or even an infection. It is also possible that their body temps are unusually high because of too much exercise especially in hot and humid conditions. Extremely hot weathers can also lead to a rise in a dog’s body temperature, leading you to conclude it has dog fever. These are often referred to as heat stroke or hyperthermia.

Veterinary examing dog

Dog Fever and Associated Symptoms

As we have already said, dog fever is almost always associated with other clinical manifestations. Like humans, they can also exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood or refuses to play or appears less ‘energetic’ than usual
  • Doesn’t want to eat or eats only little even if it’s its favorite food
  • Shivering even when it’s not cold
  • Vomiting, often with thick mucous
  • Nasal discharge and coughing

Again, these are very subjective cues that may not really provide a very accurate assessment of your dog’s actual condition. As a result it is best to take its core body temperature using a device called a thermometer.

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Taking Your Dog’s Body Temperature

In assessing the core body temperature of your pet, it is very important to understand that the most accurate way to do this, albeit uncomfortable for your dog and can be distressing on your part, is by inserting a thermometer in your pet’s rectum, especially if you’re using the traditional glass type.

Rectal thermometers provide the most accurate digital readings because blood vessels inside the walls of the rectum are much closer to the surface compared to those in the armpit. The warmth generated by the body is carried, distributed, and dissipated by the blood coursing through the body. The closer the probe gets to this rich network of blood vessels, the more accurate the readings are.

However, there are ways in which you can also improve the accuracy of non-rectal temperature readings. One can always increase the length of time for the probe to ‘sense’ the temperatures or you can use a thermometer with a more sensitive probe. Either way, knowing the correct technique of taking your dog’s body temperature is crucial. Here’s how.

  • Get some assistance 

Dogs really don’t like having their butts manipulated, what more being probed. They might squirm which can make inserting the thermometer quite difficult. As such, it is always a good idea to enlist the assistance of someone else who can keep your dog focused on something else – like chowing on a dog treat – while you insert the device into its rectum. If you’re not comfortable with it, you can exchange places.

  • Prepare your materials 

There really is not much to prepare except for a really good and accurate digital rectal thermometer. If you have to buy one of these, make sure to ascertain that it’s for rectal use and not for axillary or armpit use. You may also want to get a fast-reading thermometer because the longer you keep the device in your pet’s butt the greater is its tendency to become stressed. If you can get a device that can give you very accurate readings within 3 seconds, by all means, get it.

You’ll also need some form of lubrication to coat the tip of the thermometer to facilitate insertion. Water-based lubricants work best, although petroleum jelly should just be fine. Also, be ready with rubbing alcohol for disinfecting the thermometer, a few cotton balls, and doggie treats to reward your pooch during the procedure and afterwards.

  • Insert the thermometer 

With pet’s focus fully on the other person and the treats being given to it, grab your pet’s tail and move it gently upwards to gain a good view of its anus. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer and insert it through the small opening of the anus until you can feel a slight resistance. This is the internal anal sphincter. Beyond this is the rectum. As such, you will have to push all the way in beyond this resistance. For small dogs, you may need to insert about an inch of the thermometer’s tip. For larger breeds, you’ll need to insert about 3 inches of the thermometer into their rectum.

If you’re using traditional glass thermometers, make sure these stay in the rectum for no less than 3 minutes for greater accuracy. If using a digital device, wait until it emits a beep or any form of signal. Remove the thermometer and take the reading.

  • Praise your pet

Don’t ever forget praising your pet afterwards. This gives it the impression that you liked its behavior, essentially paving the way for easier and even more successful temperature-takings in the future.

Caring for your pet means knowing how to ascertain if it has fever or not. The steps provided in here can also be applied to taking the temperature using the axillary method, although you have to use a different thermometer for that. Remember to be gentle in taking the temperature of your pet dog.

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  1. Dr. Marty Becker DVM, What Is Normal Dog Temperature, Heart Rate and Respiration?, Vetstreet
  2. Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, Taking Your Pet’s Temperature, VCA

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