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When our dogs are not behaving like their usual selves or are less active than usual, these are the first indications that they are feeling under the weather and possibly having a fever. Let’s discuss the signs and symptoms of fever, causes, methods to take dog’s temperature, treatment, and ways to reduce fever in dogs.
Often, fever in dogs goes undetected due to our perception that it is normal for dogs’ temperature to be naturally higher than humans. The normal temperature reading for a dog is between 101ºF (38.3ºC) and 102.5ºF (39.2ºC).
The term ‘fever’ is usually associated with elevated body temperature due to inflammation or infection. Thus, if a dog has a temperature higher than 103ºF (39.4ºC), it is considered as having a fever, but we cannot rule out the possibility that the dog is stressed or excited. Well, an easy method to distinguish between excitement, stress and fever is that dog fever is usually accompanied by other symptoms.
We should also be aware that dogs may have heat stroke and hyperthermia if they have high temperature due to excessive exercise in humid conditions or exposed to hot external temperature. It is important to note that a dog may experience serious or fatal complications if its temperature reaches 106ºF (41.1ºC).
Some of the common symptoms that may indicate fever in dogs include:
Some of the examples of conditions or illnesses that can cause dog fever are:
Depending on the dog’s immune system, it is not uncommon for a dog to have low-grade fever in the 24 to 48 hours after it is vaccinated.
When the dog’s body tries to fight an infection or inflammation off, their body temperature will increase. Some of the causes, which can be internal or external, are viral diseases, fungi or bacteria. Infection is not specific to any parts of the body.
The symptoms of infection are depending on the underlying cause and the area of infection. Some infections, for example, fungal diseases can affect a few areas of the body concurrently.
Pancreatitis is one of the most common types of inflammation that causes a fever in dogs.
There may be an increase in dog’s temperature if it ingests substances that are poisonous to a dog, for instance, human medications and food that are toxic to dogs.
Fever in a dog is most accurately determined through its rectal temperature, measured using a digital thermometer that is intended for dogs’ rectal use. Do take note that most of the thermometers designed to be used in humans don’t suit the purpose of rectal temperature taking for dogs.
Note: It is best to ask for help from another person to hold or calm the dog down when taking temperature rectally.
Step 1: Before taking the temperature of a dog, the end of the thermometer needs to be coated with lubricant such as baby oil or petroleum gel. This is done to help the thermometer to slide in easily to reduce the friction between the thermometer and rectum of the dog whilst being inserted thus inflicting minimal to no pain.
Step 2: Lift the dog’s tail gently to clearly see the rectum - an opening below the tail.
Step 3: The thermometer (metal-coated tip) should be gently inserted about 1 inch into the dog’s rectum and turned on when it is in. You can lower its tail back to normal position so that it is less likely to fuss whilst temperature is being taken.
Step 4: Wait for the result - usually takes around 10 to 30 seconds, then remove the rectal thermometer once a reading is registered.
Taking a dog’s temperature using an ear thermometer is less invasive yet still considered a reliable method. The reasoning behind is the area around the eardrum will emit infrared heat waves. Thus, to obtain an accurate reading, the thermometer should be placed deep into the horizontal ear canal.
Ear thermometers cost more than rectal thermometers but cause less discomfort in your dog. Please take note that glass thermometers should be avoided.
A common method that people use as an assessment for dog fever is to feel its nose. When the nose is cool and wet, the dog is alright, but when it is hot and dry, it means that the dog has a fever. Moreover, you should note if there are any signs of nasal discharge (green or yellow) which indicates infection.
Another method is to feel your dog’s paws and ears. They should only be slightly warmer than our hands since dogs have slightly higher temperature than us. It is helpful to know your dog’s normal body temperature for comparison.
You can also check the dog’s gums for dry, warm gums that may look redder than the usual pink colour. The armpits and groin area may also be swollen and feel hot when the dog is down with fever.
However, using these methods alone to pinpoint the presence of fever in a dog is insufficient as it may involve other complications. It is best to use a thermometer or consult a veterinarian whenever possible.
When a dog’s temperature is 130 ºF (39.4ºC) or higher or lasts longer than a day, it is considered as having a fever and should be brought to a vet for examination. It is risky to wait until it is much higher, to a point that it reaches 106ºF (41.1ºC) because the high temperature may damage the dog’s internal organs and potentially be fatal.
According to PetMD, diagnosing the underlying cause of a fever is not straightforward. Hence, you should provide your dog’s full medical history to the veterinarian, for example past illnesses, vaccinations, allergies, surgeries, and medications. It will also be helpful to let the veterinarian know of any travel history, insect bites, ingestion of toxic materials or plants etc including when you first notice the symptoms of fever.
A routine series of laboratory tests will be performed after the physical examination, which are the biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and blood count. The results from the tests together with the medical and physical histories can help to determine any underlying infections or conditions that can cause the elevated temperature. Further testing may be needed in case of infection to prescribe the most suitable medications.
Sometimes, the cause of a dog fever can be undetermined, which is called ‘fever of the unknown origin’ or FUO. FUO can be due to the immune system disorders, bone marrow issues, cancer or undiagnosed infections.
The most commonly prescribed medications for infection are antifungal medications or dog antibiotics. Intravenous fluids may also be given to help in hydration and achieve balance in electrolytes.
For inflammations, symptoms are alleviated using medications until they subside, which can take days to weeks depending on the severity.
Surgery may also be possible depending on the findings on the underlying causes of the dog’s fever.
Other than that, the care and attention given to the feverish dog is important. Rest and a proper diet with suitable calories and nutrition are needed in order to ensure complete recovery. It is good to feed dogs with non-processed food, preferably raw or home-cooked. When preparing home-cooked food for dogs, it is recommended to add whole foods like egg and vegetable but stay away from toxic food, for example, onion, chocolate, macadamia nuts, etc.
At the first sign of fever in a dog, you can try to bring the temperature down by wiping its ears and paw pads with a cool, wet cloth or towel. Alternatively, you can place a towel with ice packs on its abdomen or chest. When its temperature decreases to below 103ºF (39.4ºC) , you can stop the application to avoid the risk of bringing the dog’s temperature down too low that it causes hypothermia.
Besides that, you can soak cotton balls in rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) and dab on its paw pads and ear flaps.
Another useful method is to supply cool air with a fan. You should try to feed the dog with small amounts of cool water too unless it has been vomiting.
Nevertheless, you should continue to monitor the dog’s temperature and bring it to a veterinarian if the fever persists or exhibiting other symptoms.
It is not recommended to treat your dog with human medications without a prescription from a veterinarian as some of them are toxic for dogs, such as acetaminophen and aspirin. It is vital to note that home treatment for dog fever can worsen the conditions and may be life-threatening.
Most importantly, you should keep the dog hydrated with water. You can also try to feed it with bone broth that can also help to restore its appetite, boost the immune system of a dog, give nutrients and prevent dehydration.
Besides that, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that dogs be supplemented with probiotics for digestive and immune system support.
Since fever is typically the dog’s immune system trying to fight off infection or inflammation, vitamins and herbs may be helpful to boost its immunity.
Some fevers in a dog may last for a few hours while others may last for weeks, depending on the causes. If the dog’s fever is due to an underlying inflammation or infection, expect it to persist until it receives proper treatment.
Continue monitoring your dog at home to ensure that it is responding to the medication or course of treatment and report any failure to respond or further increase in temperature to the veterinarian.
Puppy fever can be even more worrisome because their immune system is still developing. As such, they should be monitored even more closely. Make sure that your pup is hydrated and ensure that its temperature does not get too high.
If the fever persists for more than a day, head to the vet immediately. Similar to older dogs, avoid giving your puppy human medication as this can lead to serious complications.
Be sure to give the prescribed medication to your dog when required in a timely manner and in full compliance to the guideline given by the veterinarian. It is also essential to complete the full medication even though the fever has subsided. Avoid giving any additional medication without prior approval from the veterinarian as some may be toxic for dogs.
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