The average normal temperature for dogs usually hangs around 101° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius), but it's normal for it to be one or two degrees higher or lower than this. Dogs can regulate their body temperature usually by panting, but they can become overheated or too cold due to the environment, infection or disease, age, and size.
Mild temperature elevations or dips are treatable at home, but high fevers and more extreme cases of hypothermia usually call for a trip to the vet. Pettable encourages talking with your vet if you notice unusually high temperatures in your furry friends.
Dogs have several internal processes and features that keep body temperature within the safe zone. The primary way they stay cool is by panting. When they do this, breathing quickens, which makes the heart work a little harder, and forces air over the wet tongue and respiratory passages.
Through the basic process of evaporation, heat is transferred from these structures to the air, and the cooler blood in those areas circulates to the rest of the body.
Although dogs sweat, their only sweat glands are located on the pads of the feet, so these don't do much to keep them cool.
The hypothalamus in the brain is responsible for sending signals that control shivering, which creates heat as a byproduct as the muscles work.
The dilation of blood vessels in the skin allows heat to escape more easily as blood circulates. Additionally, their fur acts as a natural insulator.
They also have a condensed structure of arteries and veins, or rete mirabile, at the base of their neck that prevents much of the heat generated from the body from extending up into the brain.
Normal Temperature Range
Although the average temperature for dogs is 101°F (38° C), it is normal to get readings as high as 102.5°F (39.2°C). The widely accepted bottom of the range is 99°F (37.2°C). Going outside this range is a sign of sickness or that the surrounding environment is too cold or hot.
Monitoring your pet’s temperature requires a suitable thermometer.
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Most veterinarians consider anything over 103°F (39.4°C) in a dog to be a fever. When temperatures are higher than this, it is a sign that the animal is fighting some infection or other disease.
Temperatures also go up after vaccination because the immune system is busy fighting off the perceived threat. Eating or drinking certain things, such as macadamia nuts, can also cause elevation.
Signs of Overheating
When a dog is too hot, its first reaction usually is to start panting. This involves the respiratory system, so it might also have a little trouble breathing and trigger coughing, often with nasal discharge. It might become lethargic, depressed, or not want to eat.
Shivering can also occur, although it's usually associated with being too cold, and some dogs become so overheated that they vomit, collapse or slip into seizures, coma, or death.
Dealing with Anxiety
Your dog might experience some anxiety related to elevated or lower-than-normal temperatures. This depends on the dog and whether they are uncomfortable due to some health-related challenge they are experiencing.
If your dog is presenting with signs of discomfort, anxiety, or is just generally uncomfortable, it could help to give them something that helps calm them down until the underlying issue has been appropriately dealt with:
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Dogs are considered hypothermic when their body temperature is less than 99°F (35°F), with moderate hypothermia ranging from 82 – 90°F (28 – 32°C) and severe hypothermia anything below 82°F (28°C).
Occasionally, readings fall into these ranges because of a problem with the hypothalamus or because the pet has problems with its thyroid hormone levels.
It also can happen because the animal is a puppy or a small breed, as both circumstances mean it is more prone to losing surface heat very quickly.
Signs of Mild Hypothermia
With mild hypothermia, a dog might shiver or have trouble concentrating and staying alert. Weakness is also common, and as the condition worsens, muscles can stiffen, blood pressure can go down, and breathing becomes slower.
In severe cases, it can be difficult to find a heartbeat. Fixed, dilated pupils may occur, as well as organ failure, coma, and death.
When Can Hyperthermia Occur?
Hyperthermia can happen at any time of the year, although dogs may be more prone during spring when temperatures fluctuate unevenly during the day and night.
Dog owners should acclimatize their pets to temperature changes using air conditioning and other tools to prevent adverse reactions during temperature fluctuations.
How to Check Your Dog’s Temperature
Pet owners have to take their dogs' temperatures rectally, which is a fairly uncomplicated process. To do it, you should lubricate a digital or mercury thermometer with some petroleum jelly or similar product designed for animals, then insert the thermometer slowly and gently into the rectum.
How far in to go depends on the animal's size, but on most pets, at least an inch (2.54 centimeters) is necessary to get a good reading.
After one or two minutes, or when the digital readout indicates the reading is done, the thermometer can be removed to check the temperature.
In some cases, it can help to have another person help with the process by holding the dog still and keeping it calm. Experts recommend giving lots of praise or a tasty treat when done.
Adjustments and Treatment
An easy way to help regulate temperature is regular grooming. The amount and length of fur affect how much heat escapes from the skin, so routine combing and trimming often can keep the animal well.
For small breeds, allowing a slightly longer coat or adding a pet sweater can increase comfort. Larger breeds typically can handle a shorter cut and don't need additional layers.
Hyperthermia in Dogs
There are two main types of hyperthermia in dogs:
It usually occurs in the summer or during hot days in a different environment. Dogs locked in the car or left without shade in the hot sun may try to cool themselves naturally, but the harsh external conditions may escalate to hyperthermia.
This happens when a dog's activities generate excess heat, and its body fails to cool them down efficiently. Exertion hyperthermia can occur during any season and may affect even healthy dogs.
Illness and infections can also cause a spike in body temperature as the body works overtime to fight the infection. In adverse cases, exposure to toxic substances or excessive thyroid hormone production may also be accompanied by hyperthermia.
Signs of Hyperthermia
A dog may have an elevated temperature, but this does not always mean they're in a heat crisis. For instance, in working dogs, it is not uncommon for their temperature to hover around the 106°F mark.
However, some apparent signs may signal your emotional support animal is in distress caused by hyperthermia. They include:
- Heat Stress – Your ESA dog may excessively pant with its tongue protruding. Its cheeks may be pulled back, exposing red fuscous membranes, and there may be a change in the dog's focus or readiness.
- Heat Exhaustion – Excessive panting becomes uncontrollable, and other signs may accompany this stage. They can include weakness, instability, and diarrhea.
- Heat Stroke – Dogs with prolonged heat exhaustion may experience a shift in consciousness. The dog may fall into a stupor, experience seizures, or fall into a coma.
Hyperthermia Risk Factors
Dogs are more likely to suffer from hyperthermia during the summer and in hot and humid areas. However, it can occur at other times from several risk factors, including the following:
- Overweight dogs are more susceptible to hyperthermia. They cool less rapidly, which may cause heat stress even in a cool climate.
- Dogs with respiratory conditions which affect breathing, like laryngeal paralysis.
- Young puppies and senior dogs may be susceptible to hyperthermia as their internal cooling processes are not working optimally.
- Short-nosed breeds such as pugs, terriers, and English Bulldogs are at a higher risk of hyperthermia.
Home Care For Hyperthermia
Mild cases of fever and hyperthermia often are treatable at home. If a dog is too warm, the first step is to bring it to a cooler location, after which it can be cooled with damp towels, a dip in a cool tub of water, or a gentle spray with a hose or shower.
Although it's not good to force the animal to take in water, giving it a chance to drink something is essential because it can't cool through panting unless moisture on the tongue and respiratory structures can evaporate. Extreme cases call for more invasive methods, such as giving cool fluids intravenously.
Treating Mild Hypothermia
When mild hypothermia is the problem, bringing the dog where it is warmer and wrapping it in a few blankets is often all that's necessary. In cases where getting wet is part of the cause of the temperature drop, some people even warm their pets using very low settings on hair dryers.
If the temperature has fallen further, treatment might require more active rewarming, such as using a heating pad or warm bottles under a towel positioned under the torso. Intravenous treatment of warm fluids might be necessary.
Veterinarians recommend that pet owners bring their dogs in for professional care when fevers are above 103°F (39.4°C) or rectal temperature has fallen below the mild hypothermia range. If a person isn't sure whether to bring their animal in for treatment, it's a good idea to call and ask.
The vet generally can reassure a pet owner if they are on the right track with home treatments. If necessary, the vet can provide basic instructions for transporting the animal to a clinic without worsening the symptoms.
When to Visit Your Vet
A dog's temperature may fluctuate with several factors, such as external temperature, stress, or ill health. Most of the time, the symptoms are mild, and you can treat them at home.
However, it may be time to see the vet if your dog has a fever with temperatures over 106°F (41°C)
What to Do If Your Dog Gets a Fever
Here are some things you can do to help your dog if you can't get to the vet right away:
- On the way to the vet, take active measures to cool down your dog. Soak the dog in water, especially around the neck, groin, and armpits. Do not use cold water or ice, as this can cause the blood vessels to contract rapidly, which delays cooling.
- Turn on the car vents and fans to blow cold air on the dog and avoid submerging the dog's head in water. Contact the vet or emergency services if you have an ESA letter in an unfamiliar area to ensure the vet is ready to offer emergency assistance.
- It is recommended to visit a regular vet as this helps build a profile for your ESA dog, making it easier to diagnose potential causes of temperature variations. The vet will use your dog's history of allergies, vaccinations, medications, and past illnesses to determine the underlying causes of the fever.
- After the initial physical exam, the vet may conduct fecal or blood analysis and other routine tests. If your dog recently had an injury or has been exposed to toxins, ensure you inform the vet. Also, mention when you first noticed the fever, as it may help to trace the likely causes.
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