How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Fever

A fever is slightly different for a dog than it is for a human.

A fever—a quick rise in body temperature—can be a scary sign of all sorts of unpleasant health conditions, from the flu to appendicitis. You can usually get a pretty good idea of whether a person has a fever with just a touch to their forehead—if it’s hotter than usual to the touch, you should probably break out the thermometer.

But what about your furry friends? Many a pet lover has probably found themselves wondering how to tell if a dog has a fever. Are dog fever symptoms similar at all to those of humans? Can dogs get fevers at all? These may just seem like questions you wish you could ask your dog, but we actually can get a pretty good idea of what it means if a dog has a fever.

Can dogs get fevers?

They sure can. However, since a dog’s regular body temperature differs slightly from a human’s, the temperature a dog’s body must reach to be considered a “fever” differs, too. “It can be difficult to determine if dogs have a fever because their normal body temperature is higher than ours—around 101.5° F, give or take a degree,” says Chewy Vet Expert Dr. Jennifer Coates. A temperature of 102.5° F, then, can be considered “on the upper end of the normal range” for a dog’s body temperature, and anything above that can be a cause for concern. A temperature of more than 104° F can be considered very high.

That doesn’t just mean that any temperature above 102.5° F is a fever, though. Dr. Coates explains why: “A veterinarian might determine that a temperature of 102.7° F correlates to a mild fever if a dog has been resting in a cool room for an extended period of time,” she told Reader’s Digest. “On the other hand, a dog with a temperature of 102.7° F that has been exercising in the hot sun is probably completely normal.”

How to tell if a dog has a fever

Further complicating things, since dogs have fur, just a touch won’t allow you to sense if they have a fever. Your dog also probably won’t show any overt dog fever symptoms, according to Dr. Coates. “Most dogs with a fever will be somewhat lethargic, but of course many other health problems can lead to lethargy as well,” she says. For instance, lethargy can be one of the signs your dog is depressed. Therefore, you’ll want to actually check your dog’s temperature to definitively determine if he or she has a fever.

For that, you’ll need a thermometer. Dr, Coates recommends a digital rectal thermometer like this one. It shouldn’t be difficult to use “as long as your dog is cooperative and you are gentle and apply ample lubricant (petroleum jelly is fine) to the thermometer,” she says. A little icky, sure, but it’s the most accurate method for how to tell if a dog has a fever. There are ear thermometers available as well, but they’re not as precise, Dr. Coates advises.

What to do if your dog has a fever

If your dog’s temperature comes back above that safe “upper end of the normal range” temperature of 102.5° F, what should you do? Unfortunately, there’s not much you yourself can do. “If you suspect that your dog has a fever, call your veterinarian for advice,” Dr. Coates suggests. Your vet will give you tips regarding if it actually is a fever and what steps you should take to return your pup to a normal temperature. And if the fever is very high, think above 104° F, you’ll want to actually bring your dog to the vet or an animal hospital, as a fever that high can be dangerous. Of course, dogs can show plenty of dog illness symptoms that have nothing to do with fever, too. Find out even more silent signs your “healthy” dog is actually sick.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.