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How To Take a Dog's Temperature Appropriately!

Learning how to take a dog’s temperature is an important part of becoming a responsible pet owner. 

Just like humans, dogs have a regular body temperature that indicates they are healthy and feeling good. However, if your dog has an illness or infection, then your dog’s body temperature is often elevated above the regular levels. 

It’s important that owners take an accurate temperature reading using a thermometer, as it’s otherwise impossible to guess if your dog is too hot and to know if your dog has a fever. 

In this article, we explore the best way to successfully check the temperature of your dog, and what to do if their temperature is higher or lower than it should be!

What is a ‘normal’ dog temperature? 

Temperature regulation is incredibly important. A regular temperature is a sign of a healthy body (for dogs and humans), so it’s super important to know how hot is too hot for dogs

An elevated body temperature (and a temperature that remains elevated) is a sign that your dog has a fever and is struggling to fight off an illness or infection. Too low, and your dog could have hypothermia. 

A dog’s regular body temperature should be between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually, it hovers around the 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit mark. 

If it’s above or below this mark, then you need to contact your vet for further advice. 

How to take your dog’s temperature 

Human body temperature is lower than a dog’s (between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit), so it’s difficult for us to know just by a look or touch alone if a dog is hot or cold. The only accurate way for you to know is to take your dog’s temperature. 

Taking your dog’s temperature isn’t too difficult, but it can be quite off-putting if you’ve never done it before. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to take your dog’s temperature accurately by inserting a thermometer into their mouth - they might try and bite you! Instead, you need to use a rectal thermometer.

You’ll need:

  • Rectal thermometer 
  • Canine friendly lube
  • A friend or family member to help
  • Doggie treats 

Follow the simple directions below and learn how to take the temperature of a dog using a rectal thermometer:

  1. Ensure that your dog is in a comfortable location where you can easily perform the procedure (you might want to use a bed ramp for dogs to get them onto a table or onto the couch). 
  2. Prepare your rectal thermometer, and ensure that it’s coated in some form of canine-friendly lubricant. 
  3. Have your helper hold your dog, planting their arm firmly under their stomach with one hand, leaving the other hand free to pet their head. 
  4. Pull their tail up and then insert the thermometer. Wait until the reading has been taken, then remove. 
  5. Give your dog a few treats to help them forget about the experience!

It’s that simple, and although your dog will be uncomfortable the first time around, they get used to the procedure remarkably quickly (as will you!). 

Here are a few top tips for taking an accurate temperature reading: 

  • Use a digital thermometer. You want this to be over and done with as quickly as possible. Digital thermometers can have an accurate reading within 10 seconds, which is a lot faster than a non-digital thermometer!
  • Keep your dog comforted. As well as holding your dog still, ask your helper to pat their head and give them a hug while the temperature reading is taking place. 
  • Keep the dog thermometer separate from the human thermometer. This sounds obvious, but you don’t want to be accidentally using the dog’s thermometer on your kids! It’s a good idea to establish a doggie first aid kit where you can keep things like a thermometer and medication organized and accessible.

How do you check a dog's temperature without a thermometer?

Without using a thermometer, it will be difficult to accurately record your dog’s temperature. However, here are four steps you can take if you do not have a thermometer:

  1. Touch and feel your dog’s paws and ears. Your dog should have a normal temperature that is slightly hotter than your hand.
  2. Take a look at the nose, if you see signs of nasal discharge, it could be signs of an infection.
  3. Check the gums to see if they’re redder than usually.
  4. Feel your dogs groin and armpits and see if they’re hotter than usual, or feel swollen.

We always recommend using a thermometer, but if you notice the four signs above, you should consult with your veterinarian. 

What do I do if the temperature isn’t normal? 

If your dog’s temperature isn’t normal (if it’s too high or too low), then you’ll need to contact your local vet for further advice. 

If the temperature is marginally lower (1 degree Fahrenheit or so) than it should be, it could be a sign of a mild illness or fever. You’ll need a further diagnosis, but it’s not life-threatening. You may want to wrap your dog with some blankets to raise the temperature if it’s on the low side.

If the temperature is out by a few degrees and your dog is exhibiting other symptoms that clearly aren’t normal, then call your veterinarian immediately for help. You’ll need to get them seen right away, as they could have a serious illness, or they could have hyperthermia or hypothermia (either of which can be deadly if left unchecked).  

If you’re in any way worried about your dog’s temperature or haven’t been able to take an accurate reading, then go to your vets, too. They’ll be able to take an accurate reading (it’s their job, after all!) and provide a diagnosis (even if it’s to say they’re fine, it’s always a relief to hear this from a professional!). 

How to tell if dog has fever 

Generally speaking, we check our dog’s temperature to see if they have a fever. A fever is a sure sign of illness or infection, as the body’s temperature is raised while it fights off the invading virus or bacteria. 

Dogs don’t sweat (humans sweat when they have a fever), so it’s tricky to know. Some sources suggest feeling the dog’s nose and seeing if it is hot and dry. This method is not accurate, however, as it’s difficult to know if the nose is in a normal state of dryness or not!

Not using a thermometer can cause undue stress to your dog in the long run, even if they do recover from the fever. They often suffer silently, so they’re unlikely to let you know they are struggling. It’s all too easy for the fever to go unnoticed unless you check their temperature. 

The only way to know for sure is if their temperature is raised above normal body temperature. If it is, go to the vets. They’ll be able to prescribe suitable medication to beat the underlying cause of the fever. 

How to take a dog’s temperature: the last word 

It’s not so appealing, but the only way to know for sure if your dog’s temperature is too high or too low is to use a rectal thermometer. 

Rather than allowing your dog to suffer in silence, if you think they might be ill, then take their temperature or take them to the vets, where it can be taken by a professional.

You could save your dog’s life! Why not bookmark our guide to taking a dog’s temperature, so you know what to do the next time they are ill?

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