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With dogs, it can be hard to tell when they’re not feeling well. And even when you know something’s not right, figuring out the cause is an entirely different challenge!
Ty is doing well now, but in the past month he spiked two dangerously high fevers, and several people have asked how I can tell when his temperature is climbing. I’m not a veterinarian, but I’ve had a lot of practice detecting fevers in dogs – Blitzen, our first Shar-pei pictured below, died just before his fourth birthday of kidney failure caused by Shar-pei Fever.
Dr. Linda J. M. Tindle, DVM describes Familial Shar-Pei Fever as “a periodic fever syndrome that is characterized by random inflammatory events with high fever, sometimes with swelling about joint/s or face, that usually last 12-36 hours.” It’s often accompanied by Amyloidosis, a condition that causes abnormal protein build up in the kidneys and liver, which can lead to early death from organ failure.
Being able to quickly detect an oncoming fever was important during Blitzen’s illness, and those skills have served me well this month when Ty’s gotten sick. This is what I’ve learned over the years:
Know What’s Normal – The most important step in figuring out whether your dog has a fever is knowing his normal temperature. Just like people, with healthy body temperatures ranging from 97.6 to 99.6, dogs’ normal body temperatures vary. Ty’s is right around 100.8, and Buster’s is about 100.5 – but dogs can range anywhere from 100.4 to 102.5.
To figure out what’s “normal” for your dog, you’ll need to take his temperature with a rectal thermometer when he’s feeling well, or make a note of it during a routine vet visit (not when he’s sick). Also, temperatures can vary a bit throughout the day. Ty’s temperature naturally goes up a bit at night, so understanding your dog’s “healthy temperature” may mean tracking his readings at various times for several days.
Knowing your dog’s healthy pulse, respiratory rate, and capillary refill time are also handy tools in assessing a potential illness. You can get more tips on measuring your pup’s other vital signs in this post:
Watch for Symptoms – You know what it feels like to have a fever, and your dog feels much the same way. My first clue that Ty may be coming down with something is that he gets mopey. “Chillaxing” is his preferred speed, but when he doesn’t want to get up to go for a walk, or passes on supervising our every move in the kitchen, I know something is amiss.
Glassy-looking eyes and feeling warm to the touch are my next hints, and you can also watch for shivering, panting, runny nose, loss of appetite, decreased energy, and depression. When any combination of these symptoms appear, I know that it’s time to get out the thermometer.
Get a digital thermometer meant for rectal use, and mark it “Dog Thermometer” or keep it somewhere away from your human medicine cabinet. You don’t want a sick family member to accidentally use it in a feverish haze!
Denise Fleck, pet safety guru, provides the following advice on taking your dog’s temperature:
Measuring your dog’s the body heat cannot be accurately gauged by feeling his nose. After lubricating the tip of a digital thermometer with petroleum or water soluble jelly, lift your dog’s tail up and to the side to prevent him from sitting, and carefully insert the thermometer ½” to 1” into the rectum. Then wait for the thermometer to beep, indicating that it’s registered your dog’s temperature.
If your pup’s temperature is higher than normal, it may be time to call your veterinarian.
Like in humans, your dog’s body runs a fever to fight off infection or inflammation. Anything from an infected cut to a virus … a urinary tract infection to pneumonia … can cause your pet to run a fever – so how do you know when to be really concerned? My general rule for Ty and Buster is that any fever warrants a call to the vet to let them know what’s going on and get their advice. Temperatures under 103 can generally be monitored at home for up to 24 hours, but anything higher or longer than that requires a trip to the vet. A temperature of 106 degrees or higher can damage a dog’s internal organs and may be fatal, so this is a very serious condition.
Other than offering him small amounts of water, talk to your vet before taking any action to reduce your dog’s fever. Giving him aspirin, for example, would prevent the veterinarian from administering other medications that might be more effective in lowering his temperature.
If your dog’s fever is serious enough to require a trip to the vet, he will probably be put on IV fluids and receive anti-inflammatory medication. Your vet will also likely suggest blood work to see if provides any insight into what might be causing your pet’s fever. Unfortunately, because so many things can cause fever, it’s often difficult to nail down the culprit.
If you need help finding a veterinarian while you’re traveling with your pet, you can get our tips in this post:
The diagnosis of Shar-pei Fever is exclusionary – meaning after you’ve eliminated all the other possibilities, you assume it’s the cause. While Ty’s doing fine now, we were not able to identify the reason he suffered either of his recent fevers, so we’ve started him on the medication used to treat Shar-pei Fever. This disease usually shows up in dogs much younger than Ty, but since the treatment is safe and not likely to cause side effects, we’re giving it a try. With any luck, Ty’s fevers are a thing of the past, and we can look forward to many comfortable, happy years with our sweet senior pup.