It can be hard to tell when your dog has a fever. Unlike people, dogs can’t say that they’re not feeling well. And even when you know something’s not right, figuring out what’s causing your pet’s discomfort may be a guessing game.
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Our Shar-pei, Ty, has spiked a couple of dangerously high fevers, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from our friends on Facebook and Instagram. Thankfully, he’s doing well now, but people have asked how I can tell when his temperature is climbing.
Let me begin by saying that I’m not a veterinarian. But I have had a lot of practice detecting fevers in dogs. Blitzen, the first Shar-pei Rod and I had, 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 when Ty’s been sick. Below is what I’ve learned about fevers in dogs from taking care my pets over the years.
The most important step in figuring out whether your dog has a fever is knowing his normal temperature. Just like people, dogs’ normal body temperatures vary a bit. Ty’s normally at 100.8, and Buster’s is about 100.5. But a dog’s normal temperature can range anywhere between 100.4 and 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. You can also make a note of it during routine vet visits when your pup isn’t 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” could mean tracking his readings at various times of the day for several days.
Knowing your dog’s healthy pulse, respiratory rate, and capillary refill time are also handy tools in assessing a potential illness.
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A change in your dog’s behavior will be your first sign that he’s coming down with something. You know what it feels like to have a fever, and your dog feels much the same way.
My first clue that Ty’s not feeling well is that he gets mopey. “Chillaxing” is his preferred speed, but when he doesn’t want to go for a walk or come running when we make a move for the kitchen, I know something is amiss.
Glassy-looking eyes and feeling warm to the touch are the next hints. You can also watch for shivering, panting, runny nose, loss of appetite, decreased energy, and depression. Any combination of these symptoms means it’s time to get out the thermometer.
Get a digital thermometer meant for rectal use, and mark it “Dog Thermometer.” Keep it anywhere but in 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:
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 temperature will rise to fight off infection or inflammation. An infected cut, virus, urinary tract infection, and pneumonia are just some of the many conditions can cause a fever. So how do you know when to be really concerned?
My rule for Ty and Buster is that every fever warrants a call to the vet. It’s a good idea 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 a fever any higher, or one that lasts longer than a day, requires a trip to the vet.
A temperature of 106 degrees or higher can damage a dog’s internal organs and may be fatal. This is a very serious condition that needs to be monitored carefully.
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Other than offering small amounts of water, consult your vet before taking action to reduce your dog’s fever. Giving aspirin, for example, might prevent the use of other medications that are more effective in lowering temperature.
For fevers serious enough to require a vet visit, expect your pet to receive IV fluids and anti-inflammatory medication. Your vet is also likely to suggest blood work to try to determine the cause of your pet’s fever.
Unfortunately, because so many things can cause fever, it’s often difficult to nail down the culprit.
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