Does Your Pet Have a Fever? Here’s How to Know — and What to Do About It If He Does

23rd Mar, 2021

Written by Dr Marty Becker DVM (www.verstreet.com) and as published on www.friendsofthedog.co.za

Remember when you’d feel sick and your mom would place her hand on your forehead to see if you had a fever? It’s not as easy to do that with most pets, thanks to their fur coats.

But knowing if your pet has a fever can help ensure that he gets needed veterinary care. A high temperature can be a sign of serious illness. Here’s what you should know about fevers in dogs and cats

What’s Normal and What’s Not

An area of the brain called the hypothalamus regulates body temperature. For instance, if the body starts to get cold, the hypothalamus signals the muscles to shiver, helping the body to warm up. If the body is too warm, the hypothalamus directs blood vessels to expand to release heat from the body.

Normal body temperature for a dog or cat is between 100 and 102.5° degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 to 39.17 degrees Celsius). That’s a little higher than normal human body temperature, which is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37°C). Interestingly, puppies and kittens have a lower body temperature at birth. They typically don’t reach their minimum body temperature of 100 degrees or higher until they’re about a month old. 

A fever is defined as a body temperature above the normal range. For dogs and cats, a temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4°C) is abnormal.

What causes a fever
Infections and inflammation are common causes of fevers. Illnesses such as distemper and parvovirus in dogs and feline distemper (panleukopenia) in cats, tick-borne diseases, immune-mediated diseases, cancer and pancreatitis are just a few of the conditions that can result in a pet developing a fever. In some of these instances, the fever may have a purpose: It can be the body’s way of trying to fight off an infection. 

Body temperature can also rise to dangerous levels when pets are exposed to extremely hot or humid conditions. That’s when pets get heatstroke.

Do they have a fever?

Putting your hands on your pet won’t tell you if he has a fever, but the following signs can be a clue: 

  • Lethargy
  • Ears warm to the touch
  • Shivering
  • Loss of appetite

If you suspect that your dog or cat has a fever, you’ll need to take his temperature. Let’s face it: This isn’t going to be pleasant for either of you. It’s a good skill to have, though – knowing a pet’s temperature can help you determine if you’re facing an emergency situation. A rectal reading is most accurate but least “prefurred” by pets. There are a few strategies, though, that can help you and your pet get through it with minimal stress. Read all about how to take temperature and other vital signs in as stress-free a way as possible here: http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/check-your-dogs-vital-signs-at-home

The above is intended to assist in caring for your pet but doesn’t replace the advice or treatment of a veterinarian. If you suspect your pet has a fever and aren’t able to confirm this yourself, or they’re showing other signs of being unwell, contact your vet for further advice. This is particularly important in very young or old animals, those with existing medical conditions, or in emergency cases (for example: suspected poisoning, after an accident, tick bites, or if your pet has been bitten or stung by something). It’s always better to be safe than sorry.