If you’re like most dog owners, you may have noticed at some point or another that your four-legged friend seems much hotter than usual, particularly around their head and ears.
You may have asked yourself, why is my dog’s head hot? Is he poorly, perhaps? Is something wrong? Should I take him to the vet?
To start with, don’t panic! Dogs get hot for a number of different reasons. Only in a few circumstances is it potentially bad. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is a simple and benign reason for your pooch’s increased temperature.
Of course, if you suspect there is something seriously wrong with your dog, you should always contact a vet as quickly as possible.
Why Your Dog May Have A Fever
Dogs are no different to humans in the sense that they can develop a fever for various reasons. It could be an underlying infection, hormonal changes, or even just general overheating.
It’s easy to get into a panic if you suspect your dog has a fever but, unless you suspect it is something serious, you should probably do some basic checks first before rushing off to the vet.
The most basic test is to take your dog’s temperature. We’ll talk about normal temperature ranges next but if your pet’s temperature is high, take further readings over the course of a few hours or so to see if it is just an anomaly or if your dog really is running a fever.
One word of caution: If the temperature exceeds 105oF, get your pet to an animal emergency ward straight away as this is a life-threatening temperature for a dog.
Temperature Parameters for a Dog
One thing you should always be conscious of is that canine body temperatures are generally higher than human temperatures. If you’re wondering why your dog’s head is hot, it could well be that it isn’t, not by canine standards at least.
A human’s average body temperature sits somewhere around 97.6 – 99.6oF. A dog’s average temperature can be 2-3oF higher, anywhere between 100oF and 102.5oF is perfectly normal. You might wonder what difference a few degrees make but it is actually a significant difference that you can clearly feel.
Now, sometimes your dog’s temperature may be higher than that and it could well be a sign of fever but don’t panic. The only way to be sure is to take your dog’s temperature, which I’ll come to in a moment.
First, though, let’s dismiss an old wives’ tale: Your dog’s nose is a barometer of their overall health.
We’ve all heard the old wives’ tale that a dog’s nose should never be dry and, if it is, then there is something wrong. It’s total nonsense.
It is true that dogs’ noses are usually moist but a dry nose doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is unwell. A dog’s nose can become drier for a number of different reasons. It can be a warning sign your pet is unwell but, more usually, it’s just because the weather’s turned cold or he’s been sleeping more than usual perhaps.
These sort of factors all influence how moist your pet’s nose is because one of the reasons a dog’s nose is wet is because he spends a lot of his waking time licking it when he is not too cold!
Likewise, if your dog has a nice moist noise, it doesn’t mean he is necessarily in good health. A dog can be poorly and still have a moist nose. In fact, the only reliable way to determine if your dog has a fever is to take his temperature.
Other Signs of Fever In Dogs
Aside from taking a temperature, there are some other signs you can look out for that might indicate your dog is feverish. For example, if your dog is particularly lethargic for some inexplicable reason or if he has been vomiting, shivering or sneezing perhaps.
Also, watch out for sudden changes in his diet. If he’s pushing food and water away, that’s a sure sign something is going on. It might not be a fever but you should definitely pay attention to such obvious warning signs.
How To Take Your Dog’s Temperature
There is only one reliable way to take your dog’s temperature to check whether he is feverish and that is to use a reliable thermometer.
Easy enough, right? Wrong!
Taking your dog’s temperature is nowhere near as easy as taking your own or someone else’s temperature. Believe it or not, if you put an ordinary thermometer near a dog’s mouth, it will probably start chewing on it and you definitely don’t want your poor pooch ingesting mercury.
So, you have a choice of three types of thermometer that are best suited to taking your dog’s temperature:
- Digital Ear Thermometer
- Digital Rectal Thermometer
- Mercury Rectal Thermometer
Clearly, the easiest of these thermometers to use is the digital ear thermometers. Since rectal thermometers almost immediately conjure up squeamish scenes why doesn’t everyone just use digital ear thermometers you may then ask.
Quite simply because digital ear thermometers are the least reliable in terms of their accuracy. The problem is not so much the thermometer, it’s your pooch’s ears. Their temperature will naturally fluctuate depending on the temperature around him.
The rectal thermometers are much more accurate but also much more difficult to use because it will not be a pleasant experience for him.
The digital one is probably the least intrusive because you can be a lot quicker with it. It will give you an almost instant and highly accurate reading of your dog’s temperature.
The mercury rectal thermometer has to remain inside for longer to get an accurate reading.
Taking Your Dog’s Temperature Using A Rectal Thermometer
There are a couple of things you need along with the thermometer:
- Latex gloves (or some other type of hand covering if you are allergic to latex).
- Petroleum jelly or some type of lubricant.
- A toy or some other distraction for taking your dog’s mind off the thermometer.
Obviously, plunging a thermometer into your dog’s anus is not going to be a pleasant experience for your pooch. It is going to feel odd and uncomfortable for him. He may get snappy and noisy, even if he isn’t that way normally.
This is why it is a good idea to try and distract him as much as possible, particularly when actually inserting the thermometer.
You should first put on a pair of gloves just in case there is any fecal residue around your pet’s anus. Next, use the lubricant to lubricate the end of the thermometer.
You should try to distract your pet with a toy or some other form of distraction. Seek assistance if necessary but don’t crowd the room. Lift your dog’s and quickly insert the thermometer. \
Do not plunge it in but instead carefully insert it about two inches deep. If you’re using a digital rectal thermometer, it will beep when ready. If, alternatively, you are using a mercury rectal thermometer, you may have to leave it in place for a minute or two. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
In The Event Your Dog Does Have a Fever
If you have checked your dog’s body temperature and it is above the acceptable levels, you need to get him to a vet who will administer some appropriate medicine. Just as with humans, however, fevers can progress quickly so follow these tips to ease your dog’s fever right away:
- Turn the air conditioning up or turn on a fan to help bring his temperature down but don’t do this too rapidly or it could well cause more harm than good. You need to gradually turn the temperature down.
- Wipe your pet down with a damp rag. Not only will this help your dog feel slightly fresher, it will also help bring his core temperature down.
- Give him plenty of water.
If your dog is in the danger zone, above 105oF, wrap him in a damp towel and get him to a vet asap because none of the above measures are likely to bring his temperature down quick enough to save his life.
The key take home is not to panic. Firstly, doggy fever is relatively rare but it does happen.
Hopefully, you will never have to experience such a trauma but if your doggy does fall sick, keep him cool and get him to a vet as quickly as possible.
Remember, check your dog really does have a temperature first. Doing so will not only save you the expense of a trip to the vet, it will also save your pet the trauma of such a visit!