Fever can be a symptom of numerous health complications. It is particularly common in infections, but it can be caused by multiple other factors. Hyperthermia can be considered dangerous because, especially when it reaches levels of more than 103F, it can cause havoc to a dog’s body.
In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about fever – what it is, what it is caused by, what you can do at home, and when you should take your pet to the veterinary clinic.
What is fever?
Fever is a dog’s body’s natural reaction against one form of aggression. While it can’t be theoretically considered a negative response, the truth is that fevers can cause a lot more complications.
Sometimes, the body’s immune system can have an exaggerated reaction and can cause severe hyperthermia, leading to the destruction of cells and tissues, along with coagulation problems and more.
Some dog categories are more sensitive to hyperthermia, and they consist of puppies, pregnant dogs, and seniors. Physiologically, they have less capable immune systems, which means that they can also experience the more negative complications of fever, to the point that they lose their life a lot faster compared to perfectly healthy adult dogs.
Causes of canine hyperthermia
In most cases, fevers are caused by infections or factors outside of the dog’s body that lead to an increase in body temperature that can’t be regulated (a good example is heatstroke).
However, hyperthermia can occur in a wide range of other conditions or complications, such as the following:
- Severe allergies
- Certain autoimmune diseases such as IMHA (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia), lupus, or immune-mediated polyarthritis
- Extreme anxiety
Symptoms you might notice if your dog is hyperthermic
The clinical picture of fever can largely differ from one pet to the next and also depending on the exact cause that has led to this outcome. If the dog has been poisoned by a toxic material, they are going to exhibit different symptoms compared to a dog that has contracted a viral respiratory infection such as kennel cough.
In general, all animals that are hyperthermic can show some (if not most or all) of the following symptoms:
- Absence of appetite for food
- Increased appetite for water
- Coughing or vomiting
- Warm ears and dry nose
How to take your dog’s temperature
Your veterinarian will advise you on the exact types of thermometers that you can keep in your home just to be on the safe side of things and that are safe and accurate for dogs. Rectal thermometers are by far the most effective ones in the sense that they provide the most reliable result.
Nevertheless, if your dog is very reluctant when it comes to you measuring their body temperature in that way, you can use an infrared thermometer (also known as an ear thermometer). Just make sure that you place it as close to the inner ear mucous membrane as possible (deep into the ear canal).
Old-fashioned glass thermometers, especially those filled with mercury, should be avoided in pets. Animals can sometimes have unpredictable reactions, and the last thing you’d want would be for your dog to have glass shards in their ear or anus in case something happens.
If you have a helper or your dog allows you to measure their temperature rectally, it is highly recommended that you use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly or at least baby oil (if you really have nothing else available).
When should you take your dog to the vet?
It depends on how high the fever is and how long it lasts, but it’s a good idea to take your dog to the animal hospital whenever their body temperature crosses the threshold of 103F.
A fever that’s higher than 106F can lead to serious organ damage and can even cause death, so time is of the essence. Your dog needs to be administered antipyretic medication to prevent such complications.
How is fever diagnosed?
Fever itself is a symptom, not an illness, so besides taking your dog’s temperature with a thermometer, there is no way of ‘diagnosing’ it. However, in this case, the matter is a little more complex, especially when the cause isn’t that apparent.
A number of tests might be necessary in order to determine what has led to the dog being hyperthermic – and these could range from blood tests such as biochemistry or a complete blood count to urinalysis, ultrasonography, x-rays, or more advanced ones such as CT or MRI.
The cause needs to be discovered so that the dog receives the right type of treatment. Otherwise, the veterinarian will only be able to give them symptomatic therapy so that they don’t continue to be hyperthermic and risk losing their life.
How is fever in dogs treated?
The only way to make your dog feel better at home would be to cool them down externally, not internally. Antipyretic human medication is not safe to use in dogs, so you should not attempt to give your dog Tylenol or any other drugs you might have in your cabinet as they can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including vomiting, constipation, lethargy, and sometimes even kidney or liver damage.
Ibuprofen and Aleve are also a no-go for dogs as they can cause a number of life-threatening health complications in this species.
The only positive things that you can do is to cool down your dog’s body by applying soaked towels to their ears or paws, using a fan, or even placing bottles of cold water near their body.
Because dogs that have a fever tend to get dehydrated fast, try to convince your dog to drink more water (or bone broth).
As for how fever is treated at the vet, there are multiple medications that the veterinarian can use for the purpose. One of them is Meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used in both dogs and cats that can not only relieve inflammation and pain but can also lower fever.
Another example is Metamizole, also known as dipyrone, a non-opioid antipyretic and analgesic.
The only medication that has mild antipyretic properties and that can be used by pet owners at home is Carprofen, which is generally prescribed to dogs that have chronic arthritis, for example.
Some of these drugs have side effects themselves, even though they are much safer compared to human medications – the most common one is gastrointestinal upset, with some dogs experiencing either diarrhea or vomiting.
As for the cause of the fever, once it is discovered, the dog can receive the appropriate treatment. Infections can be treated with specific medications, whether that be antibiotics, antivirals, or even antifungal drugs. The symptoms of some allergies can simply be alleviated rather than the condition being treated fully. Your vet will administer the correct therapy depending on whatever’s at the root of the hyperthermia.
Recovery and prevention of fever in dogs
The prognosis largely depends on the severity of the hyperthermia and the damage it has caused to the dog’s system. If your pet has a fever and you get veterinary assistance immediately, once they are hospitalized and given antipyretics, they at least have a chance of being treated for whatever disease they might have contracted or developed.
If any degree of kidney damage has happened, the dog might have to be cared for differently, in the sense that they should receive a special diet and their hydration should always be maintained to the best levels.
Some patients need to be kept in the hospital for up to a week until they recover, and in some cases, even then, their recovery is not guaranteed.
Consequently, our best advice to you as a pet owner would be to act as quickly as possible if you notice your dog exhibiting signs of hyperthermia and you measure their temperature, and they have a fever.
Frequently asked questions
How can you tell if your dog has a fever?
While your dog can feel a little warmer than usual, the only way to be sure that they do have a fever is to measure their body temperature using a rectal or ear thermometer.
What can you give a dog for fever?
NSAIDs can have an antipyretic effect, so if you have some Carprofen in your house, you can give your dog a dose while you’re cooling their body externally and preparing to take them to the vet.
Is Tylenol good for dog fever?
While some vets might actually recommend that you give your canine friend a very small dose of Tylenol as it can help with fever, the side effects definitely outweigh any positive reaction that your dog might have from being administered this medication.
At least call your vet to ask about the appropriate dosage to make sure that your pet doesn’t end up suffering from a severe case of poisoning besides the fever itself.