What should a dog's temperature be?

What should my dog's temperature be?
Learn about dogs

There’s nothing better than curling up on the sofa with your pooch - you’ve probably noticed cuddling your furry friend feels like hugging a little hot water bottle! That’s because a dog’s body temperature is actually higher than a human’s body temperature, so your dog will almost always feel warm and snuggly and perfect for cuddling.

However, your dog’s normal body temperature only needs to rise or fall by a few degrees before it can have a serious, sometimes grave, impact on their health. Knowing what a dog’s temperature should be and being able to read your dog’s temperature can help you to keep an eye on their overall health, and help you to see if your dog has a fever or heatstroke.

So what should a dog’s temperature be, and how can you tell if your furry friend is at the perfect healthy temperature?

What should a dog’s temperature be?

A dog’s temperature should be between 38.3℃ to 39.2℃ (Or 101-102.5℉,) for a healthy adult dog.

Sometimes, your dog’s temperature might be a little bit above or below this ideal temperature, it just depends on what’s “normal” for your individual dog. However, it should still be between 37.2℃ and 39.4℃ (99-103℉).

Although hypothermia and hyperthermia both cause some visible symptoms in your dog, their temperature will already be dangerously low or high before it has a visible effect on their body. There is no accurate way to tell if your dog’s temperature is abnormal by observation alone, you will need to use a thermometer to test your dog’s body temperature.

When is a dog’s temperature too low?

Your dog’s body temperature could go as low as 37.2℃ (99℉) without a huge cause for alarm. However, if their temperature drops below this level, you will need to seek veterinarian assistance. A low body temperature is a sign of hypothermia.

A temperature of 32℃ to 35℃ (90-99℉) is considered mild hypothermia. Moderate hypothermia sets in when your dog’s temperature is between 28-32℃ (82-90°F) and severe hypothermia is whenever their temperature drops below 28℃ (82°F).

Hypothermia will affect your dog’s cardiovascular and respiratory system, causing difficulty breathing and issues with their heartbeat and blood pressure. Dogs can become extremely weak when their temperature is too low and could even become comatose. Hypothermia can be fatal in some cases.

What temperature should my dog be?

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, weakness, and dull reflexes and alertness. Hypothermic dogs will also be stiff, lethargic, with slow, shallow breathing and a slow heart rate.

If your dog’s temperature is too low, try to gently warm them and contact your vet as soon as possible. Wrap your pooch in a blanket to try and prevent any more heat loss. You can also give them a hot water bottle to help warm them up, but make sure it’s wrapped in a blanket or towel to avoid it burning them. Make sure they can get up and walk away from any heat sources and blankets if they get too hot.

Take care to warm your dog up gradually because increasing their temperature too quickly can cause them to go into shock.

When is a dog’s temperature too high?

A dog’s temperature is considered too high once it’s higher than 39.4℃ (103℉). A dog’s temperature can sometimes be a bit higher than normal if they are very excited or stressed, but once it’s higher than 39.4℃ it’s considered a fever or a sign of heatstroke.

Signs that your dog’s temperature might be too high include extreme panting, dehydration, lethargy, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, vomiting, and weakness.

When a dog’s body temperature is hotter than 40.5℃ (105℉) it’s considered gravely serious and your dog’s life will be at risk because their internal organs will begin to shut down.

If your dog’s temperature is too high, you should always try to cool them down and take them to the vet as soon as possible. Hyperthermia and heatstroke can quickly kill a dog, or cause extensive damage to their internal organs. However, the earlier you start trying to cool your dog and the quicker you get them to the vet, the better your pup’s outlook.

How hot or cold should my dog be

Try and get your hot dog to drink some water if they are alert enough to do so. If they can’t, rub a little water on their gums or mist some water on their gums if it’s safe to do so. You can also lightly mist them with a spray bottle of water, or dribble a little bit of water on their fur. Another option is to soak a towel in water and lay it on your dog to help cool them off.

Never use cold or iced water to mist your dog, and never soak or dunk your pooch in water if they have overheated. This is because it can cause their temperature to drop too quickly and trigger their body to go into shock.

How to measure your dog’s temperature

It’s relatively easy to measure your dog’s temperature at home but you might need someone to help you hold your pooch still if your dog is likely to fidget. All you’ll need is a digital rectal thermometer and some petroleum jelly, like plain vaseline. Plain, water-based lubricant can also be used.

If you have a digital thermometer you use for yourself or your kids, keep that for human use only. Trust me, you won’t want to use your thermometer on yourself after you’ve had to take your dog’s temperature! It’s best to buy a thermometer to use just on your pets, and you’ll probably want to write “PET” or “DOG” in marker pen on the thermometer and keep it separate from any other thermometers in your house, just to make sure you don’t accidentally use it on yourself. You’ll soon see why!

The most accurate way of measuring a dog’s temperature is rectally, using the digital thermometer inserted into your dog’s bottom. It’s the most reliable and accurate way to take your dog’s temperature and the easiest way of keeping both the dog and thermometer still enough for a reading.

Aural thermometers (that go in the ears) can be used, but they aren’t as reliable as a rectal thermometer if you’re not sure how to use it. Dog’s ears are also highly sensitive so they’re likely to shake their head if you poke a thermometer inside, and their ear canal is L-shaped, making it difficult to get an accurate reading. Meanwhile, oral thermometers are difficult to get an accurate reading with, and there’s a risk of the dog biting you or the thermometer, as well as shaking their head.

How to take your dog’s temperature

The best way to take your dog’s temperature is to lie them on their side. Your dog can be stood to have their temperature taken, but they might be more likely to move or could sit on the thermometer. Lying them on their side will help to limit their movement and make it easier for you to keep them still whilst holding the thermometer in place.

Rub a little petroleum jelly on the tip of the thermometer to lubricate it and make it easier to insert. You will then need to gently insert the tip of the thermometer into your dog’s rectum. You don’t need to push it in too far, just so the tip of the thermometer is inserted. It should be inserted about an inch for small to medium dogs, and maybe 2 inches for bigger dogs.

You’ll need to hold the thermometer in place inside the rectum for between 30-60 seconds until the reading goes up then stops. Most thermometers will also beep when they have taken a reading. Then simply remove the thermometer and read the temperature from the display (maybe give the tip of the thermometer a wipe with a tissue or antibacterial wet wipe as well!).

Obviously, this isn’t the most pleasant or comfortable thing for your dog and many will flinch or swing their head around to see what’s happening. It can be useful to have a second person there to hold your dog still and to give them a fuss to comfort and relax them. However, once the thermometer is in position, most dogs settle down again and tolerate the whole thing pretty well.

The more relaxed you can make your dog, the easier it will be and less stressful for humans and hound alike. You could also attempt to decondition your dog and offer them treats as you take their temperature, to try and teach them it’s not all bad and they get a nice reward if they stay still. Dogs who regularly have the temperature taken are often calm about the procedure.

Your vet will also be equipped to take your dog’s temperature too, and if you have any concerns that your dog’s too hot or cold, you should take them to the vet to be checked.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

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