As a dog owner, it's important to be able to detect fever in dogs and understand its causes. When your dog is not well, one of the most concerning symptoms can be a fever. But what exactly triggers a fever in dogs, and how can you handle it? This article discusses the causes of fever in dogs, offering insights for every concerned pet parent.

How is body temperature regulated in dogs?

Dogs regulate their body temperature through various mechanisms. The hypothalamus, acting as the body's thermostat, plays a very important role. When a dog's body temperature rises, processes like constriction of blood vessels and sweating through paw pads kick in to cool down your pet. Conversely, when it's too cold, mechanisms like blood vessel dilation and shivering help warm them up. It's important to monitor your dog closely, as these natural responses can be indicators of health issues.

Additionally, dogs are able to regulate their body temperature using a variety of mechanisms. When they are too warm, they pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which helps to cool them down. They also have the ability to sweat through their paw pads, which helps to regulate their body temperature. When they are too cold, they will shiver in order to generate heat.

Understanding the causes of fever in dogs

A fever, referred to as a fever of unknown origin when the cause isn't clear, is a rise in body temperature. Here are the main categories that can cause a dog to have a fever:

1. Infections

From viruses to bacteria, infections are a leading cause of fever in dogs. These pathogens trigger inflammatory responses, leading to a fever.

Common types of infection that can lead to fever include, but are not limited to:

2. Inflammation

Conditions like pancreatitis can cause inflammation, leading to fever. Inflammation is the body's reaction to injury or irritation. Keep a careful eye on your dog for any signs of discomfort or unusual behavior, as these might indicate inflammatory conditions.

3. Autoimmune Diseases

These are disorders of the immune system where the body mistakenly attacks itself, often resulting in fever. Autoimmune diseases can affect various parts of the body, including the bone marrow.

Common autoimmune diseases that can cause fever include:

It's important to take your dog to your vet if you suspect an autoimmune issue.

4. Cancer

Certain cancers can lead to fever in dogs, especially if they produce inflammatory substances.

Some types of cancer that can cause fever include, but are not limited to:

A persistent fever or a significant change in your dog’s behavior warrants a vet visit for a thorough examination and diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of a fever in dogs?

  1. Lethargy or lack of energy: Dogs with a fever often appear tired or lethargic. They may show less interest in activities they usually enjoy.
  2. Loss of appetite: A dog with a fever may lose its appetite or refuse to eat, which is a significant change for most dogs.
  3. Panting: As dogs can release heat from their bodies through panting, this is a common symptom of a dog fever.
  4. Shivering: Just like humans, dogs may shiver when they have a fever, although this could also be a sign of being cold.
  5. Warm ears and runny nose: While not always accurate, a dog’s ears feel warmer to the touch with a fever. Additionally, as they try to reduce their temperature, you may also notice a runny nose.
  6. Red eyes or discharge: Some dogs with a fever may have red eyes or discharge from the eyes.
  7. Coughing or vomiting: These symptoms, particularly when combined with a fever, can be signs of an infection or other serious health issues.
  8. Changes in drinking habits: A dog with a fever may drink more or less than usual.

How to detect and manage fever in dogs

Detecting a fever in dogs can be tricky. The normal body temperature for dogs is higher than for humans, and sometimes a warm touch isn't always an accurate indicator.

The most accurate way to check your dog's temperature is by using a digital thermometer. It is best to have a separate thermometer for your pets. Here are some tips:

  1. Preparation: Calm your dog and have someone help you if needed.
  2. Lubricate the thermometer: Apply pet-safe lubricant on the tip of the thermometer.
  3. Insert the thermometer: Gently insert the thermometer about one inch into the rectum. Be careful not to introduce the thermometer tip into the stool as this will give a false reading.
  4. Wait and read: Hold the thermometer in place until it beeps, then carefully remove and read it.

A normal rectal temperature for dogs is between 101°F (38.3°C) and 102.5°F (39.2°C). This is higher than a person's temperature would be. Anything higher than the upper limit warrants a trip to your veterinarian for further investigation.

Home Care Tips

  • Hydration: Encourage your dog to drink small amounts of water. If they're reluctant, try to coax your dog to drink. Do not force-feed water with a syringe as this can result in aspiration.
  • Cooling Measures: Apply cool water with a soaked towel or cloth, especially to the paws and ears. Stop applying the water once your dog starts to cool down.
  • Rest: Provide a comfortable and quiet space for your dog to rest.

Important Reminders

  • It is important to never give your dog human medications: Many are toxic to dogs. Always consult a veterinarian before administering any medication.
  • Monitor your dog closely: Take note of your dog's symptoms and behavior. If symptoms like vomiting or a high fever occur, consider taking your dog to your local veterinary clinic immediately.

In summary, we discussed what causes fever in dogs in detail by classifying the causes into 4 general categories: Infection, inflammation, autoimmune disease, and cancer. If you are concerned that your dog has a fever, it is important to take them to your veterinarian so that the underlying cause can be determined and treated appropriately.