How to Check Your Dog's Body Temperature and Interpret the Reading

What's a Normal Temperature for Dogs?

normal temperature in dogs and how to take your dog's temapature
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Do you know your dog's normal body temperature? Have you ever wondered why your dog feels so warm and cozy on cold nights? You may be surprised to learn that a dog's normal internal body temperature of a dog is higher than yours. As a dog owner, it's important to know how to check your dog's temperature and to understand what is normal and what is abnormal. Yes, that's right: you can check your dog's temperature at home.

What is a Dog's Normal Body Temperature?

The normal body temperature for a dog falls within the range of 100°F to 102.5°F (about 38°C to 39.2°C). If your dog's temperature is outside of this range, you should contact your veterinarian.

Body temperature over 104°F or under 99°F indicates an emergency situation. Extremely high or low body temperatures can lead to death if not treated immediately. NEVER give your dog over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen as these are highly toxic. 

How to Take Your Dog's Temperature

Checking body temperature is an important step in canine first aid. Here's how you can take your dog's temperature at home:

First of all, DO NOT attempt to take your dog's temperature orally. You may get bitten! But, even if your dog were to allow it, you will not get an accurate reading from the mouth of a dog.

The most accurate way to measure a dog's body temperature is rectally. As unpleasant as it sounds, taking a rectal temperature is possible and many dogs can learn to tolerate it well.

Gather your supplies. You will need a digital thermometer and some lubricant (water-based lubricating jelly works best, but petroleum jelly or baby oil can also be used). Look for a fast digital thermometer to make things easier (ideally, three to ten seconds to a reading).

Most dogs dislike having their rear ends manipulated for obvious reasons, so this will be easier to do if you get another adult to help hold your dog. Have that person gently place one arm around your dog's neck and the other arm under your dog's belly, gently hugging the dog against his or her body. Then, lift your dog's tail and gently (but quickly) insert the well-lubricated thermometer about one inch into your dog's anus. Press the start button and wait for the beep signaling completion.

illustration of how to take a dog's temperature
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Having Trouble With the Rectal Temperature?

In a pinch, your dog's approximate temperature can be measured in the axillary region (underarm). Simply place the tip of the thermometer into the armpit area and hold your dog's arm down until the thermometer beeps (this usually takes longer than it does for the rectal). Then, add one degree to the thermometer's reading to get a general idea of your dog's body temperature. Be aware that this measurement is not precise. If you are in doubt, go to your vet for an accurate temperature check.

Tips for Checking Your Dog's Temperature

  • To make things go as quickly as possible, a fast reading digital thermometer is recommended. Buy on Amazon 
  • Get a thermometer you can dedicate as "pets-only" and label it well so humans don't accidentally use it!
  • A thermometer is an important item to have in your dog's first aid kit.
  • Many store-bought digital thermometers have a fever alert. Remember that dogs have a higher body temperature than humans, so you can ignore the fever alert as long as the reading is not over 103°F.
  • It's best to avoid using glass thermometers. These can break and harm your dog (especially if you have a wiggly dog). Plus, it takes about two minutes to get a reading. Most dogs are just not patient enough for this (we humans aren't usually patient enough for it either).
  • You may or may not prefer a flexible tipped thermometer. It can be difficult to get the flexible ones through tight sphincters, but it may be more comfortable once it is in.
  • Some ear thermometers made especially for dog's ears can give you an approximate reading but are not considered very accurate.
  • You cannot gauge a dog's body temperature by touch. In addition, a warm or dry nose does not necessarily indicate a fever or any other health problem; that is a myth.
  • If your dog has an abnormal temperature, try to remain calm. If you get extremely stressed out, your dog may pick up on this and get stressed out too. Stress in your dog can make the underlying condition even worse. Take a few deep breaths and be safe on your way to the vet.