Your puppy's temperature refers to the body's warmth as measured by a thermometer. A puppy's normal temperature is a few degrees lower than that of an adult dog until the age of four weeks. Learn how to take a puppy's temperature and when to be concerned about it being high or low.
Normal Body Temperature in Puppies
A newborn puppy can't regulate body temperature and needs the warmth of its mother and littermates to stay at a healthy temperature. Their own body temperature will change based on their environment, so they can be at risk for getting too hot as well as too cold. The normal temperature for a newborn pup is between 96 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and a temperature out of this range can indicate a health problem.
During the second and third weeks of life, a puppy's body temperature will range from 97 to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In the fourth week, a puppy will have the usual normal body temperature of an adult dog, from 99.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you do need to take your puppy's temperature at home, make sure you learn the proper technique and give your dog lots of treats and positive reinforcement. It will also help to get the dog used to being handled in this way so that when the veterinarian does this in the future, your puppy won't be scared.
Fever in Puppies
Temperatures higher than normal may be referred to as a fever or hyperthermia depending on the cause.
Fever is the body's normal defense mechanism to fight infection because a higher than normal body temperature helps the immune system fight viruses and bacteria. Fevers associated with infection may be caused by a wide variety of illnesses or infected wounds, including Parvovirus, Distemper, pneumonia, Kennel cough, ear infections, infected bite wounds, a painful hot spot, or any other source of infection within the body.
A higher than normal body temperature can also be due to overheating during exercise or to exposure to high temperatures. Puppies and dogs of any age can get heat stroke in this case and will have an abnormally elevated temperature as well as other signs of heat stroke including lethargy, disorientation, diarrhea with blood, or even seizures.
You should seek a veterinarian's care when your dog's temperature is elevated above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if they have any other concerning signs. At very high temperatures, damage to the dog's internal organs can occur and could even prove to be fatal so it is best not to wait until that point. You can safely help reduce a dog's temperature by placing a cool water-soaked washcloth on your dog and placing them in front of a fan. Don't give your dog any human fever-reducing medications unless directed by your veterinarian as many of these are toxic to dogs.
Low Body Temperature in Puppies
Hypothermia is body temperature that falls lower than normal. Newborn puppies that squirm away from their littermates or mom can experience a life-threatening drop in body temperature. An orphaned newborn puppy should be kept in an environment of 85 to 90 Fahrenheit for the first week and then 80 degrees Fahrenheit until the fourth week. It is very important to use safe sources of heat to avoid burns to the skin and overheating. Discuss with your veterinarian the most effective ways to keep an orphaned puppy warm.
Shock also can cause hypothermia due to a number of causes including loss of blood, severe dehydration, or poor circulation. Trauma including a fall, being hit by a car, severe bite wounds, as well as heart failure, or a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, are common causes of shock.
Low body temperature can also occur from certain drugs, such as anesthetics and sedatives.
A drop in body temperature also happens with prolonged exposure to extreme cold. Hypothermia can kill young puppies quickly, but any dog can be at risk if it does not have protection from extremely cold weather, which also can cause frostbite. If your dog has a low temperature due to exposure to extreme cold, rewarm your pet slowly over the course of one to four hours, with a goal of reaching a temperature of around 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, it is important to use an appropriate warming technique to avoid burns or other complications so it is best to see a vet right away if you are concerned about hypothermia.
How to Take Your Puppy's Temperature
You will need a human rectal thermometer to get a good reading. Ear temperature is unreliable in dogs, and checking how the nose feels is simply an old myth.
- Use a rectal thermometer, either digital or bulb, to take your pup's temperature. Many dogs are uncomfortable with being touched around their tail and hind end, so if your dog is nervous, use a calm voice and treats to make them feel more comfortable. If your dog is very distressed by this, or you are concerned about being bitten, it is best to stop and see your vet for professional help.
- For bulb thermometers, shake down the thermometer until it reads about 96 degrees Fahrenheit. A digital thermometer won't need this but should be switched on.
- Use a petroleum jelly based product to generously lubricate the tip of the thermometer.
- Your pup will need to remain still for up to one minute, so allow your dog to choose a comfortable standing or reclining position.
- Use one hand to gently lift the dog's tail to expose the anus. Your other hand gently inserts the lubricated end of the thermometer into the rectum just enough for the metal tip to be completely inside. The rectal tissues are delicate and especially in small dogs or young puppies, there is a risk of trauma to these tissues if they are squirming or too much force is used. Once again, it is best to err on the side of caution and stop if things are not going smoothly.
- Hold the thermometer gently in place until the reading is complete.
- Speak calmly to your pup and continue to offer treats or gently stroke the dog so it won't wiggle away. After the reading is complete, gently remove the thermometer, wipe it clean, and read the temperature. Inaccurate readings can occur if the thermometer was not in the proper place for the whole time, or if there is a large amount of feces in the way so readings should be interpreted with this in mind. Additionally, when dogs are very nervous or excited, their temperatures may be temporarily elevated.
- Clean and disinfect the thermometer after each use with rubbing alcohol or a comparable disinfectant.
Reyes-Sotelo, Brenda, Mota-Rojas, Daniel, Martinez-Burnes, Julio, Olmos-Hernandez, Adriana, Hernandez-Avalos, Ismael, et al. Thermal Homeostasis In The Newborn Puppy: Behavioral and Physiological Responses. Journal of Animal Behaviour and Biometerology, 9,2112, 2021, doi:10.31893/jabb.21012