Taking Your Pet’s Temperature

Normal human body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). Normal body temperature for dogs and cats is 101.0 to 102.5°F (38.3 to 39.2°C). Some people and some pets maintain a baseline temperature a little above or below the average, but if your pet’s temperature rises above 104°F (40.0°C) or falls below 99°F (37.2°C), take your pet to your veterinarian.

Unfortunately, there is no easy checklist of signs that indicate high (hyperthermic) or low (hypothermic) body temperatures, but here are some general signs to look for:

  • Hypothermic pets may be lethargic and less alert. They may shiver or tremble.
  • Hyperthermic pets may also be lethargic. They often pant to get rid of excess body heat, and their gums may become dark red.

Since these signs can occur with many medical problems, it is not possible for you to determine if your pet is hypo/hyperthermic just by looking at him. The only sure-fire way to determine if your pet has an abnormally high or low body temperature is to take his temperature with a thermometer. 

The rectal technique is often used for taking a pet’s temperature. Please note, this may be a two-person task. One person can hug your pet to provide comfort and restraint simultaneously. Cats and small dogs can be held in the lap with one arm placed under the neck holding the head snug against your body. The other arm can be placed around the abdomen to keep the pet still. Large dogs can be held in a similar manner on the floor. It may be best and easiest to lie the pet down on its side before inserting a rectal thermometer.

Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly to ease insertion. For small dogs and cats, the thermometer should be advanced slowly, about an inch. For larger dogs, insert the thermometer about 2-3 inches into the rectum. Hang on to the end of the thermometer to steady it and make retraction easier. If you feel stool in the rectum, try to place the thermometer around it rather than through fecal matter as this may give a falsely low temperature reading.

If the pet clamps down his anal sphincter, do not force the thermometer into the rectum to avoid injury and pain for the pet.

If taking your pet’s temperature is difficult, do not risk injury to him or to yourself. Allow trained professionals to accurately and safely take his temperature at your veterinary hospital.

First of all, double check all abnormal (high or low) temperature readings. Falsely elevated temperatures occur when pets are over excited or agitated. Dogs and cats that resist restraint may have high temperatures that do not really qualify as a fever. Let the pet rest for 10 minutes, calm him down, and try again. If your pet’s temperature is too low, the thermometer may have been inserted inappropriately.

After rechecking, if your pet’s temperature is still moderately elevated (102.5-103.5°F), give him a small amount of water or ice chips. Apply cool, damp cloths to his paws and place him in a ventilated area. If his temperature is too low, wrap him in warm towels or blankets. Hot water bottles may help but avoid heating pads which can cause burns. If your pet’s temperature remains high or low, see your veterinarian. Remember that temperatures above 104°F (40°C) or below 99°F (37.2°C) are emergency situations.

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