Fever is an elevated body temperature that occurs as a response to infection or inflammation (also see hyperthermia). It is a common misperception that fever always indicates infection – this is not the case. It may be due to autoimmune diseases, heat stroke, or cancer as well.Normal body temperature is 101 to 102.5°F for both dogs and cats. The temperature is most accurately taken with a rectal digital electronic thermometer; these usually give results in less than one minute. Lubricate the thermometer with a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly, baby oil or soap), and then insert the thermometer about 1-2 cm (about 1/2 to 1 inch).
Ear thermometers designed for humans do not work well in pets.
What to Do
- Take and record the rectal temperature if you pet feels ill or warm. If it is above 103°F, call your veterinarian or local emergency center. A temperature above 106°F can be life threatening and demands immediate attention.
- If the animal's temperature is over 105.5°F, moisten the pet's hair coat with cold water and pay particular attention to the ears and feet, which are sites of heat exchange. Direct a fan on the moistened areas.
- Encourage (but do not force) your pet to drink small, frequent quantities of water unless she has vomited in the past 4 to 6 hours.
What NOT to Do
- Be careful not to overtreat! Discontinue cooling once the rectal temperature reaches 103°F or the pet may become too cold (hypothermic).
- Do not give aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen or other drugs as many of these are poisonous to pets.
- Do not demand antibiotics from your veterinarian for all causes of fever.
When a pet is lethargic, depressed, shivering a lot, or you see any other reason to suspect that she is not well (not eating, or is vomiting, coughing, has greenish nasal discharge), suspect a fever. The only way to confirm this is to take her temperature using a medical thermometer. Detailed information on taking rectal temperature can be found in the in the temperature section of the Physical Exam Checklist.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email email@example.com.