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How to Bring a Dog's Temperature Down

Dog Taking Prednisone

Before learning how to bring a dog's temperature down, it's important understanding that fevers in dogs are often indicative of some underlying disorder that may need medical attention. So while it may sounds like a good idea to try to bring a dog's temperature down, if the underlying condition is not corrected, the temperature will likely go up again. A high temperature is only the outward sign of an underlying condition and sign that the body is trying to fight an infection or an inflammatory process. Bringing a dog's temperature down should therefore be just a temporary measure if your dog's temperature is high and you need to lower it quickly as you rush your dog to vet.

bring dog temperature down

Taking a Dog's Temperature

Many people assume a dog has a high temperature just because the dog's ears or head is hot. Others may rely on factors such as the moistness of the nose. However, these are not reliable methods, and ultimately, the only reliable way to tell whether a dog has a high temperature is by taking it with a thermometer.

In order to take your dog's temperature, you will first have to lubricate the end of the thermometer with some KY jelly. Then, insert just the tip up your dog's bottom, keeping it in until it beeps if you're using a digital thermometer.

It is best to take the temperature when your dog is calm and rested. If you take it when your dog has exercised or has been exposed to a hot day, you may get higher readings.

The normal temperature in dogs ranges between 101 and 102.5 degrees. If your dog has a temperature below 100 or above 103, you should contact your veterinarian. Any temperature over 104.5 is starting to get dangerous considering that a persistently high temperature in dogs can potentially cause brain damage and lead to internal problems, warns veterinarian Dr. Christian K.  At such high temperatures, you should see your vet at once or the emergency vet if it's after hours.

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Why Is It Up?

The most common causes for fevers in dogs are bacterial, fungal and viral infections. These infections can affect any part of the dog's body or the body as a whole (systemic infections). Examples of conditions that can cause an elevated temperature in dogs include urinary tract infections, tick-borne diseases (lyme, ehrlichia, roccky mountain spotted fever) presence of an abscess, immune-mediated diseases, pneumonia and even cancer. Inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract such as pancreatitis can also cause temperature elevations. Dogs may also have elevated temperatures when they are suffering from heat stroke or after a seizure.

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It's therefore important seeing the vet to address the underlying cause of a fever in dogs. Your vet may have to run bloodwork to rule out infections and tick-borne diseases. A urine sample can be taken to rule out bladder infections while chest-x-rays can show problems with the lungs. Your dog may need a course of antibiotics or other drugs to fight the infection or inflammation. Dogs with heat stroke need immediate treatment to prevent complications.

Bringing it Down

Diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs can cause chilling.

Diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs can cause chilling.

To bring down a dog's fever, it's important to follow certain guidelines. For instance, an ice bath may cool a dog down too fast, and this can cause a dog to go into shock, warns Dr. Christian. Also, you may want to avoid giving your dog ice cold water or ice cubes to drink. To prevent your dog from getting dehydrated, just offer normal temperature water.

Sometimes, it's worth considering whether lowering a mild temperature is something worth doing. A fever is how the body tries to fight a possible infection. It's therefore important recognizing once again that bringing down a mild fever, doesn't tackle the underlying cause. So if you lower your dog's temperature, the body will then work to return to the higher temperature, and this often means working harder to get there, explains veterinarian Dr. Gary. 

A better option may be to simply give the dog a blanket for the time being and seeing the vet. Once the vet determines the cause, treatment will get the temperature back to where it should be.

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If the temperature is quite high though, some options to bring down a high fever in a dog quickly include putting a cool, wet towel over the dog's body, pointing a fan towards the dog or applying some alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) on the foot pads, (making sure the dog doesn't lick it off), suggests veterinarian Dr. Andy.  Once again, the dog should see the vet immediately considering that complications may start when temperatures reach over 104.5!

Can I Give My Dog a Fever Reducer?

It may be tempting at times to just give the dog an over-the-counter fever reducer. Many dog owners assume that just because they are over the counter, it means they are safe. It's important to avoid giving dogs over-the-counter medications designed for lowering fever in humans. Medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are too strong for dogs and they can have serious toxic effects. So no Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve for Rover. Even plain aspirin can cause problems (stomach irritation and micro ulcerations) and may interfere with better medications your vet may wish to prescribe.

So what do vets use to lower a high fever in dogs? To bring down a high fever, vets carry safer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs obtained by prescription, but often the treatment of choice is simply treating the underlying cause of the fever while attempting to lower it with IV fluids, which, on top of bringing down the temperature, provide a nice supply of electrolytes and help keep the dog hydrated, explains veterinarian Dr. Joey.

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