Dogs’ heads are often warm, especially after they’ve had a bath or a long walk. How do you tell whether your dog has a fever?
There are many reasons why your dog’s head is hot. It may have a fever, be stressed, affected by the weather, be a vaccination side effect or your dog’s natural way of cooling down. Regardless of why you dog’s head is hot, it is important to check their temperature with an ear or rectal thermometer.
Fever is a common symptom of illness in dogs. If your dog seems lethargic, has a low appetite, vomits frequently, or has diarrhea, contact your vet immediately.
It can be concerning when you think that your dog has a fever, as it can be a symptom of many worrying illnesses. Still, it could be nothing.
Let’s take a look at why your dog’s head might be warm to touch and how to properly take its temperature to quell your fears.
The normal temperature for a dog
Your dog’s body temperature should be between 100°F (38°C) and 102°F (39°C). The normal range for puppies is 101°F to 103°F (38° to 39°C), but can reach 104°F to 105°F (40°C to 41°C) for adult dogs.
So, don’t panic just yet. Your dog might feel warm to you when actually they are the correct temperature for them.
This is because a human’s normal body temperature is between 97°F and 99°F, which is a whole 3°F lower than the normal range for dogs.
While three degrees might not sound like much, when you’re so used to your body temperature being the norm, anything higher than that can feel very worrying.
So, your dog’s head might feel warm to you without there being anything wrong. However, if you’re still worried about the heat of their head, let’s look at the correct way of taking your dog’s temperature.
How to take a dog’s temperature
It is a good idea to know your dog’s average body temperature so that you know when they are running a temperature.
To check your dog’s temperature, firstly, make sure that you have access to a thermometer. There are two types of dog thermometer available – an ear thermometer or a rectal thermometer.
You can also check their temperature without a thermometer, but this is going to be less accurate.
An ear thermometer is a small plastic tube with a bulb on one end. It’s inserted into your dog’s ear canal, where it will measure the temperature of the fluid inside the ear.
As the air outside the ear is cooler than the fluid inside, this means that the ear thermometer will read slightly warmer than the actual temperature of your dog.
Ear thermometers are the most comfortable option for your dog, but be careful not to damage their ear canals by pushing too hard.
It’s also worth noting that ear thermometers might be less accurate due to a dog’s ears getting hotter or cooler depending on how thin they are and the weather outside.
A rectal thermometer is similar to a regular thermometer, except that instead of measuring the temperature of air, it measures the internal temperature of your dog.
Rectal thermometers are more accurate than ear thermometers, and are usually recommended by vets.
They’re also, unfortunately, less comfortable. Keep your dog happy with treats or their favorite toy while you take their temperature.
Make sure that you lubricate the tip of the thermometer beforehand, and slowly insert the metal tip around an inch into their rectum.
Try to keep your dog as still as possible with lots of love and distractions. The good thing is that rectal thermometers shouldn’t take too long to get an accurate reading.
Without A Thermometer
If you don’t have a dog thermometer to hand and are worried about their temperature, you can check to see if they’re too hot without one.
This is going to be a lot less accurate than using a thermometer, but it can help to calm you down or alert you that you need to see a vet.
To do this, feel all of the areas on your dog that aren’t covered by hair. This could be their nose, paws, groin, armpits, stomach (depending on the breed), and ears.
If all of these places feel too warm, they might have a fever.
What to do if your dog has a temperature
While it’s important to know what your dog’s temperature is, it’s even more important to know what to do if they have a high temperature.
If you notice that your dog has a temperature over 102ºF, then you should contact your vet immediately.
They’ll want to know when you last saw them, whether they’ve eaten or drank recently, and if they’ve been licking themselves excessively.
If you have tested their temperature without a thermometer and still suspect that they are too warm, still contact your vet.
They will be able to take an accurate reading of your dog’s temperature rather than guessing.
Five reasons why your dog’s head is warm
Your dog may be feeling uncomfortable because they have a fever. On the other hand, they might not have a fever and just be warm for another reason.
Here are five potential causes of your dog’s head being hot.
Dogs can suffer from fevers from time to time, and these are often due to infections or other illnesses in which fever is a side effect.
The fever might be from them having ingested some harmful bacteria, resulting in pneumonia, UTIs, ear infections, or more.
If your dog has a fever, take them to the veterinarian to get professional advice immediately.
Stress can cause your dog’s body temperature to rise. It’s common for dogs who are stressed out to have higher temperatures.
Dogs who are anxious or frightened tend to pant more frequently, which can raise their temperature.
Dogs might be stressed due to fireworks, changes in their environment, attacks, new animals, thunderstorms and more.
If your dog is stressed, give them lots of TLC and try to remove the stressors from their environment.
3. The weather
Just like humans, dogs can get hot in the summer when the temperature rises. When a dog is out in the sun for a while, their head is bound to get hot.
Make sure that you keep your dog as comfortable as possible. In the summer, consider trimming their fur so that they can remain cool.
When we took our Cavapoo to Spain for the summer we made sure that she had had a groom, only walked her early in the morning and late at night when the weather was cooler, made sure she was only ever left in an air conditioned room and that she had access to plenty of fresh, cold water.
4. Side effect from vaccination
Some vaccinations can result in your dog’s temperature rising. These include rabies vaccines, distemper vaccines, and parvovirus vaccines.
If your dog has received any of these vaccines and they have had a temperature longer than 48 hours, make sure that you call your vet to let them know.
5. Natural cooling process
The natural cooling process is one way that dogs regulate their internal temperature. As your dog breathes, heat moves into their lungs and blood vessels, and then up to their heads.
The natural cooling process for a dog brings all of the heat to the head so that it can be expelled through the ears and nose as quickly as possible.
Wait for a while until your dog stops panting to see if their head returns to a normal temperature. If not, consider taking their temperature.
Knowing how to check your dog’s temperature is very important. You don’t want to wait until it gets dangerously high before getting help.
Contact your vet right away if your dog has a temperature above 102º F.
However, it’s important to note that there are other reasons why a dog’s head might be hot other than a fever. These include them simply cooling down, the temperature outside, or vaccination side effects.
For more information on the healthcare checks you are do on your dog at home, check out our first aid guide to keeping your dog healthy.