When does a dog have a fever?

Fever is defined as a shift in the set point of the core body temperature. Unlike hyperthermia, however, this shift in the set point is stimulated and regulated by the body. Since this sounds rather complicated, let’s explain everything again step by step and clarify when a dog has a fever.

What is fever at all?

The normal body temperature of a healthy dog is between 38.0-39.0°C, that of a cat between 38.5-39.0°C. The thermoregulation center, which is located in the hypothalamus, an area of the diencephalon, is responsible for maintaining this temperature range. The hypothalamus is something like the supreme regulatory center for many of our bodily functions, including temperature regulation. Receptors for measuring body temperature are present in the skin, but also in the spinal cord. These receptors send their information directly to the hypothalamus. This calculates all incoming information and creates a so-called "actual value" from it. It therefore calculates what temperature currently prevails in the body of the animal. The hypothalamus compares this "actual value" with the "setpoint value. In simpler terms this means: The hypothalamus knows how warm a dog’s body "should" be, namely between 38-39.0°C (set point) and it also knows how warm the body "is" at the moment. If this actual value is no longer within the desired range, i.e. outside the setpoint, temperature regulation occurs.

With an animal, which has fever, this set point shifts upwards. This means that the hypothalamus now no longer tries to keep the temperature in the otherwise desired range of 38-39°C, but aims for a much higher temperature as a new target. The animal heats up from the inside, so to speak. For this it uses different mechanisms. So that less heat is lost to the outside, the blood vessels in the skin contract. In addition our quadrupeds often show a setting up of the hair or so-called cold trembling, in order to increase the temperature.

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Causes of fever in dogs

So-called fever-inducing substances are responsible for the development of fever. These substances can be of different origins, but always lead to a temperature increase triggered in the brain. Possible treatments include infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. These can either themselves have the property of a fever-inducing substance or lead to the release of such substances. Substances, drugs or toxins produced during the breakdown of dead or inflamed tissue can also trigger a fever. The following are among the most common causes of fever:

  • Infectious agents
  • Decay or metabolic products from hematomas, fractures, necroses
  • Infections with exogenous protein (e.g., infectious diseases).B. blood transfusion)
  • Injuries
  • Operations
  • Tumors
  • Medication
  • Gift

But beware: fever is not always bad! The body uses such an increase in temperature also to support the defense processes. The increased temperature helps to accelerate processes in the body and inhibits the multiplication of some types of bacteria. The bacteria simply get too warm, they cannot multiply any further and are deprived of their nutritional basis.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The most important sign to diagnose "fever" is to take the temperature of our four-legged friends. This is measured rectally. Although we know the normal range in which the temperature of our animals should be, there are individual differences. Large dogs, for example, tend to have lower body temperatures than small breeds. So it is a good idea to check the temperature of your four-legged friend from time to time. This can be helpful in interpreting temperature findings in the event of illness. Other signs of fever include tiredness, loss of appetite, and increased heart and respiratory rate.

Possible therapies

Whether and with which means the fever of your quadruped must be lowered, depends individually on the case. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult a veterinarian if you suspect that your pet may be suffering from fever.

If your pet is currently suffering from an acute infection and has a moderate fever, it may even be counterproductive to lower the fever. In this case, the treatment of the infection is decisive.

Before any therapy, the veterinarian will take a detailed history together with you in order to find the possible cause of the fever. This may require further diagnostics, such as blood tests, ultrasound or sampling of other body fluids/tissues. If the cause is found, it must be treated to reduce the fever. In addition, the fever can also be reduced symptomatically with the help of medication. Infusions may also be advisable. The treatment of fever must therefore be individually adapted to the case.

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Fever vs. Hyperthermia – Increased core body temperature in dogs

Hyperthermia literally means overheating. The body overheats, so where is the difference to a fever now? Quite simply: with the fever it concerns a temperature increase, which is steered by the hypothalamus, thus our regulation center. The set point is corrected upwards and the body begins to strive for a higher temperature. Hyperthermia, on the other hand, is not triggered by the hypothalamus. Accordingly, the set point is also not shifted upwards. The body of the animal heats up, although the hypothalamus continues to try to keep the body temperature of the animal within the limits of our set point of 38-39.0°C.

This can be triggered by physical overexertion or external overheating. A striking example is the dog left in a parked car in summer. The temperature in the car rises so much that the animal also begins to overheat. If the body of the animal reaches temperatures between 42-43°C, the life-threatening heat stroke is imminent.

Since hyperthermia is not caused by so-called fever-inducing substances, hyperthermia cannot be treated with fever-reducing drugs. In this case, it is therefore important to move the animal as soon as possible to a cooler, quiet place and avoid stress.

Preventive measures

There is no secret recipe for preventing fever. If your pet shows signs of fever, you should consult a veterinarian. If you notice injuries or wounds, you should also consult a veterinarian. Early treatment of injuries can prevent the development of fever. After surgery or transfusions, you should check your pet’s temperature regularly. A balanced diet and sufficient exercise also strengthen the immune system and thus offer your pet’s body the opportunity to effectively fight infections on its own.

Hyperthermia, on the other hand, can be avoided by not overexerting your four-legged friend. On a hot summer day, avoid too much exertion, offer your dog the opportunity to cool off in the water or regularly seek shady places for breaks. Make sure that your dog always has enough fresh water available. Dogs with long coats may be helped through the hot summer months by having their coats clipped. Do not leave your dog in your parked car under any circumstances! As noted earlier, critical temperatures can be reached in a very short time even in vehicles parked in the shade.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The average core body temperature of a healthy dog is 38.0-39.0°C. In the case of values that are significantly above this value, you should definitely contact the veterinarian of your confidence.

Fever in dogs is primarily characterized by an increased core body temperature (values above 39.0 ° C). Other signs include fatigue, loss of appetite, and an increased respiratory and heart rate. In order to be able to better interpret the measurement of the body temperature in case of illness, you should measure the temperature of your healthy animal at regular intervals.

We recommend taking a dog’s fever rectally, as this is the most accurate method.

While hyperthermia is influenced and caused by external factors (greatly increased outside temperature, physical exertion) fever is triggered and controlled by the body itself. Substances that cause fever are responsible for this, such as infectious agents, injuries or even certain medications.

You have questions?

Contact us today and make an appointment directly. We advise you in detail and treat your animal professionally.

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