How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature Without Thermometer By Vet

Your dog’s health is of paramount importance. Just like in humans, a dog’s body temperature can offer critical insights into its overall well-being. An elevated or lowered temperature may hint at an underlying health issue that requires immediate attention. However, what if you don’t have a thermometer handy? Or, more importantly, what if you could ascertain signs of a fever before reaching for one?

I’m a vet who specializes in house calls. Over the years, I’ve honed my skills to a point where I rarely use a thermometer during my initial assessments. With experience and a trained touch, I can gauge my patient’s body temperature just by using my hands. It’s almost like having a conversation with the pet through touch, gauging their wellness through their body’s subtle responses. Yet, if I sense even the slightest hint of feverishness, I don’t hesitate to get out my trusty thermometer to confirm an accurate reading.

In this blog, we’ll explore the techniques I employ and teach you how to pick up on certain signs that might indicate changes in your dog’s temperature. Let’s delve in.

taking dog temp without thermometer

Signs That Your Dog Might Have a Fever

Dogs can’t communicate to us in words when they’re feeling unwell, so it becomes crucial for pet owners to be vigilant and observant of the subtle signs their furry friends might display when they have a fever. Recognizing these signs early can make a significant difference in ensuring your pet receives timely care.

  1. Behavioral Changes:
    • Lethargy: Dogs with a fever might appear more tired than usual. They might sleep more or be less enthusiastic about playtime or walks.
    • Depression: A once lively dog may seem downcast or less interactive, not showing interest in its favorite toys or activities.
    • Shivering: Even in warm environments, a feverish dog might shiver. This is their body’s reaction to the increased internal temperature.
  2. Physical Signs:
    • Warm Ears and Dry Nose: While this is not a foolproof method (as we’ll discuss later), warm ears and a dry nose can sometimes indicate a fever.
    • Red Eyes: Bloodshot or redder-than-usual eyes might be a sign of increased body temperature.
    • Panting: While dogs naturally pant, excessive panting can be a sign that they’re trying to cool themselves down.
    • Loss of Appetite: A dog with a fever might not feel like eating and may turn away from its food bowl, even if it’s mealtime.
  3. Other Signs of Illness:
    • Coughing and Nasal Discharge: While not solely indicative of a fever, these might accompany elevated body temperature and signal respiratory issues or infections.
    • Vomiting and Diarrhea: Digestive issues can sometimes accompany a fever, especially if the elevated temperature is due to an ingested toxin or gastrointestinal infection.
  4. Warm to Touch:
    • Even without placing a hand on their forehead like you would for a human, certain areas of a dog’s body, like the underside or the ears, might feel unusually warm when they have a fever.
feel your dog's body for heat and hot spots to determine if your dog is running a fever

Understanding Normal Dog Temperature

Dogs, like all mammals, have a baseline body temperature that is considered normal or healthy. However, a dog’s “normal” temperature range is different from that of humans, and recognizing this distinction is the first step in effectively monitoring their health.

  1. Typical Temperature Range:
    • Dogs usually have a body temperature between 101°F (38.3°C) and 102.5°F (39.2°C). This range is considered normal, and any significant deviation can be a cause for concern.
  2. Factors That Influence Temperature:
    • Age: Puppies and senior dogs might have slightly different body temperatures compared to adult dogs.
    • Activity: Just after exercise or playtime, a dog’s body temperature might be slightly elevated. This is expected and should return to the baseline range after some rest.
    • Breed and Size: Certain breeds, especially those with thicker fur coats, might run slightly warmer. Additionally, larger breeds may have marginally different temperatures than smaller breeds.
    • Time of Day: Dogs, much like humans, might experience minor fluctuations in body temperature throughout the day. It’s typically higher in the afternoon and lower in the early morning.
  3. What Constitutes a Fever:
    • A temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher is generally considered a fever in dogs. Any reading above 106°F (41.1°C) is extremely dangerous and requires immediate veterinary attention.
  4. Low Body Temperature Concerns:
    • Hypothermia is when a dog’s body temperature drops significantly below the typical range. A temperature below 99°F (37.2°C) is concerning, especially if sustained. This can result from prolonged exposure to cold, certain illnesses, or medical conditions.
  5. How to Measure Dog’s Baseline Temperature:
    • Even if you’re relying on touch or other indirect methods, it’s a good practice to occasionally use a thermometer to get an accurate reading. This helps establish a baseline for your individual dog, making it easier to notice any deviations in the future.
baseline temperature without thermometer

Methods to Estimate Dog’s Temperature Without a Thermometer

Feel the Ears:

  • How to Do It: Using the back of your hand, gently feel the base of your dog’s ears. They should feel warm but not hot. Compare the warmth of the ears to other parts of the body.
  • Interpreting the Results: If the ears feel hot to the touch, it might be an indication of a raised body temperature. However, cold ears can also be a sign of lowered body temperature.
  • Limitations: This method is quite subjective and can be influenced by external factors such as recent activity or the environment.

Check the Gums:

  • How to Do It: Gently lift your dog’s lip and check the color of the gums. They should typically be a healthy pink color.
  • Interpreting the Results: Pale, white, blue, or very dark red gums can indicate a problem. While it’s not a direct measure of temperature, abnormal gum color combined with other symptoms might hint at fever or other health issues.
  • Texture and Moisture Level: Healthy gums should be moist to the touch. Dry or tacky gums can be a sign of dehydration or fever.
  • Limitations: Some dogs naturally have pigmented gums, making it tricky to use this method reliably.

Nose Test:

  • How to Do It: Feel your dog’s nose. While a cold and wet nose is often thought of as a sign of health, this isn’t always the case.
  • Interpreting the Results: A hot, dry nose alone doesn’t necessarily mean your dog has a fever. However, if it’s combined with other symptoms, it can be an indicator.
  • Limitations: Many factors can influence the state of a dog’s nose, including weather, hydration, and allergies. Hence, it’s one of the less reliable methods.

Assess Overall Behavior and Physical Condition:

  • Observation: Watch your dog’s behavior. Are they more lethargic than usual? Do they refuse to eat or drink? These behavioral changes can be indicative of a fever or other health problems.
  • Touch: Feel their body, especially their belly. If it feels warmer than usual or if they react sensitively to your touch, it might be a sign of discomfort or fever.
  • Limitations: Behavioral changes can stem from various causes, not just fever. It’s essential to consider the entire context and any other symptoms present.

While these methods offer valuable insights, it’s crucial to remember that they are more about understanding your dog’s overall well-being rather than providing a precise temperature measurement. If in doubt, always consult with a veterinarian for a more accurate assessment.

precise temperature requires thermometer

Precautions and Limitations


  • Personal Perception: Our perception of “warm” or “hot” can vary from person to person. This subjective nature can lead to inaccurate estimations of your dog’s body temperature.
  • External Influences: The environment or recent activities (like playing or sunbathing) can influence the warmth of certain parts of a dog’s body, potentially causing false alarms.

Not a Replacement for Thermometers:

  • Accuracy: The methods discussed are more for gauging an overall sense of your dog’s well-being rather than determining an exact temperature.
  • Necessity of Confirmation: If you suspect a fever or any health issue, it’s always best to confirm with a thermometer or seek veterinary care.

Individual Variations:

  • Differences Among Dogs: Just as humans are unique, so are dogs. What’s normal for one dog might be different for another. This variation can affect estimations based on behavior or physical symptoms.
  • Baseline Knowledge: Without knowing a dog’s baseline behavior and physical state, it can be challenging to spot deviations, emphasizing the importance of regular health check-ups and monitoring.

Potential for Overlooking Serious Issues:

  • Relying Solely on Estimations: If you only rely on these estimation methods without ever using a thermometer or consulting a vet, you might miss more severe underlying health issues.
  • Complementary Symptoms: A fever can often be accompanied by other symptoms, some of which might be subtle. By focusing only on temperature, you might overlook other indicators of health problems.

Handling and Stress:

  • Caution with Unfamiliar Dogs: Attempting to feel a dog’s ears or check their gums can be intrusive for some dogs, especially if they aren’t familiar with you. Always approach with care and ensure the dog is comfortable.
  • Stress Indicators: If a dog appears stressed or anxious when you’re trying to check for signs, it might be best to stop and consult with a professional. Stress can exacerbate health issues or even present symptoms that aren’t related to the primary concern.

In summary, while these non-thermometer methods can be valuable in understanding your dog’s well-being, they come with limitations. It’s always vital to balance these methods with regular veterinary check-ups and use a thermometer when precision is necessary.

taking a dogs temperture with or without a thermometer

When to Consult a Veterinarian

  1. Persistent Symptoms:
    • If you observe signs that suggest a fever, like lethargy, shivering, or loss of appetite, and they persist for more than 24 hours, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care.
  2. Extreme Temperatures:
    • Even if you’re estimating temperature without a thermometer, if you feel that your dog is abnormally hot or cold to touch, especially if accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult a vet immediately.
  3. Behavioral Changes:
    • Significant deviations from usual behavior, such as extreme lethargy, refusal to eat or drink, unexplained aggression, or sudden withdrawal can indicate more severe underlying issues.
  4. Physical Distress:
    • If your dog is panting excessively, has difficulty breathing, is experiencing continuous vomiting or diarrhea, or shows signs of pain, these are clear indicators to consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  5. Chronic Conditions:
    • If your dog has a history of medical conditions or is on medication, any slight change in behavior or temperature could be significant. Always err on the side of caution and seek expert advice.
  6. Prolonged High or Low Temperature:
    • Even without a thermometer, if you suspect that your dog’s temperature has been high or low for an extended period, it’s essential to consult a vet. Prolonged fever can be damaging, and hypothermia can be life-threatening.
  7. After Ingesting Toxins or Foreign Objects:
    • If you know or suspect that your dog has ingested something they shouldn’t have, like certain foods toxic to dogs, chemicals, or foreign objects, consult a veterinarian immediately.
  8. Unexplained Symptoms:
    • If your dog exhibits any unusual symptoms that you can’t attribute to a known cause, it’s always better to be safe and get a professional opinion.

Remember, as a pet owner, you know your dog best. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s always better to seek advice sooner rather than later.

is your dog running a fever or are they hot warm


Your dog’s well-being is a testament to the bond you share and the care you provide. Recognizing the signs of potential health concerns, understanding the intricacies of their normal body temperature, and knowing when to consult a veterinarian are essential aspects of responsible pet ownership. While non-thermometer methods offer valuable insights into a dog’s overall health, they should complement, not replace, regular veterinary check-ups and more accurate temperature-taking techniques.

As someone who often uses touch and observation in the initial assessment, I can attest to the importance of developing a keen sense of your pet’s normal state. This knowledge, combined with timely veterinary consultations, can ensure that you’re always one step ahead in looking after your dog’s health.

Whether you’re a seasoned dog owner or welcoming a new furry member to your family, the tools and knowledge shared in this blog will empower you to provide the best care for your canine companion. Remember, our pets offer us unwavering loyalty, love, and companionship; it’s our duty to ensure they lead a healthy, comfortable, and joyful life.

Dr. Candy Akers, DVM

Holistic Veterinarian, Veterinary Clinic Owner, Veterinary Medical Supervisory Board Leader, Certified Raw Dog Food Nutrition Specialist, and Author Dr. Candy completed her undergraduate studies at The University of Delaware and graduated veterinary school in 2009 from Oklahoma State University. In high school, she was drawn to wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife rehab gave her unparalleled experience in animal healing in a field that has limited resources and a wide variety of conditions to treat. Before vet school, Dr. Akers spent two years working full time providing oil spill response for wildlife all over the country. Since graduating with her Degree of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2009, Dr. Candy has specialized in companion animal nutrition. Extensive education in nutrition has made her a firm believer in species specific-biologically appropriate diets. One of her passions is educating pet parents about the natural alternatives that actually work. She brings the best of holistic health and conventional medicine together in a unique approach to pet health. This approach is often applied to chronic diseases, allergies, and autoimmune conditions. She started her own veterinary practice 9 years ago in Colorado. Overall, she has dedicated her entire life to improving the health and happiness of animals everywhere.

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