After a long day at work, I usually can’t wait to get home and cuddle with my pet. However, he isn’t as excited; instead of the usual welcome hugs, he is unusually calm and cuddled up on the couch.
Upon touching his head, I notice it’s boiling. The first thing that comes to mind is that he has a fever. I examine the rest of the body and notice it’s also incredibly hot.
So what could be the problem? Does his hot body indicate sickness, or is it normal? Here’s what I found out about a dog with a hot head.
What is a Dog’s Normal Temperature?
The first step is to find out your pet’s temperature. Typically dogs have warmer bodies than humans, with temperatures of 101.0-102.5 F (38.3-39.2 C).
Temperatures higher than this range indicate a problem caused by internal (health problems) or external (extremely hot climate) factors.
Many theories explain why dogs have higher body temperatures. The first is their fast metabolism. Generally, larger dogs have a faster metabolism and breathe and pump blood faster, causing them to experience higher body temperatures than humans.
There’s also the myth that hairless dogs have higher body temperatures than ordinary dogs. That’s why the hairless Mexican dog, Xoloitzcuintli, was used to heal stomach aches. It acted as a furry hot water bottle.
It turns out this was just an old wive’s tale. Hairless dogs feel warmer because there’s no hair to insulate them when touched, so they radiate heat better.
How to Take a Dog’s Temperature
It’s tempting to rely on touch to find out a pet’s temperature. That’s precisely what I did, but I decided to use a thermometer upon realizing his body was surprisingly hot too. I also noted that my fingers weren’t sensitive enough to estimate the temperature accurately.
One misconception about checking a dog’s temperature is that you can do it by touching the nose. If it’s cold and wet, the dog is healthy, but if it’s warm and dry, your pet may have a fever.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many reasons why dogs have wet noses. They may have licked their noses or drank water leaving the nose damp and cold. Such trial and error methods lead to inaccurate results, and it’s best to use a thermometer.
There are two ways of measuring a dog’s temperature:
- Use a digital ear thermometer
- Use a rectal thermometer
Using a Digital Ear Thermometer
While ear thermometers are less invasive than rectal thermometers, the results obtained are regarded as less accurate.
You don’t need a helper or a distraction; insert the device into the dog’s ear canal and take the readings. The device measures infrared heat waves emitted in the dog’s eardrum area to obtain readings.
Since the thermometer must be inserted deep into the dog’s horizontal ear canal to obtain accurate readings, you must avoid causing injury.
Using a Rectal Thermometer
Rectal thermometers aren’t the most comfortable, but they provide more accurate results. It’s best to ask a friend, family member, or another familiar individual to help you keep the dog still. If there’s no help available, allow the dog to lie down on the side and ease him into the process.
Also, lubricate (using vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, or other safe lubricants) the device to make it easy to slide the thermometer into the anus. Insert it 1-3 inches and hold it in place for two minutes before taking the readings. A digital thermometer beeps when it’s ready (usually after a few seconds).
Why Is My Dog’s Head Hot?
If the temperature is above the normal range, it indicates a problem. Possible reasons for high temperature in dogs are:
It’s the most common reason dogs develop elevated body temperatures and is often indicative of an infection. The fever enables the body to fight foreign microorganisms, and since they’re heat-sensitive, it’s difficult to replicate in high temperatures.
The fever may be accompanied by symptoms such as:
- Depressed mood
- Nasal discharge
All such symptoms are a telltale sign of a disease, and it’s best to visit a vet. Fevers may also be caused by:
Dogs can develop infections anywhere on their body, including the lungs, kidneys, skin, and more. The signs vary depending on the area infected and the underlying cause, but a fever is the most common symptom.
Dogs also develop fevers after consuming poisonous substances. They can be in the form of medication, toxic plants, or food.
Most dogs develop a fever after receiving a vaccination. Such fevers last 24-48 hours and hardly escalate to unusual temperatures. Your pet may also develop swelling on the vaccination area, and/or a reduction in activity and loss of appetite.
Some dogs develop severe side effects like vomiting, persistent diarrhea, swelling on the ears, neck, and face, and difficulty in breathing.
Dogs may develop stress in two forms:
- Psychological stress
- Heat stress
Dogs can develop stress just like humans. For example, if you change their environment or routine, they can get stressed. Some of them develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic experience which can make them sick.
Such changes also include adding a new pet or family member, changing homes, getting attacked by other dogs, losing a partner or companion, and in situations where there are fireworks or thunderstorms.
Dogs are likely to develop heat stress during the hot season when left in the outdoors for too long. Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat; instead, they pant to release heat. If unable to cool their bodies, the temperature rises, which culminates into a condition called hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia develops in three stages:
- Heat stress
- Heat exhaustion
Heat stress is the first stage and is evident when your pet starts panting and has increased thirst. The condition progresses to heat exhaustion and heat stroke if your pet doesn’t get help. Apart from an elevated body temperature, dogs experiencing a heat stroke also develop:
- Changes in gum color
- Muscle tremors
- Dizziness or disorientation
- High heart and respiratory rate
3. Natural Cooling Process
As highlighted earlier, dogs hardly use the skin to perspire. Their insulating coat keeps them cool in hot weather and warm in cool weather. What’s more, their sweat glands are located in the ear canals and feet pads.
As such, sweating does not play a significant role in regulating body temperature. This means when it’s hot, the whole body heats up. To cool off, a dog looks for a shade where it can lie down and absorb the cool air.
The process helps the blood vessels to dilate, radiating internal heat from the body. Alternatively, the dog looks for a fan to blow out air and transfer heat from the body to the atmosphere.
The dog also pants to allow cool air into the upper respiratory system to flow and water to evaporate from its mucous membranes. That’s why dogs also take a lot of water when it’s hot.
What to Do When a Dog’s Head is Hot
The best way to deal with this problem is to visit a vet clinic, especially if the temperature increases.
A temperature difference of .6 F is acceptable, but if it rises to 105+ F, it’s best to seek medical attention. Such high temperatures are known to damage a dog’s internal organs.
The vet is likely to administer anti-inflammatory medication and perform urinalysis and blood tests to determine the potential cause of the problem.
Sometimes the cause remains unknown, and the vet can only treat your pet for dehydration and bacterial infections using antibiotics and painkillers. In most cases, dogs respond to the medication; if not, the vet admits your pet to perform additional tests.
Examples of tests performed include culture for bacteria, DNA tests for pathogens, an ultrasound, and sampling of joints, lymph nodes, and organs.
What to Do at Home
Sometimes pets develop problems too late at night, and it can be challenging to visit a hospital. If that’s the case with your pup, it’s essential to acquaint yourself with simple first aid procedures.
The first step is to use a damp cloth to wipe down the head, behind the ears, and pads on his feet. It would also help if you switched on the fan to cool the air around. While at it, ensure your pet takes enough water and check the temperature regularly until they achieve the normal range (103 F).
Now you know why your dog’s head is hot. The important thing is to diagnose the problem accurately. Forget relying on touch to determine if the hot head results from hot weather, an infection, or a mere fever and use a thermometer.
If it’s indeed a fever, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Like our young ones, pets develop sudden problems making it difficult to keep up with their health. It’s essential to keep abreast of ailments that affect dogs, and our dog wellness and health blog may come in handy.