For all involved, pets and their parents, rectal temperature taking is . . . well, foreboding. Knowing how to accurately measure your pet’s temperature is important. It can determine if your suspicions are valid, and more importantly, it could be the overriding factor in deciding whether you should call the veterinary hospital now or wait ‘til the morning.
Most pets are unable to communicate when they are ‘under the weather.’ What you may notice, if watching carefully, is a change of behavior. Is your pet unwilling to play, not eating, sleeping more or hiding? If any of these behaviors are present, consider taking your pet’s temperature to see if it’s abnormal.
For most adult dogs and cats, the normal temperature is between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, this is higher in comparison with the normal human body benchmark temperature of 98.2 to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
In decades past, a fragile glass thermometer, a calibrated rod actually, filled with mercury, was the standard. Today, a lightweight, flexible ‘digital’ thermometer, available at most drug stores will do. If you purchase one for your pet, keep it separate from your personal use thermometer. Select one with a different color, or keep it in a drawer or box with your other pet specific products.
If many options are available, select one with a large display. A quick search from Amazon.com has one sold by Vick’s with a nice round display, perfect for your older or early morning eyes!
With a digital thermometer, you don’t need to ‘shake it down.’ Grab a napkin, or paper towel and place a small dollop of water-based lubrication, like K-Y Jelly, in the middle, and smear a little around the thermometer, about an inch or so beyond the tip. Try to stay away from the familiar jar of petroleum jelly like Vaseline. Oil-based lubricants, unlike water-based, aren’t absorbed and don’t evaporate. Hypothetically, these products can trap bacteria and lead to possible infections.
If you have help, restrain your pet by placing an arm under the chin and another arm in between the front and hind limbs, pulling your pet to your chest, so that your wrists come as close to your shoulders as possible. Direct your partner behind your pet and carefully raise the tail; a small penlight or headlamp will help illuminate the area.
Before inserting, turn on the thermometer, and wait for the indication that it’s ready. Insert the lubricated tip, approximately one inch in small dogs or cats, and up to three inches in big dogs like German Shepherds or Mastiffs. Lower the tail, and hold the thermometer firmly against the underside of the tail until it ‘beeps.’
If you are alone, or don’t have willing help, put your pet on a leash, and extend your left arm between the front and hind limbs to prevent your pet from sitting down or backing up further than the leash will allow. Reach around, grasp the tail with your left hand, insert the thermometer with your right.
If the temperature is over 103 degrees Fahrenheit and your pet hasn’t been exercising, call your veterinarian or local emergency hospital. Follow their instructions for reducing the temperature as you prepare take your pet in for care.
A quick note on ear thermometers, most veterinarians don’t use them. There is too much variation in breed ear length, degree of debris, and pet sensitivity to anything placed in the ears. This is especially true if your pet has ever had an ear infection. Reluctance to stand still often leads to inaccurate readings.