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How To Take Your Pet's Temperature

Give a bath · Give cat meds · Give dog meds · Take a temperature · Related articles

Take your pet's temperature

We take pets’ temperatures to tell if they have a fever, which often indicates an infection. While some veterinarians use a special thermometer that reads the temperature from the ear drum, most pet owners rely on old-fashioned thermometers placed in the rectum.

Taking temperatures in the mouth, armpit, and rectum

With old-fashioned and digital thermometers we have the option of taking the temperature in the mouth, armpit (axilla), or rectum. Why do we choose the rectum in pets?
  • Mouth: thermometer can be bitten and swallowed.
  • Armpit: hair prevents accurate measure of body heat, and hollows in the armpit make it difficult to keep the thermometer next to the skin.
  • Rectum: accurate reflection of core body temperature.

Normal rectal temperature

Normal rectal temperature for adult dogs and cats is 100-102° F or 37.7-38.8°C.
Normal rectal temperature for newborn puppies and kittens is 96° F or 35.5°C.

Why take the temperature?

A pet’s temperature should be taken if you suspect
  • infection
  • hyperthermia from exercise in the heat or from being in a car
  • hypothermia from shock or drowning
  • impending birth (the temperature drops about 24 hours prior to delivery.)

Equipment Used To Take Your Pet's Temperature:


Thermometers can be glass or plastic. Plastic has the advantage of not breaking, but glass has the advantage of being easier to clean. Plastic thermometers usually have a digital readout. If using a plastic digital thermometer, find one that is sealed and waterproof so that it is easily cleaned. It’s ok to use a human thermometer for your pet, but designate it as a pet-only thermometer, especially if you are planning to use it as a rectal thermometer.

Lube the rectal thermometer

Use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or KY jelly to lubricate the tip of the thermometer so it slides easily into the rectum. In an emergency, it’s better to use saliva than nothing at all.

Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) kills bacteria and many viruses. Rubbing alcohol of 50-70% is a better disinfectant than 90% alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol doesn’t kill bacterial spores, such as clostridial spores, which may be present in feces. Nor does alcohol kill all viruses. For example, parvovirus that affects dogs (but not cats) is not killed by alcohol. If you suspect a pet has parvovirus, use bleach to clean the thermometer. Finally, alcohol doesn’t disinfect through clumps of fecal matter, so wipe the thermometer clean before putting it in alcohol.

Plastic sleeve to cover thermometer

Plastic thermometer sleeves are easy to use because they’re slick and you won’t need lubrication. Also, they decrease the time needed to clean equipment.


Keep your pet’s mouth engaged while taking a rectal temperature. Give your pet a treat or spread peanut butter, cream cheese, or braunswager on a spoon so your pet takes time licking it off while you work. Or, spread the treat along the refrigerator door so your pet stands and licks.

How to take a Rectal Temperature

  • Ideally work with two people when taking rectal temperature. One of whom keeps the pet happily focused while the other takes the rectal temp. If taking the temp alone, get your pet focused on a treat.
  • Prepare the thermometer by shaking it or putting it in cool water so the reading is lower than you expect the pet’s temperature to be. Apply lubrication.
  • Have your pet lying on its side if you think it might sit down on the thermometer. Gently move the tail to one side. It hurts many pets if their tails are jerked or held straight up. Visualize the anus.
  • Insert the rectal thermometer to a depth approximately equal to the size of your pet’s foot. For a tiny pet, insert about an inch. For a large pet, insert about 3 inches. The tip should rest along the side of the rectum rather than be inserted into a fecal ball. (For more about rectal anatomy, see Anal Sacs.)
  • Wait 3 minutes for an old-fashioned glass thermometer to obtain an accurate temp. For digital thermometers, wait until they beep or signal that the temperature has stopped climbing.
  • Remove the thermometer and praise your pet.

Practice taking rectal temperature so that you’re familiar with your pet’s baseline temperature and so that the technique is second nature in case of emergency.

Cleaning a rectal thermometer after taking rectal temperature

Rinse fecal matter off with cool water and wipe with flushable paper. When the thermometer is clean, immerse the end that contacted the pet in rubbing alcohol for several minutes. If you’ve used a plastic sleeve, it’s still recommended to clean the thermometer with alcohol.

Wash your hands with soap and water.

Why the reading may be inaccurate

Rectal thermometer was
  • not touching rectal skin but was inserted in a clump of feces. The temp will be inaccurately low.
  • removed before temperature had equilibrated to that of the pet. The temp will read either too high or too low.
  • not shaken down before being used. The temp will be too high.
  • low on battery power.

When to contact your veterinarian
If the temperature is more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit lower or higher than normal, contact the veterinary clinic. For tips on lowering a temperature in a pet that’s overheated, see Heatstroke.

If the thermometer breaks within your pet, contact the veterinary clinic immediately.


The articles here were answered by a variety of pharmacists and veterinarians
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    This information is for educational purposes only and is intended to be a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise and professional judgment of your veterinarian. The information is NOT to be used for diagnosis or treatment of your pet. You should always consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the treatment of your pet.

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