Petriage Clinical Insights

IMPORTANT: This article, which is provided for educational purposes only, is based on published veterinary data and decades of work with pets and pet parents. The information provided here is not designed to be comprehensive but to help you avoid the pitfalls of online misinformation and most importantly, to frame the conversation you should have with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian’s perspective may differ from what is expressed here. Always consult with your veterinarian.

Measuring Body Temperature

It can be useful to know your pet's body temperature if you are concerned they might be sick. For dogs and cats, average normal body temperature is around 100.5-102.5 °F (38-39.3 °C). Some individuals might maintain a baseline temperature that is a little above or below this range.


  • Pets with low body temperature (hypothermia) are likely to be lethargic and depressed, and they may shiver or tremble.
  • Pets with a high body temperature (hyperthermia) may also be lethargic, might pant excessively, and the color of their gum tissue may become dark red. (Read more about gum coloration here.)
  • You cannot truly assess if your pet is having a lower or higher temperature than normal by touching your pet’s nose or any other body parts. You must use a thermometer to take the temperature in order to know if your pet's temperature is out of range.
  • The most accurate way of taking the temperature in pets is rectally. A well-lubricated human or pet-specific thermometer can be used for this purpose. Digital and old-fashioned glass thermometers are both fine.
  • Pet-specific ear thermometers can also be used. However, due to the unique shape of the ear canals of cats and dogs, the great variability of ear canal sizes and lengths, and the frequent presence of hair and wax in the canal, the readings are not always precise. Unfortunately, all non-contact infrared thermometers are very inaccurate in pets and should not be used as of this writing in 2021.
  • You should always contact your veterinary team with any readings outside the normal range, especially if you are noticing any other abnormal signs. 
  • Temperatures above 104°F (40°C) or below 99°F (37.2°C) should always be treated as a medical emergency.
  • For moderately elevated temperatures (102.5-103.5 °F) consult  with a veterinary professional and offer your pet cool water or ice chips. Keep your pet in a cool place, and if it is not too stressful apply cool damp cloths to the paws and ears.
  • For a slightly lower temperature than normal you can wrap your pet in warm towels or blankets from the dryer, and place warm water bottles close to him or her. Avoid heating pads, which can cause burns in pets.


  • In almost all cases, taking a pet's temperature is a two-person job. An extra person can provide both restraint and comfort for the pet while you take their temperature.
  • Unfortunately, taking your pet’s temperature can be stressful for both your pet and you. If taking their temperature proves difficult, do not risk any injury to yourself or your pet. Let your experienced veterinary team handle it.
Rectal temperature technique
  • Make sure you have the appropriate thermometer and lubrication. You may use a thermometer found at any pharmacy. Pet thermometers, sold online and at pet stores, are usually a bit thinner.
  • The person holding the pet should have one arm gently around the neck of the pet while the other arm is wrapped around the lower abdomen, keeping the pet standing. Some cats might do better with some gentle scruffing and being laid on their side.
  • Generously lubricate the end of the thermometer. K-Y Jelly, vegetable oil or petroleum jelly (Vaseline) work well.
  • Gently lift your pet's tail and slowly insert the thermometer 1/2 to 1 inch into the rectum (for a large dog, 1-2 inches). Use gradual, steady pressure and avoid sudden movements. If you feel stool, try to guide the thermometer around it rather than through it.
  • Keep holding on to the end of the thermometer. Old fashioned glass thermometers should be kept in for 60-90 sec. Digital thermometers will usually beep when they are ready.
Ear (aural) temperature technique
  • Do not use any thermometer that was not designed specifically for taking temperature in a pet's ears.
  • Do not use an ear thermometer on infected or irritated ears.
  • Turn the thermometer on and let it self-calibrate if required. Insert the thermometer gently into the ear canal by holding it at about a 90° angle to the pet’s head. No lubrication is needed.
  • While you want the thermometer to go as deep as possible to get accurate results, do not force it into the ear canal.
  • If you get an abnormal temperature (high or low) retake the temperature to double check the result.
  • Falsely elevated temperatures can occur sometimes in the pets that are excited or agitated. Pets that resist restraint may have slightly higher temperatures than normal. Let your pet rest for 10-15 minutes and try again.
  • Falsely low temperatures can be seen if the thermometer was not inserted far enough into the ear or rectum, or if it is embedded in feces.


You may see a demonstration of the procedure in these videos.