Not so long ago, we received a gentle admonition from one of the readers of this column. After telling us about the value of the weekly advice, she mentioned that even though it was all well and good to speak of diseases and other miscellaneous ailments and abnormal situations, it would be good for the public to know what are normal physiological values in dogs (and cats).
For example, what is the normal temperature of a dog here in Guyana? Our pets live mostly 5 degrees away from the equator, below sea level, and with humidity levels often in the high 90s. The writer even went one better, she advised that we list all the symptoms of ailments that pet owners should be aware of.
I think it is a wonderful bit of advice, and it is exactly the type of feedback that we appreciate within the context of that two-way information exchange which I have been advocating in our “Pet Care” columns. Consequently, we shall offer today some physiological data that should represent normal conditions in our dogs.
Always be mindful of the fact that biology is not like mathematics. In the latter, two plus two is always equal to four. In biology, there is great variation, so we are at best delineating averages.

Let’s begin with temperature: Every home with a companion animal must have a thermometer.
Do not think that all mammals have the same body temperature. The human average body temperature is lower than the dog’s, which is about (100°-102°F). The text books will tell us that the range could be 99°F-105°F.
Body temperature is one of the most important indicators of the dog’s wellbeing. For me, as a vet, the thermometer is the first tool that is used in the relatively limited arsenal which we have here in Guyana to help ascertain a correct diagnosis.
However, my temperature reading in the Clinic might be compromised by the fact that the dog would almost surely be excited because of the travel to, and the strange surroundings of, the vet’s clinic. As a result, it is important that you, the owner, take the temperature in the quiet of your own home. In fact, if you take and document the temperature four or five times during the course of the day, you would be helping your veterinarian greatly.
Do not rely on touch. You know, holding the dog’s ear to detect a fever. You may be right, but you may also be wrong. If, for example, you were washing the wares before holding his ears (or placing the back of your hand on his forehead or neck), then the temperature would feel higher than it really is. Use only the clinical thermometer to get a correct temperature reading.
As I said, one must ensure the animal is not excited when temperature is being taken. There is no sense in trying to ascertain the correct body temperature of a dog that has just come back from a two-mile jog. The temperature would obviously be artificially elevated.
Also, the time of day the temperature is taken is a factor to be considered. Body temperature is highest in the afternoon and lowest soon after midnight.
I should mention in passing that a dog living in an air-conditioned environment would have a different average body temperature from a dog that spends most of his day in a hot, confined kennel.
What an animal is fed might influence his body temperature. In fact, the very act of feeding will increase the temperature. Similarly, the drinking of cold water would tend to decrease the body temperature.
The increase/decrease in temperature beyond/below the normal range tells us that there could be a general systemic reaction to a particular stimulus, whether it is a bacterial infection or a metabolic disorder. For example, if a bitch that has just given birth to puppies has an abnormally high temperature (104°-105°F or higher), then it is possible she has contracted an infection. As a result, a specific course of treatment would be needed.
On the other hand, if her body temperature decreases (even down to 98°F and less) soon after delivery, then we could consider that we are dealing with a metabolic problem. We may therefore institute a totally different therapeutic protocol.
Notwithstanding the above, please also note that mammals (including dogs and cats), do have a mechanism in the brain which strives to keep body temperature normal. When the adjustment capability fails of is overwhelmed, we can assume that there is need for veterinary intervention.
When taking temperature, please do not put the thermometer under the dog’s tongue, or in his armpit. Instead, after shaking the thermometer so that the Quicksilver goes to the bottom of the bulb, you must insert at least two inches of the thermometer via the anus into the rectum. Make sure the Quicksilver (Mercury) bulb (at the end of the thermometer) is the part that is inserted into the rectum. We don’t want the dog to sit on the thermometer, or even break it and cut himself.
When you extract the thermometer, do not shake it to get any feacal matter off. Instead, wipe the thermometer with a tissue. It is worth your while to look at the colour of the faeces sticking to the thermometer after it has been extracted. There may be blood or signs indicative of a diarrhoea.
This is important to the vet. Document all your findings.
Normal physiological values associated with cats will be dealt with separately.
Next week, we’ll deal with some other important data which represents the normal conditions relative to our pets’ health.