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HomeBeefHow to take an animal’s temperature and what values spell ill-health?
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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How to take an animal’s temperature and what values spell ill-health?

How to take an animal’s temperature

In this article, That’s Farming, looks at how you can take an animal’s temperature and satisfactory ranges/values. 

Taking a temperature measurement can be one way of helping you identify ill-health/sickness in livestock.

Veterinary practitioners routinely take animals’ rectal temperatures during physical examinations, but farmers can also purchase the medical device to monitor health statuses.

Digital thermometers generally cost in the region of €8-€12 – depending on the type and outlet you purchase them from.

To take an animal’s temperature:

  • Wear gloves;
  • Restrain the animal in a crush/safe handling facility where possible;
  • Lubricate the digital thermometer;
  • Carefully insert the device approximately 5cm into the animal’s rectum;
  • Press the tip of the thermometer against the rectum’s wall. If you do not place the device directly against the rectal wall, you are likely to get what is known as artificially low readings;
  • Remove the thermometer when the temperature reading has stabilised. With most device types, this can take between 20-30 seconds;
  • Clean the thermometer after each use and store safely (put in a protective plastic case if supplied with thermometer).

Temperature values

According to Teagasc, the normal rectal temperature range in a stock bull or a cow is generally between 38-39 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, calves generally have a slightly higher ‘normal’ temperature of 38.5-39.5 degrees Celsius.

It explained that lower values, which are below 39 degrees Celsius, may indicate shock or terminal illness.

The state agency explained that temperatures about 39.5 degrees Celsius or above could be a fever. This can usually result from:

  • Toxaemia;
  • Pain;
  • Infection

According to a publication from Teagasc, it is possible for calf rearers to anticipate the onset of scour the day before it occurs by observing a high body temperature of over 39.5 degrees Celsius.

It states that a rectal temperature of above 39.5 degrees Celsius “indicates calves that are likely to be developing scours”.

Meanwhile, it also acknowledged that a high temperature could be linked to other conditions such as navel ill or pneumonia.

Disclaimer: Always seek your vet’s advice.

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