Running a fever is one of the best-known indicators that we are getting sick or fighting off an infection. In fact, when we’re not feeling well, checking our temperature is often one of the first things we do, but did you know that the temperature is the same indicator for your cat? Your cat’s temperature is a great indicator of his overall health and well-being and can be easily tracked at home with some basic supplies.
In this article, we’re going to look at how to take a cat’s temperature at home, what constitutes a healthy cat body temperature, and at what point you should contact your veterinarian. Whether you’re a new cat parent learning the basics of health care for your cat or an experienced cat parent brushing up on these details, we have you covered!
Understanding Your Cat’s Temperature
The normal temperature range for a healthy cat is between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some cats will have a baseline temperature that exists just above or just below this spectrum. The best way to discover your cat’s ‘normal’ is by taking his temperature regularly and logging it. This will allow you to see not only what his average temperature is day to day, but also to identify any changes or fluctuations that are out of character.
Like in humans, a high temperature can cause discomfort or, if it’s allowed to get too high, it can lead to serious health complications including organ failure. The best thing that you can do for your furry friend is to take notice that something is ‘off’ early either by recognizing a change in his temperature in your logbook or by identifying the early warning signs of a fever.
Common signs that your cat may be suffering from a fever include:
- Shivering or trembling
- Rapid breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased drinking
- Dark red gums
While all these signs are a good indication that there is something wrong, the only way to be sure that your cat is running a temperature is to check it. Compare their current temperature to your log and your cat’s usual baseline to determine whether there has been a change. Even a subtle change is a good sign that you should monitor your cat to see if the temperature continues to progress.
There are many different reasons that your cat may experience a slightly elevated temperature, including both medical and non-medical causes. The most common medical reason that most cats experience a fever is the presence of an infection. In these situations, your cat’s body temperature increases so that it can fight the infection itself, however, the body is not always able to do so effectively. If your vet is able to diagnose your cat with an infection, they will be able to prescribe the necessary antibiotics.
Other medical causes include inflammation, immune system complications, or diseases such as calicivirus, FeLV, or feline panleukopenia virus. In addition to medical causes, a fever could also indicate that your cat has been exposed to a toxic substance, has been overly active, or has spent an extended time in a cooler or warmer environment than normal.
With so many potential causes, it is almost impossible to pinpoint the reason for your cat’s fever alone. However, taking the time to track and monitor your cat’s temperature over time can help to identify the cause by painting a bigger picture of your cat’s health over time.
How to Check Your Cat’s Temperature
If you are unsure of how to take a cat’s temperature, you’re in luck. With the right supplies, the process is surprisingly easy. It’s a great idea to get used to taking your cat’s temperature while also helping him get used to the process. This will make it easier for you to track your cat’s temperature over time. Doing so will allow you to quickly spot any trends or changes that should be explored further. This is a great way to catch illnesses early and therefore address the problems quickly and prevent any unnecessary complications.
Before taking your cat’s temperature, pay attention to his emotional state. If he is overly excited, stressed, or agitated, it can lead to falsely elevated temperatures. The same can occur if you’re checking your cat’s temperature immediately after a big play session or any other strenuous activity. For the best results, you want to try to keep your cat calm and relaxed throughout the process.
Of the three possible options for checking your cat’s temperature, the most accurate is using a rectal thermometer. This is the trusted approach used by most veterinary professionals. However, some cat parents have a hard time with the idea of it. Also, some cats are uncomfortable with the process and will refuse to stay still long enough for you to obtain an accurate temperature with this method.
To take a rectal temperature, you will need a rectal thermometer, Vaseline or KY jelly, and a watch with a second hand or a digital timer. This process is best done with two people, one to hold the cat and one to check his temperature. However, it can be done solo if needed.
To begin, you want to get your cat into position standing on the counter. If necessary, use a towel to wrap the cat, securing his paws while leaving his tail end exposed.
Carefully lubricate the thermometer with your Vaseline or KY Jelly. Lifting the tail with one hand, slowly insert the thermometer into the anus approximately 1/2” to 1”. Hold the thermometer in place for approximately 2 minutes while calming your cat with soft words, gentle strokes, or a few treats, depending on what he prefers.
When you are finished, slowly remove the thermometer, record your cat’s temperature, and wash it with warm water and disinfectant soap.
To check your cat’s temperature via the ear, you will need a digital ear thermometer. These are often more comfortable for us cat parents to use, however, they can be inaccurate.
To get a proper temperature, you will have to be careful to place the thermometer horizontally into the ear and hold it there, without allowing your cat to shake it free, until the thermometer beeps. If your cat isn’t willing to stay still long enough, you can use the same technique described above for the rectal thermometer by wrapping him securely in a towel.
When you’re finished, thoroughly clean the thermometer before storing it. This is a great option for cats that refuse to allow for a rectal temperature check as it is more comfortable, however, digital ear thermometers are generally much more expensive.
The third option that we are going to discuss is the use of an axillary thermometer which works by checking the temperature in your cat’s armpit. This is the least accurate of the three options and should be used as a last resort, however, it is a good alternative for cats that refuse to allow for a rectal temperature while also keeping the cost down. This is due to the spaces and fur present in your cat’s armpit which can interfere with the thermometer’s ability to get an accurate reading.
Carefully separate the fur in your cat’s armpit until you can see his skin and place the thermometer directly against the skin. Hold the thermometer in place for approximately 2 minutes, or until it beeps if you are using a digital thermometer. As this temperature is known for being slightly off from the rectal temperature, the general rule of thumb is to add one degree to the temperature recorded.
When to Seek Help for My Cat’s Temperature
Your cat’s temperature can naturally vary slightly in different circumstances, however, you should take notice if his temperature is sitting at 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be a sign of a potential problem. If your cat has a lower base temperature based on your tracking, this point of concern may be slightly lower. Contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and find out what they recommend for the next steps.
If, however, you see that your cat’s temperature has reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, this is considered a medical emergency. Contact your veterinarian immediately or take your cat to the nearest emergency clinic in your area. The sooner that you can get him to a veterinary professional, the sooner they can get to the bottom of the cause of his temperature and start treating it.
Regularly taking your cat’s temperature is a great way to stay on top of your cat’s overall health and well-being. Keep a log noting the temperature each time that you take it and keep it somewhere close at hand where you can reference it if needed in the future. Not only will it help you to notice any changes early, but it’s also a valuable tool that you can provide your veterinarian to help them with their diagnosis if a problem arises.
Do you check your cat’s temperature regularly? If so, what tips do you have for keeping your cat calm? We’d like to hear your advice in the comments!
Your cat’s temperature is one of the five vital stats that we encourage you to monitor. Join us in our Pet Health 5 movement and together we can start tracking our pet’s health. It’s super easy! We’ll send you a reminder on the 5th of each month with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take the time to check your cat’s health stats and log them.
Pet health and cat health is an important aspect of helping our cats live long and happy lives. You can start today by checking your cat’s temperature and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering, and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.