In normal conditions, a cat has a body temperature between 100.4º and 102.5º F. Anything higher than 102.5º F is an indication of fever. A temperature higher than 106º F can cause damage to the organs of a cat, and therefore, requires immediate veterinary assistance. Temperature lower than 99º F indicates hypothermia, commonly caused by prolonged exposure to cold, which can also be fatal.
Cat parents have a firsthand experience of how their beloved feline retreats into a shell whenever she feels unwell, uncomfortable, or disoriented. Cats happen to be masters at disguising their illness and injuries. Your best shot at recognizing their discomfort is to gently approach them and gauge the cause.
Before we move on to learning how to check a cat’s temperature, you need to understand what causes a fever to occur in the first place. Then, check for the relevant symptoms of illness before you move on to checking her temperature.
Causes of Fever in Cats
- A viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
- Side effects of certain medications
There may be times when your pet gets a fever for no apparent reason; this is referred to as ‘fever of unknown origin’.
Symptoms of Fever
- Loss of appetite
- Decrease in water intake
- Decrease in self grooming
- Panting or rapid breathing
Before you get too concerned, keep in mind that a fever can be a natural mechanism―it is the immune system’s response to suppress the growth of disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
There are ear thermometers specifically designed for veterinary use, which are suitable for domestic cats. However, these may be expensive, or may not be easily available. A safe way to measure your cat’s temperature would be to use a pediatric rectal thermometer. It is recommended to use a digital thermometer instead of a glass one, as the latter may break while using it on a squirming cat.
Using a rectal thermometer
Here’s what you need to assemble before you begin:
- A pediatric rectal thermometer
- A lubricant such as petroleum jelly or K-Y Jelly
- A thick towel or blanket
- Your cat’s favorite treat
► Begin by switching on the digital thermometer. Coat the tip with the lubricant.
► Preferably, engage two people (someone the cat already trusts) while taking the temperature―one to hold the cat in place, while the other inserts the thermometer.
► Wrap your cat in a thick towel or blanket to prevent being scratched. Try to relax the cat by gently stroking her or speaking to her in a calm tone.
► Slowly lift the tail and insert the tip of the thermometer in the cat’s anus. Be extra gentle in case you’re using a glass thermometer (we really recommend using a digital one), as you wouldn’t want it to shatter under any circumstance.
► The cat, in all probability, will squirm and try to shake you off. But you need to persist and gently ease the thermometer about an inch into the rectum, and no further.
► Keep the thermometer in place until it beeps, or for two minutes if you’re using a glass one. Now, be very gentle as you remove it, and check the reading.
► Remember to clean the thermometer with a disinfectant solution before you put it away.
► If your cat is willing, feed her a little treat as a reward for having endured the procedure.
Using a ear thermometer
In case you have a ear thermometer designed for pets, you must insert the probe deep in the ear canal. It is observed that cats are more comfortable with a ear thermometer being used on them, which is why this can be comfortably done by a single person. These gadgets are specifically designed keeping the shape of the cat’s ear, accurately measuring infrared heat waves emanating from the eardrum region.
Checking temperature without a thermometer
It is obvious that you cannot accurately measure temperature without using a thermometer, but you can spot any abnormality using simple techniques such as these:
► Feel your cat’s nose―if it feels very dry and warm, there is a chance that your cat has a fever. To know if she is dehydrated, take the skin on the scruff of her neck in a pinch, and let it loose. If the skin remains wrinkled, your cat is possibly dehydrated.
► Feel your cat’s ears. Remember, these will be warmer than those of a human, but look out for a significantly warmer feel―this is an indication of fever.
► Touch the cat’s back for warmth. If your cat has a fever, this area will feel warmer than usual to the touch. Of course, ensure that your cat has not spent too much time lounging in the sunshine or near the heater, as this can make her body warm for a while and does not indicate fever.
If for some reason you are unable to measure your cat’s temperature, and suspect that your cat has a fever, do consult a vet without any delay. As we mentioned earlier, cats tend to disguise their illness very efficiently, and it tends to be too late until the owner seeks medical help. Therefore, keep an eye on your cat’s overall behavior to get a better idea about her health condition.