Maybe your cat didn’t greet you after work or make her usual mad dash for the feed bowl. Something isn’t right and you’re worried. Could your (usually) feckless feline have a fever? A normal or abnormal cat temperature reading can provide important clues about overall health. Wondering how to figure it all out?
How Do You Decipher Your Cryptic Kitty’s Clues?
“Cats are both predators and prey, which makes them evasive by nature. They hide things that are weaknesses, so you won’t always know they’re feeling ill until they can’t hide it anymore. By the time you realize your cat is running a fever, she may already be pretty sick,” says Dr. Kristine Hoyt, a veterinarian at Cats on Call Hospital in Scarborough, Maine.
Your best clue is your cat’s appetite. If she stops eating, a higher-than-normal temperature may be the reason. “You’re the best judge of your cat. If she’s just not right to you, something is wrong, particularly if she’s not active, not interacting or hiding. Trust your instincts,” adds Dr. Natasha Taylor, a veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kansas.
What’s a Normal and an Abnormal Cat Temperature?
A typical, healthy adult cat has a normal body temperature of 100.5 degrees to 101.5 degrees. Kitten temperatures are slightly higher — a normal reading can go up to 102.5 degrees. There are also breeds with normal temperatures in a higher range, such as the sphynx, Devon rex and Cornish rex, so it’s important to know your cat’s normal baseline.
Stress can also raise a cat’s temperature. “A stressed cat’s fever will often spike, and sometimes this makes his ears hot. That’s why gauging a cat’s temperature from the way his ears feel is not accurate,” says Dr. Taylor.
“Occasionally, when a cat runs a fever his whole body will feel very warm, but if you really want to know what his temperature is, you have to either take it yourself or get them to the doctor, which is never a bad idea,” says Dr. Hoyt.
How Do You Take Your Cat’s Temperature?
Taking your cat’s temperature at home is not always easy. If you suspect your cat is sick, a trip to the vet makes sense. If you do decide to try it at home, keeping your cat calm is important to getting an accurate reading, because the procedure can be stressful. “You know your cat’s nature and how cooperative she typically is. If you have a feisty feline and she’s just lying there, letting you insert a thermometer, she’s sick and needs to be seen,” says Dr. Taylor.
To take your cat’s temperature, you will need a rectal thermometer and lubricant, such as Vaseline, butter or K-Y Jelly. “Never use a mercury thermometer on a cat. It’s dangerous,” says Dr. Hoyt, who recommends getting a thermometer which provides a very quick reading.
Insert about one inch of the thermometer rectally and make sure the metal part is completely in. Do this gently and do not force it. “If your cat’s temperature is below 100.5 degrees, he’s either seriously ill or you just took the temperature of a hair ball or impacted feces. Cats stop eating when they can’t poop, too,” says Dr. Hoyt. She urges cat parents to report a high or low temperature to their vet, rather than trying to interpret it on their own. Some pet sitters have experience with this procedure so you can monitor your sick kitty’s temperature even if you have to go out of town.
Why Do Fevers Spike?
Viral and bacterial infections can both raise your cat’s temperature. And unless your kitty companion lives alone in a bubble, don’t think she can’t contract contagions. “Indoor cats can get airborne infections from outdoor cats simply by hanging out in a window. They can also become ill from things you track in on your shoes, so keep their immunizations up to date and get medical care quickly for a fever.
Bacterial infections, a most common culprit, respond well to antibiotics,” says Dr. Hoyt. Other illnesses that can cause your cat’s temperature to increase are pancreatitis, severe inflammatory disease and cancer.
Having a fever feels horrible and you wouldn’t wish it on your cat (or dog). If your whiskered pal is running a fever, finding out the cause, pronto, will get her back into purring-ly perfect health.
Want more information about cat illnesses? Try Cat Flu: What It Is and How to Spot It.
Corey Kagan is a freelance writer (and animal lover) living in New York.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.