How to Take Your Cat's Temperature

Check if your cat has a fever and needs to see the vet

Veterinarian examining cat in vet's surgery
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How can you tell if your cat has a fever? In humans, a touch of a warm forehead may give you a clue. But you can’t tell if your cat has a fever by feeling for a warm, dry nose, as many people believe. The only way to know for sure is to take its temperature, which can be a risky process if your cat doesn't feel like cooperating.

Your cat's normal temperature is between 100.4 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures may require a visit to the veterinarian, depending on other symptoms. 

Signs of Fever in Cats

Diseases that cause fever in cats can also cause certain behaviors. These behaviors allow cats to conserve the necessary energy to produce a fever. Fevers fight disease by stimulating the immune system and slowing growth of bacteria and viruses.

Although fevers can sometimes be helpful in fighting illness, a fever higher than 106 degrees can cause organ damage. Contact your vet as soon as possible if your cat has a high fever.

Watch out for these telltale signs of a fever:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Lack of energy or activity
  • Decreased drinking
  • Decreased grooming
  • Shivering or rapid breathing

Your cat may also display other specific signs of illness, such as sneezing, vomiting, or diarrhea.

What You Will Need

  • Human rectal thermometer,
  • Vaseline or KY Jelly for lubrication
  • Timer with second hand
  • Towel

How to Take Your Cat's Temperature

If your cat shows signs of a fever, you need to know for sure so you know what action to take. The whole process of taking its temperature should only take a few minutes, provided the cat isn't resisting you.

You can either take its temperature rectally, or via its ear, but rectal temperatures are more accurate. If you're trying to determine just how high the cat's temperature is, use a rectal thermometer. Digital thermometers give a reading much faster and make the process shorter. Just make sure you keep the thermometer separate so that it's only used on the cat.

Using a Rectal Thermometer

  1. Turn the thermometer on and set it to zero, then lubricate the thermometer with the Vaseline or KY Jelly.
  2. Stand the cat on the counter and hold it securely with your left arm. Its face should be resting in the crook of your elbow with its tail end toward your right hand. If necessary, wrap the cat in the towel with her butt end protruding.
  3. Lift the cat's tail with your left hand while inserting the thermometer slowly and steadily into its anus, to a depth of 1/2 inch to one inch, with your right hand. You will feel the sphincter muscle tighten, then relax.
  4. Hold the thermometer there for two minutes (or until it beeps) while talking to the cat in a soothing voice.
  5. Remove the thermometer and record the temperature.
  6. Wash the thermometer well with warm water and disinfectant soap, then store separately. Also, thoroughly wash your hands and the sink where you wash the thermometer; cat feces can contain many harmful bacteria.

Taking Your Cat's Temperature Via its Ear

Although the cat is less likely to resist you if you take its temperature via its ear, the process can be a bit more difficult. Ear thermometers need to be placed in the right area to get an accurate reading.

Plus, while your cat may tolerate this method better than having its temperature taken rectally, the animal may try to get away from you. If it does, grab it by the scruff of the neck, which usually (if temporarily) will calm most cats.

Insert a digital ear thermometer (which usually cost more than rectal or oral ones) in your cat's ear. Hold it horizontally while keeping the cat's head still.

When it beeps to let you know it has a reading, release your cat and record the temperature. Thoroughly clean the thermometer.

Problems With Your Cat During the Procedure

Most cats will resist having their temperature taken, especially when you try to insert the thermometer rectally. If possible, have a second person the cat knows assist by holding, talking to and petting the cat while you take its temperature.

Your cat may try to bite or scratch you; be prepared. And once you have the reading, let your cat get away. It may sulk for a while. Once it resurfaces, offer it a treat or small snack (as long as it's not showing signs of a digestive illness).

A temperature of 105 degrees is a dangerous level and your cat should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. If it's above 103, you should call your veterinarian for advice.