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How to Tell If Your Cat Has a Fever

Signs will tip you off that your cat has a fever but only a thermometer can confirm it.

Via Anna Dudko Hemera/Thinkstock

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Do know what the normal temperature for cats is and how to tell if your cat has a fever? Many cat parents are unsure.

Unlike people, you can’t feel their foreheads to check for extra warmth, so it can be difficult to know if your cat has a fever. Cats can give us clues, though.

Staying in tune with your cat’s normal behavior will help you detect if something is amiss. And because cats typically try to hide the symptoms when they do not feel well, watching closely is critical to help you determine if they have fevers.

Common Cat Fever Symptoms

When cats have a fever, they generally are lethargic and have no appetite for cat food, says Lou Anne Wolfe, DVM, at Will Rogers Animal Hospital in Oklahoma. “[And sometimes], their third eyelids will protrude from below.”

Other fever symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Panting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Behavior changes
  • Decreased grooming

Popular culture may lead us to believe that a healthy cat has a cold, wet nose, which creates the assumption that a dry, warm nose must indicate a fever. This, however, is untrue.

“Sometimes clients report to me that the cat’s nose was warm or the cat ‘felt warm or hot,’ but that is not a reliable indicator of fever,” Dr. Wolfe says. “A cat’s normal temperature range is 101.0-102.9 Fahrenheit. I consider 103.0 and above to be ‘fever.’ Also, in summer and under stressful situations (i.e., veterinary visits) a cat’s temperature may be elevated.”

“The only true way to diagnose fever is to take the cat’s temperature,” Dr. Wolfe says.

To accurately diagnose a fever, only a proper thermometer will do. Looking for signs of trouble can warn cat caretakers of potential danger, but Dr. Wolfe cautions against anyone diagnosing a cat’s fever without actually checking it.

How to Take Your Cat’s Temperature

The easiest and probably best way to take a cat’s temperature is to let a professional handle the situation. Cats generally don’t take kindly to it and might fuss or struggle against it. When concerns arise, a trusted veterinary office can get a cat’s accurate temperature.

If you attempt to take your cat’s temperature at home, you need the right equipment.

“You need a rectal digital thermometer, Vaseline and an assistant who can hold your cat,” Dr. Wolfe says. “Put plenty of Vaseline on the thermometer and insert the tip into the cat’s anus.

“Digital thermometers are best because they work faster and will beep when finished,” she continues. “If your cat is becoming restless and the thermometer has not beeped and it has remained at a temperature for about four beats, it is probably reliable.”

If your cat’s temperature is at a fever level, call your veterinarian for advice on the next step.

Reasons a Cat Has a Fever

Now that you know how to tell if your cat has a fever, it’s time to understand what a fever means to your cat’s health? In our feline friends, a fever can mean:

  • Infection, such bacterial, viral or fungal
  • Injury
  • Disease
  • Tumors
  • Poisoning
  • Environment
  • Parasites
  • Reaction to medication

Does it mean disaster if your cat exhibits signs of a fever? Not necessarily, so don’t panic right away if your cat’s temperature is a little high. Sometimes a fever works itself out, just like it does in humans.

“Fever in cats can be normal immune responses to pathogens—for example, an infection—and, as such, every fever does not need to be ‘treated,’” says Jo Ann Morrison, DVM, DACVIM, senior manager of medical quality advancement for Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, Oregon. “If you think your cat has a fever, [however] contact your veterinarian to describe what you are seeing and determine the best course of action.”

It can be hard to detect the normal temperature for cats, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If symptoms persist, call your vet. It also might be prudent to make an appointment, so your veterinarian can examine your cat in person for an accurate diagnosis.


By: Elisa Jordan

Featured Image: Via Thinkstock/Anna Dudko Hemera