Though we’d like to think we have our cats all figured out, the truth is there are some communication barriers. And that can sometimes make figuring out their overall health a challenge. But, like humans, there’s a good way to gather some clues as to whether our feline friends are experiencing sickness or good health.
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“Since our cats don’t talk to us, temperature is one way to figure out their general health status with an easy tool,” confirms Dr. Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, the vet expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
A healthy cat’s temperature range should typically be between 99.5 and 102.5. Though it seems like a small range, Dr. Choczynski says it’s a pretty wide one that allows for some flexibility.
“When they are up to 102.5, it could be because it’s warm outside or there’s a lot of excitement,” Dr. Choczynski says. “Once it’s at 103, that’s a true fever and cause for concern.”
A temperature that’s too low may also be an indicator that something is up. Dr. Choczynski discussed all things cat temperature, including how to take it, what it means if it’s out of range and what to do about it.
How to check your cat’s temperature
Because there’s such a wide range for a healthy cat temperature, Dr. Choczynski says it’s good to establish your kitty’s baseline. To do this, simply take it at the same time every day for a couple of days. After that, you only need to do it every once in a while or if something seems off.
There are two ways to take your cat’s temperature: through their ears or their backside. Dr. Choczynski strongly suggests using a rectal thermometer, as she doesn’t feel that the aural ones are as reliable.
“Give the pet a treat while you’re doing it,” she suggests. “Sometimes, it’s a two-person job. Take the temperature, and make sure it reads within the normal range.”
Dr. Choczynski also recommends using some lube to make it more comfortable on the kitty (regular KY gel will do) and labeling the thermometer.
“You don’t want to accidentally use it on your kid or yourself,” she laughs.
What does it mean if your cat’s temperature is too low or high?
If a cat’s temperature is below 99.5, it may not be too serious.
“Sometimes, they just get chills if it is too cold outside,” Dr. Choczynski.
But it could also be a troubling sign.
“They may have gotten into toxins,” she says.
Dr. Choczynski says toxins exist in insect killers and medications like Tylenol can make temperature plummet. Or, it could be septic shock.
Like us, cats can overheat in a warm environment or get bacterial or viral infections that cause fevers.
What to do if your cat’s temperature is out of range
You took your cat’s temperature, and it’s too high or low. Now what?
Cats who are unresponsive, lethargic, panting, experiencing elevated or low heart rates, or developing red gums should go to the vet immediately, Dr. Choczynski advises.
“It’s beyond home care at that point,” she says.
The vet can use special blankets to warm the cat up or give them fluids and antibiotics if they have a fever.
However, if the cat is a little warm or cold, you can try some at-home remedies.
“If the pet is just a little chilled or is wet after coming in from the rain, it would be appropriate to try to warm them up,” Dr. Choczynski says. “Create a cozy den for them.”
Use a ton of blankets and even a heating pad. But make sure the cat isn’t lying directly on the pad.
“Put a thick blanket on top and rotate the pet regularly,” Dr. Choczynski says.
If the cat has a fever, you can try cooling them off with a fan. Make sure they are getting plenty of fluids. Dr. Choczynski does not recommend ice baths, which can cool a cat too quickly.
Try rechecking the temperature in an hour. If the cat’s temperature is consistently out of the healthy cat temperature range, schedule a visit with the vet.
Related: How to Ease Your Cat’s Stress Before and During Vet Visits