HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Cat Has a Fever: Empowering You During Your Cat’s Hour of Need

cat having a fever
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

Cats, just like other mammals, sometimes have increased body temperatures. During hot days or when a cat has spent considerable time outdoors in the sun, his temperature may reach 103o F. However, the sudden rise in body temperature may also be caused by a fever. How do you tell between the two possibilities? Having information on how to tell if a cat has a fever at your fingertips should come in handy.

While treating your cat is the responsibility of your vet, you are the one who decides when and if your cat needs to be taken to the vet’s office. A feverish cat can scare you especially if you have no idea what the underlying problem is. Not to worry—it is with you in mind that we have gathered all that you need to know about fever in cats. This article has both your role and the role of your vet cut out.

To be able to give your kitty all the care that he needs, it is important to know several conditions that can trigger fever in him. We have those outlined for you. After that, you will find information on how to take your cat’s temperature. We will also explain the tell-tale signs of a fever and even better, how to take control of the situation.

Causes of Fever in Cats

orange cat having a wound

Fever stems from the activation of the body’s immune system. It is the mechanism that is triggered to get rid of heat-sensitive disease-causing micro-organisms in the body.

Fever is a symptom of an underlying cause. Here are some of the possible causes of fever in your cat:

  • Bacterial, Viral, or Fungal Infections: All these are disease-causing microorganisms. Bacterial infections usually affect the skin, upper respiratory tract, wounds, and reproductive organs among others. Viral infections include feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline herpes, feline leukemia, and feline calicivirus. Fungal infections include sporotrichosis, ringworms, and yeast infection. Fevers caused by any of these diseases are usually accompanied by other symptoms that can help narrow down the underlying conditions.
  • Tumors: Tumors can be on the skin or internal. Although they rarely cause fevers, some of them can.
  • Medication/Toxins: Certain medications cause poisoning to cats. The signs of poisoning include fever or raised body temperatures. Medicine meant for human beings can poison cats. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, antidepressants, and methylphenidate.
  • Inflammations and Wounds: These result from accidents, attacks, or diseases. Once they are infected, they can lead to fever.
  • Unknown Origins: Some fevers are difficult to tie to any conditions. These are simply known as fevers of unknown origins or FUO.

Taking Your Cat’s Temperature Using a Thermometer

If a cat exhibits any of the above sign or symptoms, the chances are that he has a fever. The surest way to confirm this before involving a vet is to take his temperatures using a thermometer. You have the options of using digital ones or the mercury analog ones made of glass.

Vets recommend the use of rectal or ear thermometers. It should be done carefully so as not to cause discomfort that might make him lash out.

Below are the steps to follow when taking his temperatures. Note that the normal body heat results in temperatures in a range between 100.4oF and 102.5oF. Values north of 104o F indicates your feline has a fever and may need a visit to the vet. Temperatures beyond 106oF have been known to cause organ failure. Death can also occur at such elevated temperatures.

#1: Taking Temperatures Using a Rectal Thermometer

taking temperatures using a rectal thermometer

The supplies needed include:

  • A rectal thermometer
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Petroleum jelly like Vaseline
  • His treats
  • A timer (your phone’s clock app will do)
  • Someone to help in holding him

Step 1. Clean your hands and the thermometer with warm soapy water. Rinse it with the rubbing alcohol. This helps in disinfecting it thoroughly. If you are using a mercury thermometer, shake it well until it reads 960F or below. For the digital ones, press the on button or power it on as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 2. Lubricate the thermometer with the jelly. This is aimed to reduce the discomfort from the insertion. It reduces abrasions or ripping if your cat wriggles during the process.

Step 3. Place your cat on a table. Make sure his paws are firmly on the table. This will ensure you don’t get scratched if he lashes out. Let your helper grab the skin of the cat’s shoulder blades just below the neck. The area is known as the scruff. Such a hold is known to calm cats. The front legs should be held firmly also.

Step 4. Lift his tail and insert the thermometer gently into his rectum. Be careful to insert only one inch. The digital ones are usually clearly marked on the required depth, but the mercury ones are not and require a keen eye. Care should be taken to insert it at 90o angle. Any inclination or twisting will be painful to your cat and make the process an ordeal for both of you.

Step 6. Hold the thermometer in place for two minutes. This applies to the analog ones. The digital ones, on the other hand, will beep when it’s done.

Step 7. Remove the thermometer gently and read the temperature values. Clean the thermometer with warm soapy water and rinse it off with the rubbing alcohol. Do not immerse the digital thermometer in water. Reward your cat with a treat and be sure to pet him a little.

See Also: DIY Cat Treats

#2: Taking Temperatures Using an Ear Thermometer

taking temperatures using an ear thermometer

In case you consider a rectal thermometer too messy, then use an ear one. Ear thermometers are a bit costly but have the advantage of being specifically made for dogs and cats. A squirmy cat will also respond better to an ear thermometer as opposed to a rectal one.

Follow the following steps to ensure your take you his temperatures correctly:

  • Sterilize the thermometer with rubbing alcohol and clean your hands thoroughly.
  • To calm the cat, hold him close to your body. You can take the extra measure of wrapping him in a towel with only his head sticking out. This will keep him from being jumpy during the procedure.
  • Lift his ear and gently insert the thermometer. Make sure to slip it deep enough to reach the eardrum and ensure it’s horizontal. They are designed to read the brain blood pressure off the eardrum.
  • Hold it in place until it beeps. Remove it steadily and check the readings. Clean the thermometer and store it.

Alternative Ways to Tell If a Cat Has a Fever

One unique thing about your beloved cat is the ability to mask discomfort and illness. When he is dealing with an illness, your cat will tend to keep to himself and avoid contact. This may keep you oblivious to the situation and as such not avail the necessary care that he requires.

Luckily, a close relationship between you and your kitty makes you sensitive to a host of problems that may bother him. The following signs may be indications that your cat is running a fever.

#1: Excessive Sleep

kitten sleeping a lot

Cats are known to spend most of their lives sleeping. Normally, your furry friend can sleep anywhere between 16 to 20 hours a day. The normal pattern is naps occasioned by short spells of wakefulness.

A sick cat, on the other hand, will have longer naps. He will also be sluggish when waking up. Understanding his sleeping pattern will help you know when something is amiss. For example, if he is usually the one who wakes you up in the morning, if that changes, then it is possible that a fever is bothering him.

See Also: How Much Do Cats Sleep

#2: Loss of Appetite

A healthy cat will not let a chance to nibble on his favorite treats pass him by. When running a fever, however, he will be disinterested in feeding.

He will eat less as well as decrease his water intake. Dehydration will cause the skin above his shoulder blades not to snap back when pulled up gently. Failure to eat more for more than 24 hours may warrant a visit to the vet’s.

#3: Changes in Litter Box Habits

Hard feces and reduced urination may also be an indicator of having a fever. Straining while passing urine should be a sign to look out for.

You may also notice labored breathing while he is in the litter box. He may also try to relieve himself outside the box. This coupled with disorientation may be a result of him being feverish.

#4: Dry Nose and Warm Ears

Just like dogs, cats normally have a damp nose. When his temperatures are higher than normal, his nose will be noticeably dry. It will also be warm to the touch.

Warm ears will also be an indication of a fever. Touching his ears with your tongue will provide better judgment as opposed to your fingers.

Warm fur may be caused by a little sunbathing and should never be used as a determinant of fever.

#5: Reduced Activity and Lack of Energy

cat having lost its energy

For a normally active cat, the fever will diminish his energy. Such a feline will keep off his toys and be generally reclusive. Other signs to look out for would be his dislike for other pets whom he otherwise likes.

He will appear sluggish and slow in everything he does. Simple activities like walking will be tiring to him. Cats are curious creatures but when feverish, fun games like chasing toy mice will be unappealing to them.

See Also: How to Play with Your Cat

#6: Little or No Grooming

A cat normally keeps his coat well groomed. It’s normal for him to groom several times a day. Cats are a stickler for detail and will rarely miss a spot.

On the other hand, a fever leaves him weak and less interested in grooming. An unkempt coat should be a cause for worry. He may also try to groom but leave some fur sticking out at odd places.

#7: Labored Breathing and Shivering

Labored breathing

Under normal conditions, a cat has a respiratory rate of between 20-30 breaths a minute. The lower limit is when he is peacefully asleep or just relaxed on your lap. In this state, you can hear soft purrs emanating from his body.

If his breathing is higher than the upper end, then he could be running a fever. The same can be accompanied by the heaving of stomach muscles which would indicate labored breathing. You might as well notice irritated eyes and shivering.

#8: Increased Heart Rate

A heart rate between 140 and 220 bpm is normal for your furry friend. Rates higher than this can also be an indication of fever.

The same can be measured by feeling his pulse rate. By placing your hand behind his front left leg, you can count off his pulse rate using a stopwatch.

#9: Restlessness and Withdrawal

cat hiding under the basket

When running a fever, your cat will be restless and avoid activities like petting. He will also hide in places he normally avoids and acts anxiously when you try to reach him.

A cat who loves your company may start hiding under the couch or in dark places where he is unreachable.

See Also: How to Get a Cat Out of Hiding

How to Help Your Cat Cool Down

cooling down a cat

A cat with a fever above 105oF should be taken to the vet right away. On the other hand, a fever of between 103 and 104.5oF can be managed at home.

This should only be done as a temporary measure and under observation for about 24 hours. If the fever becomes persistent after this period then take him to vet. This could be caused by an underlying ailment that he can’t fight off without medication.

Below are some ways to cool down your cat at home.

Step #1: Wipe Him Down

Use a moist cloth to wet his coat. As the water evaporates from his body, it has a cooling effect. Use the same cloth to rub his armpits and the groin area. The same effect can be achieved by spraying the coat using a water bottle. Dry off any wet patches after a while.

Care should be taken not to dip him in water. This would lead to insulation, or worse, cause shock, worsening the situation. You can also use warm water to sponge his gums as a way of bringing down his temperatures.

Step #2: Rehydrate Him

giving water to a cat with the help of syringe

A feverish cat will usually be dehydrated. You can remedy the situation by putting plenty fresh water within reach. Being sick, he might not be able to drink without assistance. In such a situation, use a disposable syringe without the needle to help him take water.

This should lower his fever considerably especially if he has been vomiting and/or having diarrhea as well.

See Also: How to Syringe Feed a Cat

In instances where he refuses to swallow the water then place ice cubes within his reach. Cats won’t give up the chance to lick on something. The cubes will not only replenish his fluids but also cool his body. A well-prepared chicken broth would also help to recharge fluids.

Step #3: Keep Him Nourished

A fever consumes a lot of energy and will generally leave a cat weak. Provide your cat with his preferred meal be it wet or dry food. This will help him recharge his body. In instances where he is too weak to eat, consider other alternatives. Liquid supplements that are high in calories can do the trick.

Milk replacers are also readily available at local pet stores. These are good replacements for food at least until your cat regains his strength.

When he starts getting back to his usual self, give him some feline vitamin B and other energy additives. This can be done gradually as his food intake increases.

Step #4: Medications

giving medicine to a cat

There are some antimicrobial herbal medicines that are said to reduce fevers in cats. You can give him such, like Sage and Echinacea, but their suitability and dosage should be advised by a vet.

Wrap Up

white cat having fever

Fever is different from a raised temperature. While the latter may come from exposure to heat or muscle activity, the former is the body’s way of protecting itself from infections. A non-feverish raised body temperature goes down when the cause has been taken out of the equation, but fever may remain constant especially if nothing is done about it.

Fever is not a condition on its own but a sign of an underlying issue. The issues may include Infections, tumors, toxin/medications, inflammations, and unknown origins.

Body temperatures of 103oF and above in normal conditions can indicate fever. Using a thermometer is the surest way to confirm a fever, but with close supervision of your feline, there are other tell-tale signs that can point you in the right direction.

When the temperature is between 103oF-104.5oF, the fever can be managed at home under observation for about 24 hours. Cats running fevers of 105oF and above should be taken to the vet right away. Such fevers will most likely be accompanied by other signs and symptoms which when relayed to the vet will help him/her make a diagnosis.

Did you find this information helpful? Would you feel more at ease handling a feverish cat now? Share your experience concerning cat fever or any other feedback with us below. You may also be interested in learning more about how much Benadryl can I give my cat, just in case the cause of the fever is an allergic reaction.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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