The Easiest Way to Assess Your Cat’s Health

This often-necessary task might seem simple, but it requires preparation and practice. Dr. Jodi Korich, a veterinarian and the director of Partners in Animal Health at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explains what you should do both now and when the moment of need arises.

Cat First-aid Kit

It helps to create mini "sub-kits" within your cat’s basic first-aid kit, with each containing items required for specific tasks. For the temperature-taking portion of the kit, you’ll need:

  • Thermometer: While you can use a standard glass thermometer, Korich believes a digital one is safer. "If you accidentally drop the thermometer, which can happen when trying to control a squirming cat, it won’t then break and shatter," she explains. "A digital thermometer is also flexible and will move with your cat."
  • Lubricant: It facilitates insertion of the thermometer. Korich suggests three choices that work equally well: mineral oil, KY Jelly and petroleum jelly.
  • Alcohol: You should have this in your kit anyway, for treating certain wounds. In this case, it will be used to clean off the thermometer.
  • Paper Towel: This is useful during cleanup.

Taking Your Cat’s Temperature

Even before your cat is ill, it’s important that you perform a few practice temperature-taking runs. These instructions assume that you are using a digital thermometer. To begin, lightly coat the tip of the thermometer with lubricant. Have all the other required items within reach.

If possible, "Try to find a friend or family member who can help out," advises Dr. Korich. One individual can then serve as the "cat holder," securing the cat with both hands between the feline’s neck and shoulders. If the cat might bite or scratch, have this second individual wear gloves and use a towel to hold the feline patient.

If you’re working alone, hold your cat against your side. Wrap an arm around the front of your cat so it cannot break free. If possible, place your cat on a raised surface, such as a table.

Lift your cat’s tail, but be gentle. If you pull too hard, you can hurt your cat, which might then bolt. Insert the thermometer into your cat’s anus. "There will be some initial resistance, due to contraction of the anal muscles," warns Korich. Hold the thermometer until it beeps, signifying that a temperature has been taken.

When finished, "It’s important that you don’t forget the treat," says Korich. This will help to ease your cat’s tension and reinforce that the temperature-taking process is rewarding and not threatening.

Korich says temperatures falling between 100.4°F to 102°F "are considered to be normal for cats." If your cat is emotionally stressed, however, its temperature could go up to around 103°F.

When to Take Your Cat’s Temperature

According to the Hale Veterinary Group of Wiltshire, England, "pyrogens," or substances that change the level at which the body temperature is maintained, cause fever. Pyrogens include "bacteria, viruses, toxins, some drugs and natural substances released by the body in response to inflammation." Cat temperatures tend to hold steady, so rises and falls strongly indicate that something is wrong.

Korich says your veterinarian might ask that you take your cat’s temperature after it has undergone a surgical procedure or has been diagnosed with an illness. "Visits to the hospital can be tremendously stressful for cats, so home monitoring under a veterinarian’s supervision can allow the cat to recover quicker," she explains.

"Cats are notoriously secretive about illness," says Korich. Temperature is one key indicator of sickness that your clever feline cannot fake or hide.