Growing up I remember always trying to get out of going to school by telling my mom that I was sick. Of course, like every other mom, my mom didn’t believe me and pulled out the thermometer. Oftentimes the “I’m sick” charade ended there, but if ever my body temperature was too hot, my mom wouldn’t put up a fight and would let me stay home.
While fevers aren’t the only symptom for sickness they do tend to suggest that something more severe or serious is happening in the body, but is it the same for cats?
The answer is yes, cats can also get fevers. Though that being said, the illnesses that cause fevers in cats tend to be less common than the illnesses that cause fevers in humans.
There are very few illnesses that can spread between cats and humans. So, if you’re worried about getting your cat sick, or worried that you got your cat sick, feel free to let out a huge sigh of relief.
So, while that is out of the way, let’s discuss everything you’re going to need to know about cat fevers, how to diagnose them, and how to remedy them.
WHAT IS A FEVER?
A fever (medically known as pyrexia) is considered a regulated form of hyperthermia (not to be confused with hypothermia). Hyperthermia is when an organism’s body temperature rises above normal.
A fever is not considered a condition, however, is considered a symptom of an organism fighting off an illness or disease. During the period in which the organism is sick, their body temperature may remain consistent until their fever breaks. This is often a sign that the organism is getting better from said illness or disease.
Fevers are a mechanism to help stimulate the immune system. Basically, they help wake up an organism’s body to let them know, “hey, we have to kill this bacteria!” Fevers also prove to be effective in slowing the spread of bacteria and viruses.
WHAT IS THE REGULAR BODY TEMPERATURE OF A CAT
While a human’s regular body temperature sits at about 37°C (or 98.6°F) a cat’s body temperature is a bit higher sitting between 38°C to 39.1°C (or 100.4°F to 102°F).
Similar to humans, a slight fever is not usually a problem and is just a sign of your cat’s body fighting an illness. Though, if your cat’s body temperature ever reaches 41.1°C (106°F) or higher it may cause damage to your cat’s organs.
That being said, if your cat ever gets near 41.1°C (106°F) you will need to rush them to the vet immediately. Anything under 41.1°C (106°F) should be monitored at home, although it would still be a good idea to let your vet know that your cat is starting to run a fever.
Give your vet a bit of information about what’s been going on in your cat’s life and they will let you know if you should bring your cat in for examination. This is especially beneficial for cats who have recently been operated on, cats who have a history of illness, and/or cats with longterm health problems.
HOW TO TAKE YOUR CAT’S TEMPERATURE
The only way to be accurate about taking your cat’s temperature is by using a thermometer. The following thermometer is the thermometer that I recommend as it is easy to clean, flexible and most importantly is waterproof. You can also use a pediatric thermometer if you have one lying around the house.
Although “no-touch” thermometers have become fairly popular, I personally find them unreliable for readings, especially when the temperature is taken through the ear.
That being said, most vets still rely on rectal thermometers since they are the most accurate to this day. Please do not use a glass thermometer as they have been known to shatter, especially around feisty animals.
1] Apply Lubricant to the Rectal Thermometer
It is extremely important that you apply lubricant onto a thermometer before you place it into your cat’s body. Lubricant will help ensure that the thermometer slips in painlessly and will ensure that your cat will not put up a fight.
An acceptable lubricant would be natural petroleum jelly. Please do not use water, spit or hand creams to lubricate the thermometer as they will either prove ineffective or will actually cause harm to your cat.
2] Restrain or Have Someone Help Restrain Your Cat
Not every cat will willingly let you put a thermometer in them unless your cat is as docile as our cat Beau.
If someone is around, have them hold your cat down onto a table while lifting the cat’s tail. Not a lot of pressure needs to be put on the cat, and the cat can be calmed down by either softly holding their nape or by stroking them gently while calmly speaking to them.
If you are alone, hold your cat’s body firmly against yours with one arm so they are flat up against your chest or leg while lifting up the tail.
3] Insert the Thermometer
Gently twist the thermometer while inserting it into your cat’s rectum. This is important as it will help your cat relax their muscles and not cease while the thermometer is being inserted.
Do not force the thermometer as this will make your cat scream and potentially will cause them to bite or scratch you.
The thermometer should sit about one inch into the rectum.
If enough lubricant is placed on the thermometer and the cat is calm enough, your cat should not hiss or fight back. That being said, it’s important that you are confident about this step as cats can easily sense discomfort or fear. The more nervous you are, the more nervous your cat is.
Again, this part of the procedure should not hurt the cat if enough lubricant is placed on the thermometer.
4] Wait Until the Thermometer Beeps
Unless you are using a glass thermometer, your digital thermometer (rectal or non-touch) should beep once your cat’s temperature has been read. Readings should take only a few seconds, however dependant on the thermometer it may take up to 2-minutes.
5] Sanitize the Thermometer & Reward Your Cat
You may also choose to wash the thermometer with soap, however, I would still recommend disinfecting the thermometer with alcohol immediately after to ensure that there are no leftover bacteria.
After you have cleaned and sanitized your thermometer make sure to reward your cat (if they are not vomiting). This will help condition your cat into understanding that procedures such as this are not negative.
CAUSES OF FELINE FEVERS
As mentioned, fevers are considered a symptom and not a self-standing illness or disease. The following are the most common reasons cats get fevers:
Injuries from Trauma(s)
Some Medications (especially post-surgery medications)
Miscellaneous Inflammatory Conditions
Unfortunately, there are also some situations where the cause of a fever is unknown. If this is the case and the fever has run for over two weeks the diagnosis is classified as a “Fever of Unknown Origin” or FUO. Cats who experience this are often monitored for organ failure and other forms of damage and/or are hospitalized until recovery.
OTHER SYMPTOMS THAT APPEAR WITH FEVERS
As I said before, fevers are not usually the only symptom that appears when an organism is sick. Fevers tend to be joined by a few behaviour changes if not other symptoms.
The reason for these changes and other symptoms are similar for the reason for the fever: to help the organism survive and beat the illness or disease they are battling.
That being said, if your cat is experiencing a fever they may also show the following symptoms:
Dehydration (caused by a lack of drinking)
Hyperventilation or Rapid Breathing
Decreased Grooming or an Unkempt Coat
Increased Heart Rate
It is very important to keep track of the symptoms above, especially when your cat is acting lethargic. Lethargy is so heavily tied with a loss of appetite and dehydration, which tend to cause cats to become too weak to fight off the illness that they have.
While cats can last quite some time without food and without water, dehydration especially is one of the leading causes of death when cats are sick. That being said, it is recommended that you take your cat to the vet if they are dehydrated to receive a dose of IV fluids.
If a vet is not available or you are confident your cat is not in a dire state you may choose to syringe feed food and/or liquids to ensure that your cat is receiving the nutrients and hydration that they need to battle the illness.
To check if your cat is dehydrated, pull the skin between their shoulder blades. If the skin returns within a second, your cat is not dehydrated. If your cat’s skin slowly returns back to normal, your cat is dehydrated. In situations like this, I strongly recommend taking your cat to the vet as IV fluids or fluid injections tend to be much more efficient than syringe feeding.
That being said, syringe feeding is not a bad way to keep your cat conditioned pre-dehydration.
MY CAT’S EARS ARE HOT, DOES THIS MEAN THEY HAVE A FEVER?
Sometimes when we pet our cats they seem much warmer than we expect them to be, especially in the summer.
I know whenever my cats sit in the sun, their ears feel like they are boiling, but whenever winter rolls around my cat’s ears are icy to the touch. This is due to the fact that cats regulate their body temperature through their ears.
Unfortunately, your cat’s ears are not a very accurate way to diagnose whether or not they have a fever. This is especially true due to the fact that a cat’s ears may fluctuate in temperature multiple times during the day.
WHEN DO I TAKE MY CAT TO THE VET?
I strongly recommend taking your cat to the vet if they have had a fever for over 24-hours (if it is a low fever). If your cat has a high fever (41.1°C/106°F) take them to the vet immediately.
As mentioned, high fevers cannot be dealt with at home and will require a round of antibiotics and perhaps a round of IV fluids. In cases of low fevers, antibiotics may be administered, however, a vet will commonly recommend hydration and rest.
Other treatments include corticosteroids, which will help reduce inflammation and/or surgery if your vet suspects a severe infection, parasite and/or tumour.
CAN I DO ANYTHING TO HELP MY CAT GET BETTER FROM HOME?
Yes and no. At the end of the day, there’s nothing that you can do to from home to help your cat get better, but there are ways to make your cat more comfortable.
Since your cat is going to be extremely hot from the fever, make sure that they have a cool, dark room to stay in. Tiles are usually recommended, though if your cat doesn’t want to stay in that room don’t force them.
I strongly recommend against using cooling pads or ice when your cat has a fever as this can shock your cat’s system and in the long run won’t help the situation.
Make sure that your house or apartment is quiet and that you let your cat get lots of sleep. Nothing is going to help more than lots of rest so your cat can get their energy back.
Lastly, always make sure your cat has enough water. Water helps rid the body of toxins and the more toxins they release the better. Again, if you notice your cat isn’t drinking, think about syringe feeding them liquids, however, if your cat reaches dehydration take them back to the vet immediately for IV fluids.
SHOULD I GIVE MY CAT TYLENOL OR ADVIL?
Absolutely not! Although there are some medications that are interchangeable between humans and cats, Tylenol and Advil are not them. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirins can be detrimental to a cat’s wellbeing and may lead to death if too much is administered. Even small amounts can cause irreparable harm.
Whether or not a medication is safe for a cat it should never be administered by a pet parent if it was not recommended by the vet. This is especially due to dosage amounts.
Dosages will depend on your cat’s weight as well as their health history. Health history not only includes previous ailments but also allergies and heart conditions.
Beau, for example, is not allowed to take specific medications because of his heart murmur. Though his heart murmur isn’t severe, there is a risk of it getting worse or his heart-stopping from particular medications.
While fevers can seem scary, their causes can commonly be treated with a round of antibiotics.
Always make sure to have a thermometer on hand as a safety precaution and make sure you contact a vet immediately if your cat’s temperature is above 39°C or 103°F. Give your vet the list of symptoms your cat has and they will let you know whether or not to bring your cat in.
If your cat is ever above 41.1°C or 106°F, rush your cat to the vet immediately as this is considered the “danger zone” where organs begin getting damaged. A vet will administer IV fluids as well as a round of antibiotics immediately in hopes of getting your cat back on their feet happy and healthy.
So I’m curious pet parents, has your cat ever had a fever before? If so, what caused it and how long did it take to go away? Let me know in the comments below!