Cat Temperature – taking it and conditions affecting it

As you might know, the only way to take your cat’s temperature is to use a rectal thermometer. You can use either a bulb or digital version. The digital thermometer is more convenient as it records temperatures quicker and is much less likely to break during the process. If you use a bulb thermometer it needs to be shaken down until the bulb registers 96°F (35.5°C). The instructions on how to take the temperature are below.

Taking a domestic cat's temperature
Taking a domestic cat’s temperature. Photo: PoC.
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When using a bulb thermometer, if the cat sits down abruptly it can cause half to break off. If this happens you should notify your veterinarian immediately. Do not try and retrieve the broken part.

The temperatures are listed below:

  • Fahrenheit – Adult cat = 100° – 103°F
  • Centigrade – Adult cat = 37.7° – 39.4°C
  • Neonatal Kitten = 96° – 100°F (first 3 weeks). New born kittens lose temperature easily and should be keep warm and they need to eat to maintain body temperature through metabolism. The kitten box needs to be at 85° – 90°F. Becoming chilled is real danger. Warming a chilled kitten is best done by placing next to your skin under a jacket.

How to check your cat’s temperature:

  • the cat should be standing
  • the thermometer should be lubricated with Vaseline
  • gently insert the thermometer to about 1 – 1.5 inches (25-38 mm)
  • slightly twisting it makes it easier to insert
  • hold it there for 3 minutes
  • remove it. Read it and clean it, ideally with alcohol to eliminate the possibility of the transference of diseases.
Taking a domestic cat's body temperature rectally with a digital thermometer
Taking a domestic cat’s body temperature rectally with a digital thermometer. Picture in the public domain.

Eclampsia

This is otherwise known as milk fever. It’s a muscular spasm linked with a low serum calcium level. It usually occurs several days to several weeks postpartum. It is more likely to occur in females with large litters. The symptoms are restlessness, anxiety, rapid breathing and pale mucous membranes. The cat will walk in an uncoordinated, jerky and stiff-legged way. The face has a pinched look. As it gets worse, she may fall on her side and have spasms and seizures. Her temperature is often elevated to as high as 106°F (41°C). There needs to be treatment within 12 hours otherwise she will die. It is a dire emergency. The cat should be treated as if she has heat stroke.

Heat stroke

This, too, is an emergency requiring immediate diagnosis and prompt treatment. Typical causes are being left in a car on a hot day with no ventilation. Heart or lung disease interfering with breathing, a fever, seizures or strenuous exercise are examples. The symptoms begin with rapid, frantic noisy breathing. The mucous membranes are bright red. The saliva is tenacious. The temperature of the cat may sometimes be over 106°F (41°C). Measuring the cat’s body temperature will confirm the condition. Heat stroke can lead to collapse, coma and death if it remains untreated.

Kittens

When kittens are borne their body temperature is the same as their mother’s. Afterwards the core temperature drops by several degrees. It depends on the ambient temperature. Then the kitten’s temperature climbs as they snuggle up to their mother. It will reach about 95°F-99°F (35°C-37°C). The body temperature remains between 96-100°F (35.5-37.8°C) over the next three weeks. A kitten in good health can maintain their body temperature at 10-12°F above the ambient temperature. But when the mother is not there for no more than 30 minutes and the room temperature is at 70°F, which is well below the recommended level, the kitten’s temperature will fall. The kitten may become chilled quite quickly. This is a condition which can be dangerous as it lowers their metabolism. They have little subcutaneous fat and they can’t constrict the blood vessels at the surface of the skin to keep the heat in. Chilling is a great danger to infant kittens. The temperature of the kitten inbox and surrounding areas should be at 85°F-90°F (29.4°C-32.2°C) for the first few weeks.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia means low body temperature. This can be caused by exposure to cold conditions for a long time. Being wet can exacerbate the condition. It can also be caused by shock. Signs of hypothermia are bad shivering followed by lethargy and a rectal temperature below 97°F (36°C). It can lead to collapse and coma. You will need to warm your cat up. Telephone your veterinarian and seek advice as a matter of urgency.

Geriatric cats

Measuring a geriatric cat’s rectal temperature is a good way to gauge their health. A temperature over 103°F (39.4°C) indicates an inflammation or infection. The infection is most likely to be in the lungs and/or the urinary tract in older cats.

Acute postpartum metritis

This is a bacterial infection of the lining of the uterus which spreads outward through to the birth canal during the birthing process or soon after. A mother with acute metritis is lethargic and refuses to eat and has a rectal temperature of 103°F-105°F (39.4-40.5°C). Call your veterinarian for assistance.

Prolonged high body temperature reducing sperm count

A male cat with a prolonged high body temperature will have depressed sperm production. For a tomcat recovering from a serious illness with a fever it may take several months for him to regain his normal sperm count.

Source: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin. My thanks. Buy the book please.

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