Should You Use a Human Thermometer to Check Your Cat’s Temperature?


Monitoring a cat’s body temperature is an important part of caring for their health. A healthy cat’s temperature usually ranges between 100-102.5°F. Knowing what your cat’s normal temperature is can help you identify when they may be coming down with an illness. Significant changes in body temperature outside of the normal range can indicate issues like infection, inflammation, fever, or hypothermia.

Pet thermometers designed specifically for cats provide the most accurate readings. However, many cat owners wonder if they can use a regular digital thermometer designed for humans to check their cat’s temperature in a pinch. Using a human thermometer on a cat comes with some caveats in terms of accuracy and technique.

Normal Cat Temperature Range

The normal body temperature for cats ranges between 100.5°F and 102.5°F (38.1°C and 39.2°C) (VCA Animal Hospitals). This is slightly warmer than the normal human body temperature, which is typically around 98.6°F (37°C). Cats have a higher normal temperature since their average resting metabolic rate is also higher than humans.

In Fahrenheit, the typical normal temperature range for healthy cats is 100.5°F to 102.5°F. Temperatures above or below this range could indicate a medical issue that requires veterinary attention. It’s important for cat owners to be familiar with their cat’s normal temperature range so they can monitor for any concerning fluctuations.

Types of Thermometers

There are several types of thermometers that can be used to take a cat’s temperature:

Rectal Thermometers – Considered the most accurate method. This involves gently inserting a lubricated thermometer into the cat’s rectum. Rectal thermometers are designed to be flexible and have a blunt, rounded tip to prevent injury. According to VCAAnimal Hospitals, rectal thermometers provide the most precise temperature reading.

Oral Thermometers – Place the thermometer under the cat’s tongue and leave it there with their mouth closed for the required time. Oral readings may be affected by drinking cold or hot liquids. According to Pet Pro Supply Co, oral thermometers are less reliable for cats.

Ear Thermometers – Ear or tympanic thermometers quickly measure the infrared heat radiation from the eardrum. However, ear canal anatomy can affect accuracy. Ear thermometers may not be suitable for kittens under 6 weeks old.

Non-contact Infrared Thermometers – These devices measure surface temperature from a distance. They can be used to take a rough temperature reading from the cat’s abdomen or inner ear, but are generally less accurate than other methods.

Accuracy of Human vs Pet Thermometers

It is possible to take a cat’s temperature using a human thermometer, but veterinary thermometers designed specifically for pets tend to be more accurate and safer to use (source 1). This is because pet thermometers have a narrower, more tapered tip and tend to be more durable. The thin, elongated tips of veterinary thermometers can more easily and safely be inserted rectally in cats. Human thermometers have wider, blunter tips that may cause discomfort or even injury if inserted rectally into a cat.

Veterinary thermometers also tend to have a wider and more accurate temperature reading range compared to human thermometers. Most human thermometers only read up to about 108°F (42°C), while feline body temperatures in cats can range from 100-102.5°F (37.8-39.2°C). Going beyond a thermometer’s measurement range could result in inaccurate readings (source 2).

Additionally, many veterinary thermometers are designed to take faster and more stable readings, since animals can be more prone to movement during the process. They may also come with helpful features like different color lights to indicate normal vs abnormal temperatures.

For safety, comfort and the most accurate reading, a thermometer designed specifically for pet use is recommended over a human thermometer when taking a cat’s temperature rectally.

How to Take a Cat’s Temperature

Taking a cat’s temperature properly requires some preparation and technique. Here are step-by-step instructions for taking your cat’s temperature at home:

  1. Choose a digital rectal thermometer designed for pets. Rectal thermometers designed for human use may not provide an accurate reading for cats. Select a thermometer made specifically for pets.[1]
  2. Lubricate the thermometer tip with a water-soluble lubricant like KY jelly or Vaseline. This allows for smoother, gentler insertion.[1]
  3. Position your cat on a stable surface like a table. Place one hand on your cat’s hips to hold it gently but firmly in place.
  4. Carefully lift the cat’s tail and locate the anus. Gently insert the thermometer about 1 inch into the rectum.
  5. Hold the thermometer in place until you hear the beep, about 10-30 seconds. This indicates the reading is complete.
  6. Carefully remove the thermometer and check the digital reading.
  7. Clean the thermometer thoroughly with rubbing alcohol to disinfect it before storage.

Taking your cat’s temperature regularly can help establish their normal temperature range. Always handle cats gently, reward cooperation with treats, and contact your vet if you have any concerns.

Interpreting the Temperature Reading

To determine if your cat’s temperature is normal, compare it to the normal range for cats of 99°F to 102.5°F (37.2°C to 39.2°C) [1]. Keep in mind that temperature can vary slightly throughout the day.

If your cat’s temperature is below 99°F, it may indicate hypothermia or that your cat is too cold. Low body temperature can make cats weak, depressed, and uncoordinated. It’s important to warm your cat gradually if their temperature is below normal [1].

A temperature above 102.5°F usually indicates a fever. Fevers occur when a cat’s body is fighting an infection or dealing with inflammation. It’s generally recommended to contact your veterinarian if your cat’s temperature is 103°F or higher, as fevers above 104°F can be dangerous [2].

While a slight temperature increase up to 102.5°F may not require immediate action, you should monitor your cat closely for any other signs of illness. Contact your vet if the elevated temperature persists or your cat seems lethargic, is eating less, or displays other concerning symptoms.

When to Contact the Vet

Cat owners should contact their veterinarian right away if their cat’s temperature is below 99°F or above 103°F. These temperatures indicate that something is wrong and the cat likely has an illness or infection that requires medical attention.

A temperature of less than 99°F is considered hypothermic and may be caused by exposure to extreme cold, shock, or a metabolic condition. Immediate veterinary care is crucial for a cat with a low body temperature.

A high fever over 103°F puts cats at risk of brain and organ damage. Fevers this high usually signal a serious underlying condition like an infection, inflammation, cancer, or immune system disorder. Prompt veterinary treatment is needed to diagnose and address the cause of the fever.

In addition to abnormal temperatures, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, trouble breathing, and other concerning symptoms combined with a fever warrant an urgent vet visit. Don’t wait – contact your vet right away if your cat has any of these signs along with an abnormal temperature.

Some key takeaways are to call the vet if your cat’s temperature is below 99°F or above 103°F, or if any worrying symptoms accompany an abnormal temperature reading. Monitoring your cat’s temperature and getting veterinary assistance for dangerous high or low temperatures can protect your cat’s health.

Causes of Temperature Changes

A cat’s normal body temperature ranges between 100.5°F and 102.5°F. Fluctuations outside of this range can indicate an underlying issue.

Some common causes of abnormal body temperatures in cats include:

  • Infection – Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections can all cause a fever in cats as the immune system works to fight off the infection. Upper respiratory infections, skin infections, and urinary tract infections are some examples.
  • Inflammation – Conditions like pancreatitis, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease can trigger inflammation that leads to an elevated body temperature.
  • Cancer – Certain types of cancer, especially lymphoma, can cause fevers in cats.
  • Medications – Reactions to medications like vaccines and antibiotics may temporarily raise a cat’s body temperature.
  • Stress – Stress, anxiety, and fear can all cause a slight uptick in body temperature in cats.
  • Heat stroke – Overheating and heat stroke from high environmental temperatures or excessive exercise can dramatically raise a cat’s body temperature to dangerous levels.
  • Hypothermia – Exposure to extreme cold, wet conditions, or certain medical conditions like low blood sugar can cause a cat’s temperature to drop to dangerously low levels.

It’s important to monitor body temperature fluctuations in cats and notify a veterinarian of any significant or persistent changes, as they can signify disease.

Caring for a Cat with a Fever

If your cat has a fever, there are some steps you can take at home to help bring their temperature back down to normal:

  • Make sure your cat is drinking enough fluids. Dehydration can make fevers worse. Offer your cat extra water, or try giving unflavored pedialyte.
  • Apply a cool, wet cloth to your cat’s paws, ears and head. This can help dissipate heat.
  • Make sure your cat has access to cooler rooms and flooring. Hardwood or tile floors pull heat away from their body.
  • Don’t bundle or swaddle your cat. This prevents them from losing excess body heat.
  • Give your cat easy access to food. Sick cats can lose their appetite, and need calories.
  • Monitor your cat closely. Look for changes like shivering, breathing issues, or worsening symptoms.
  • Avoid using human fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These can be toxic for cats.
  • Take your cat’s temperature at least twice daily. Call your vet if it climbs over 104°F or persists for over 3 days. (Source)

With supportive care at home and your vet’s guidance, your feverish cat should recover quickly. Call your vet right away if symptoms seem severe or your cat’s condition declines.


Monitoring your cat’s temperature is an important way to check their health and wellbeing. A normal temperature for a cat ranges between 100-102.5°F. Small fluctuations in temperature throughout the day are normal, but significant or prolonged changes could indicate an underlying issue.

While human thermometers can be used to take a cat’s temperature, a pet-specific thermometer is more accurate and less stressful for your cat. To take your cat’s temperature, gently insert the lubricated thermometer tip about 1 inch into their rectum and wait for the reading.

Temperatures 103°F or above could signify a fever, which warrants a call to your veterinarian. Fevers are the body’s natural response to inflammation or infection. Monitor your sick cat closely, encourage fluids and rest, and follow your vet’s guidance on medication or care. Even after a fever breaks, continue watching for any relapse.

By routinely taking your cat’s temperature and watching for any spikes, you can stay informed about their health and quickly address any issues. Consult your vet if you have any concerns about changes in your cat’s wellbeing.

Scroll to Top