Dr. Ed Nichols Helpful Pet Advice

for Pet Care at Home

No one knows your pet’s normal behavior like you do. If you suspect that your cat or dog is feeling a bit “off” and no other symptoms are present, you might want to know if he or she has a fever. The old farmers method of “feel his nose” is, unfortunately, not at all reliable. Dr. Nichols doubts the accuracy of ear thermometers when used at home, especially in pets! In his excellent instructions that follow, Dr. Côtés observation that cats may protest more than dogs is very astute, to say the least! We think that any rectal temperature of 104°F could possibly be an emergency!

How to Take an Animals Temperature


The body temperature of a pet can easily be taken at home and can be crucial when monitoring a sick patient. A patient's temperature may become elevated due to stress or a bacterial or viral infection.

Rectal thermometers are the most accurate thermometers available and are easily obtainable. Ear thermometers are also available for pets; they do not, however, provide as accurate results.

Getting Started

Equipment/materials needed:

  • Rectal thermometer
  • Watch
  • Vaseline, K-Y jelly, or other medical lubricant


If your pet does not allow you to take his or her temperature, do not force the procedure. Obtaining a temperature from a cat can be more difficult and may take some practice. Be sure to lubricate your thermometer for easier insertion.


  • In calm pets, this can be done with just one person, but with young, excited animals, it may be necessary to have one person distracting and/or holding the pet while another person inserts the thermometer.
  • Digital rectal thermometers are timed and will sound when an accurate temperature has been obtained.
  • Mercury thermometers can be used. Be sure not to drop the thermometer.
  • Place a small amount of lubricant on the end of the thermometer, elevate the tail, and insert the thermometer into the rectum; leave in for approximately 1 minute
  • Remove thermometer, wipe off lubricant and any feces, and record the result. Clean the thermometer probe with a disinfecting solution, and then dry.


Normal temperatures of dogs and cats are generally 101°F to 102°F (38.3°C to 38.9°C), assuming comfortable ambient/room temperature and that the body temperature was not taken immediately after strenuous exercise. Any pet with a temperature over 103°F (39.4°C) should trigger a phone call to the veterinarian to determine whether an immediate visit to the veterinary hospital is needed.

We thank Etienne Côté, DVM, for the above article first published as a client education sheet in Dr. Côtés excellent text Clinical Veterinary Advisor, 2nd Ed. 2011. We thank Elsevier Inc. for permission to reproduce this article.