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Fever in cats

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A fever is a body temperature above the normal range, which is 100°-102.5°F (37.9°-39.2°C) in cats.  Fever in cats is often a normal and even beneficial response to infection, because the higher temperature inhibits the growth of certain microorganisms (eg, bacteria) and improves the function of the immune system.  However, high fever above 105°-106°F (40.5°-41.1°C) for more than a day or two can lead to dehydration, loss of appetite, listlessness, and even brain damage in cats.

In fever of unknown origin (FUO), no cause, such as infection, can be found.  Cats with an FUO are generally ill for several weeks and have a fever higher than 103.5°F (39.7°C) on at least four occasions during a 2-week period.  Most cats are lethargic, lose their appetite, have increased heart and breathing rates, and are dehydrated.

Searching for the specific cause of a fever may require numerous tests.  First, you should provide your veterinarian with a thorough history, including any recent changes in your pet's routine such as recent travel, potential exposure to unknown or infected animals, or new supplements or medications that you may be giving.  Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination looking specifically for bite wounds, cuts, punctures, other signs of trauma, or tumors that might cause a fever.  Diagnostic tests usually include several blood tests, including specific tests for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, and a urinalysis.  Urine cultures are often performed to search for an underlying urinary tract infection.  Your vet may recommend additional blood tests for feline infectious peritonitis, toxoplasmosis, and thyroid function.

The diagnosis of FUO is made when no other cause for the fever can be identified.  Treatment often involves antibiotics to treat any hidden bacterial infection or to prevent bacterial infections from developing as a secondary problem. Never give a medication to reduce fever without specific instructions from your veterinarian.  Most human fever-reducing medications should not be given to cats, and both aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol(r)) are especially toxic.

Most cats respond well to basic supportive care.  Your cat should be kept warm and dry, and be fed a good diet with constant access to fresh water.  Viral infections can wax and wane before full recovery, so that a cat may seem completely well but then experience a relapse a week or two later.  

Q&A

How do I know if my cat has a fever?

Pets always feel warm to us because their normal body temperature is 100°-102.5°F (37.9°-39.2°C).  Your vet can tell you if your cat is running a fever above this range.


When is a fever serious in my cat?

Fever is often a normal and even beneficial response to infection, because the higher temperature inhibits the growth of certain microorganisms (eg, bacteria) and improves the function of the immune system.  However, high fever above 105°-106°F (40.5°-41.1°C) for more than a day or two can lead to dehydration, loss of appetite, listlessness, and even brain damage.


How is the cause of fever diagnosed in cats?

Searching for the specific cause of a fever requires a complete history and physical exam to search for injuries or obvious signs of infection, and may require numerous blood and urine tests.  


What is “fever of unknown origin” and how is it treated in cats?

The diagnosis of FUO is made when no other cause for the fever can be identified.  Most cats with FUO respond well to basic supportive care and antibiotics to treat hidden bacterial infections.  Never give a medication to reduce fever without specific instructions from your veterinarian.  

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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