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How To Take Your Pet's Temperature

Updated on January 1, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock, and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.


It's A Tough Job, But Someone's Got To Do It!

Sometimes, just as it is with our children, when our pets seem "out of sorts," we wonder if we should call the veterinarian. We don't want to appear to be alarmists but, by the same token, we want our companion animals to get the medical attention they need.

With that in mind, one wonders; where did "by the same token" come from? And what does it mean? I suppose you could substitute, "in any event" or "as they say in Altoona." But I digress.

In any event, as they say in Altoona, "When you call the vet, they'll ask you some questions," such as: is the pet eating normally, does (s)he seem listless, showing any signs of pain, any swelling, any discharge, does (s)he have a fever?

OWNER: "Fever? Ah, gee, Doc, I don't know; want me to go feel his forehead or something?"

VETERINARIAN: "Well, actually, that won't tell us anything. You really need to take his temperature."

OWNER: “Yeah, but what if he chomps down on the thermometer, won’t the mercury give him the trots or something?”

VETERINARIAN: “Ah, you might want to try the other end.”

OWNER: “Nooooooooo!

It really isn't as bad as it may seem. I'll bet you'd probably have a little better luck with a dog over a cat, though.

I dreaded the thought of ever having to take my own cat’s temperature. I think I'd have to cold-konk her with a two by four first.

In most cases, it would probably take two people to get the job done with a cat.

It’s not a bad idea to use two people, anyway, so one can pet, comfort and distract the pet.

Obviously, you can't use an oral thermometer. Try keeping that under a feline or canine tongue for two minutes without them chewing it in half.

So you know what that means. It means you should get a veterinary thermometer.

They're about 5 or 6 bucks at feed and grain stores or pet supply stores.

What's the main difference between a veterinary thermometer and a regular rectal thermometer?


A veterinary thermometer has a loop at the end opposite the bulb.

You tie one end of a 12-inch string to that loop and wrap the other end around your finger.

Why you do this will be eminently clear to you should the animal take offense when you insert the instrument.

When you introduce the thermometer, the "how-do-you-do" may cause the animal to bolt. Running with the thermometer in place could cause it to break, resulting in a laceration or puncture wound.

Alternatively, the animal could run a short distance, stop, and try to dislodge the thermometer on its own. Without opposable thumbs, the animal would have to accomplish this with its mouth.

And that could break the thermometer or (brace yourself) force it all the way in. Now aren't you glad you tied a string to that little loop?

The instrument was designed primarily for livestock; animals that aren’t as comfortable around people, as pets are, to begin with. But, it’s not a bad idea for pets, either.

There are digital veterinary thermometers on the market as well. The advantage there is that they don’t require as much time to register a reading.

On occasion the insertion may cause the pet to try to expel the instrument via muscular contractions…to “poop it out” as it were. Because that action could leave you holding a handful of poop, you may want to don rubber gloves.

Lubricate the “business end” of the thermometer, lift the pet’s tail, and if it’s a particularly furry animal, confirm the location of the anus (you don’t want to go blindly jabbing the area with the thermometer) before attempting to insert. Aren’t you glad you donned those rubber gloves?

Once the thermometer is in place, you must contain the animal for two minutes. Dogs may just stand there quietly, or it may take two of you to hold him still. For cats, you'll probably have to call in the cavalry. Not really. More often than not, the animals don’t even react, similar to when they get an injection. But, you can’t count on that.


With a cat, if you pinch the skin on the back of the neck (a technique knows as scruffing), you'll activate its carry-reflex which should render it somewhere between subdued and immobilized. The technique is used by mother cats when they're carrying their kittens to a newly relocated nest (keeping one step ahead of the predators), and it's used by tom's to immobilize the queen and enable them to accomplish mating.

But, most of the time, taking your dog’s or cat’s temperature is an uneventful event. Most of the time.


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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I'm telling your dogs you said that, Doc; now you're in trouble! :) Maybe it depends on the breed. I was picturing a Golden, who would probably say, "I think we should get a second reading just to be sure."

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Easier? Usually. Willing to help? Never!!! (I don't think they would help with that nasty job even if they did have opposable thumbs)

    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi DrMark, thanks for the input. I've wondered about those ear thermometers. I had had some negative feedback about them. I guess the digital ones are the cat's meow, though. Thanks for commenting and sharing. Regards, Bob

      Glad you appreciate the humor and that cat's picture, Patty. I wrote the hub in about 20 minutes, but it took me just over an hour to find that cat's picture...which does say a thousand very interesting words, doesn't it?

      I'll bet your vet appreciates the homework you do. When you do have to bring them in, you're in a position to provide valuable information that saves time, effort and money. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

      C'mon Marketing Merit, where's your adventurous spirit? :) Actually, I don't blame you. I'll bet there aren't many cats that wouldn't put up a fight. Dogs would be a breeze...they'd even hold the thermometer in place for you if they had opposable thumbs.

      Thanks for visiting us here in the colonies. We appreciate your comments and votes. Regards, Bob

    • Marketing Merit profile image

      C L Grant 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      No, no, no!!!!

      Sorry, call me a baby, but I just couldn't do this to any of my cats!

      If they're ill, they go to the vets and I let them undertake all the nasty jobs!

      It's bad enough risking losing my fingers every month when it's time for their worming tablets. I won't be going anywhere near the other end as well!!

      Informative hub nonetheless...voted up! ;)

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest

      Just when I thought your hubs couldn't get any more witty and informative...then you give us this one! And that cat's face couldn't be any more perfect for the subject matter!! Love it!

      I do try to do a lot of home exams before heading to the vet...with almost a dozen critters I just can't afford a doctor every time one of them looks at me funny but have yet to tackle the rectal region. Maybe now I'll try it!

      As always, I've got this bookmarked for future reference...or for when I simply need a good laugh!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Important info! I tried the ear thermometer back in the 90s but the results were never as good as the reliable old rectal! Like you said, easier than holding it under the tongue. The digital thermometer is more expensive but well worth it, if for nothing else just to hear that "beep" when it is finished.

      I´ll share this info. Great job.


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