Pets can't speak up when they're sick; they count on their human friends to watch for signs of illness. The basic indicators of a cat's health, or vital signs, include temperature, pulse, and respiration. Checking these signs is a good place to start if you're worried that your cat isn't feeling his best.
A healthy cat should have a cool, damp nose, though a warm, dry nose doesn't always indicate fever. However, you should suspect a fever if you also notice lethargy, a poor appetite, or overall increased body warmth. To confirm a fever, you'll need to take your cat's temperature with a rectal thermometer.
This isn't the most comfortable task for either of you, so ask someone else to hold and soothe him during the process. If you don't have help, encourage your cat to lie in your lap or brace him against your body and hold him securely with your arm. Get a good hold on him though: If he sits down or struggles, he could break the thermometer and injure himself.
Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly, and gently insert it 1 to 1.5 inches into your cat's rectum. Hold onto the thermometer throughout the procedure. You'll get an accurate reading in about two minutes. Hang in there - two minutes in this position seems like forever. If you feel you can't safely take your cat's temperature, call your veterinarian.
A normal temperature is between 100.5 and 103 degrees F. Anything over 103 F indicates a fever, and you should call your veterinarian right away so he or she can investigate.
Pulse (Heart Rate)
Cats have rapid heart rates. Normal is generally between 140 and 240 beats per minute.
You can check your cat's heart rate in two ways. The first is by taking the pulse on the inside upper thigh of either rear leg where the leg joins the body.
Press gently with two fingers until you feel the pulse strongly, and count the beats for one minute. If your cat refuses to hold still that long, count for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by four. The beats should feel strong and regular. If his pulse is weak, erratic, or too fast or slow, call your veterinarian.
If you're having difficulty checking your cat's pulse at his thigh, you can find his pulse by placing your hand on the left side of his chest just behind the elbow. Count the beats for one minute.
Your cat's breathing is another basic indicator of his health. You can check his breathing by counting the number of breaths he takes per minute - just watch the movement of his chest. He should take about 20 to 40 breaths per minute. If his breathing seems slow or labored, or if he's breathing rapidly while at rest, call your veterinarian.