Sweating is our body’s natural mechanism to vent off heat. As sweat on our skin evaporates, it cools the surface of the skin. This also allows us to feel a lot cooler afterwards. But if we look at our pets, we often wonder if they sweat, too. We know that dogs sweat only in areas of their body that are not covered in fur. However, they do pant as a means to regulate their internal body temperature. The hotter it is inside their bodies, the faster and more vigorous the panting of the dog is. But how about cats? Do they sweat? There must be some mechanism for them to regulate their body temperature.
Feline Sweat Glands
Most mammals have sweat glands in their skin. These structures produce sweat, which they secrete onto the surface of the skin through a duct. Unlike humans, however, cats and dogs only have sweat glands on their paw pads and snouts. Because of this difference in anatomy, you cannot expect animals like cats and dogs to sweat in the same manner as we do.
Cats and dogs also have sweat glands in other parts of their bodies like the circumanal area, the ears, the eyelids, and the anal sac. These sweat glands have a very specialized function in the production of pheromone-rich secretions. These can play a role in territorial markings and as a means of communicating with their fellow cats.
Importance of Sweating in Thermoregulation
There are two fundamental functions of sweat in mammals. The first is to regulate internal and superficial body temperatures by stimulating the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus. The second is the removal of metabolic wastes through the skin. It releases nitrogenous wastes and sodium salts to help keep a healthy lymphatic system.
But since we are more concerned about the role of sweating in a cat’s ability to regulate its body temperature, we’ll keep our focus on this function.
When the core body temperature of the cat reaches a certain level, receptors send signals to the feline brain, the hypothalamus in particular. It then sends electrical signals to the sweat glands to increase the production and secretion of sweat. As sweat gets secreted onto the surface of the skin, it cools down the surface temperature. This allows the organism to cool down and regulate its body heat.
One can see the problem right away. Since the cat’s sweat glands are not as numerous as human sweat glands, they may not be an efficient way to regulate the cat’s internal body temperature. Having the sweat glands located only in certain body parts doesn’t make for an efficient thermoregulatory system.
How Cats Sweat
Because felines only have sweat glands on their paw pads and snouts or noses, you can expect them to sweat only in these areas. If you have been observant of your cat, you may have already noticed it tracking moisture on your floor during hot days. The trail of wet or moist paw prints may be so subtle that you may dismiss it as a sign that your pet walked on a puddle of water in the kitchen. But this is not always the case. It is possible that the production of sweat by the sweat glands in its paws is in full swing.
It is true that when the environmental temperature gets so warm, your cat will sweat. However, this is not the only time it will sweat. One has to understand that an increase in body temperature can also occur because of other triggers. For instance, a cat that is experiencing severe stress or anxiety can also track moist paw prints on the floor. If your cat is scared or very anxious about going on a trip to the vet, you might see moist paw prints on the examination table. These are not patches of cat pee; they are droplets of feline sweat.
Other Means of Thermoregulation by Cats
Since cats only sweat through their paw pads and noses, this is insufficient in regulating their body temperature. Hence, you can expect them to display other behaviors that we can equate to thermoregulation.
We know how fastidious cats can be when it comes to grooming themselves. It seems as if not a day can ever pass without them licking their fur or grooming one another. While the principal purpose of self-grooming is to keep themselves clean and tidy, there is another more important function of licking the fur – thermoregulation.
When cats lick themselves, they are moistening their coat with saliva. Heat from their bodies gets picked up in the saliva. It is like transferring the heat into individual molecules of saliva. As this fluid evaporates, so does the heat. As such, it is a neat way for cats to cool themselves and as an adjunct to sweating in their paw pads.
You may think that only dogs pant. It would surprise most cat owners to learn that felines do pant. However, it is not as vigorous or as evident as the way dogs pant. You may not hear the characteristic noise of panting. But we are pretty sure you have already seen your cat breathing with its mouth wide open. It may not dangle its tongue out, but this is one sure sign that your kitty is panting.
Panting works by allowing hot air from the cat’s thorax to escape through its airways. Heat gets trapped in moisture. As the cat exhales, this moist air gets eliminated into the outside air. This is what cools the cat’s body.
However, given that panting is a very unusual behavior in cats, you can only observe it when the cat is under extreme stress or if the cat is already overheating. It is one of those telltale signs that your cat is already nearing heat stroke. As such, if you see your cat panting, offer it plenty of cool water to drink. Also move your cat to a cooler area.
- Shedding of the Undercoat
Feline breeds that have undercoat often shed this part of their coat as a means to cool themselves down. By removing another layer of fur, they are allowing more heat to dissipate through the skin. When they lie down on cool surfaces, the removal of the undercoat also facilitates the better transfer of heat to cool their bodies down.
If you notice your cat to be shedding its coat during the hot months, you can help it by brushing its coat. Use a deshedding brush to remove the loose fur on its skin. Brushing also helps to improve the flow of both blood and lymph in the skin. This can help improve the cat’s ability to regulate its temperature.
- Spreading Their Bodies on a Cool Surface
You may have also noticed your cat lying sprawled on your bathtub, tired floor, or any other cool surface. This is one way for felines to cool themselves down. Spreading out their bodies allows them to increase the surface area which can get in contact with the cool surface. This facilitates the faster transfer of heat from their body to the colder surface. This can help them cool down a lot faster, too.
- Swimming or Engaging in Water-Related Activities
Not all cats like water. But for those that do, then you can expect them to engage in a lot of water-related activities to help them cool down. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub with water in it, you might see your cat taking a dip. Some can also play with your sprinkler system.
The Dangers of Overheating
We have been talking about sweating as a cat’s way of managing its core body temperature. If it gets too hot inside its body, then it has to sweat it out or engage in other activities to lower down its body temperature. But why is this necessary anyway? The answer is in feline overheating.
The normal body temperature of cats ranges from about 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit to 102.5. Fever is body temperature that is higher than 102.5ºF, but should not be more than 104. If the cat’s body temperature breaches this limit, then it is in danger of heatstroke.
Heatstroke in cats is quite rare compared to dogs. However, the danger is still there that you should never dismiss the signs that can point to the possibility of overheating in your cat.
- Increased salivation or drooling
- Bright red tongue, mouth, or gums
- Wobbly gait or disorientation
Overheating can turn into heatstroke in a flash. This can shut down the cat’s nervous system and lead to your pet’s death. That’s why it is important to act fast if you see any sign that points to feline overheating. Bring your cat to a cooler area and offer plenty of cold water to drink. Wrapping it in a moist, cold blanket can also help. Bring the cat to the vet at once to initiate other life-saving measures.
Cats sweat and they do it via their paw pads. However, this is often not enough to help them lower their body temperatures. As such, they resort to other “body-cooling activities”.
- Do Cats Sweat? Everything You Need to Know About Cat Sweating – Catster
- How Do Cats Sweat? – Cat Health
- How Do Cats Sweat? – PetMD