Cats are descendants of the African Wildcat and, as such, love lounging around in the sun. Though they are covered in fur, they will often find warm places to nap, even if it’s already hot outside. Sweating is essential for the survival of every mammal. But the question is, how do cats sweat?
Sweating through the hairless areas of their body such as the paws, lips, chin, and the area around the anus helps to cool off cats. The paws contain some of the most vital sweat glands for cooling, so some owners may spot wet paw prints from time to time. To remain cool, cats will lick their fur so that evaporation can take place. Due to sparse fur, the ears are also a vital part of a cat’s cooling system.
You might not have seen a cat sweat before, but cats have sweat glands around the body to regulate their temperature. This complex cooling system is effective at keeping a cat comfortable while simultaneously preventing it from overheating.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Do Cats Have Sweat Glands?
- 2 The Different Ways Cats Sweat
- 3 How Do Cats Cool Down?
- 4 Do Cats Sweat When Sick?
- 5 Do Cats Sweat When Stressed?
- 6 Does Cat Sweat Smell?
Do Cats Have Sweat Glands?
It’s unlikely that a cat owner will see a pet sweat unless specifically looking out for it. This is mainly because cats only have sweat glands on the hairless areas of their body (the paws, lips, chin, and the skin surrounding the anus).
When a cat’s body temperature is too high, the body will send signals to the brain. In turn, the brain will send messages to the glands to begin the sweating process to stop a cat from overheating.
The Different Ways Cats Sweat
While a cat’s sweat system isn’t as comprehensive as a human’s, it is effective. Cats are homeotherms, which means they can maintain a relatively constant body temperature of 101° F to 102° F. But cats sometimes need to get creative to keep themselves cool.
Sweating Through Their Skin
Cats have a small number of sweat glands throughout their body, but they are mostly covered by fur. This minimizes their effect, leading cats to rely on other methods of cooling. Cats also have far fewer sweat glands than humans, so you will rarely see them covered in sweat when it’s hot.
Sweating Through Their Paws
You might notice your cat leaving a trail of paw prints across a paved or tiled surface during a period of hot weather. This is sweating in action. A cat’s paw pads contain vital sweat glands that are important for maintaining a healthy body temperature.
Aside from cooling the body, some theories suggest that paw sweat carries and deposits pheromones. These are chemical signals that are species-specific and help cats communicate with other felines.
However, the paws only have a small surface area, which doesn’t lead to significant cooling. Therefore, it’s so important for a cat to have other cooling mechanisms and techniques to rely on to keep its body at a safe and comfortable temperature.
Sweating Through Their Nose
A cat’s nose can sometimes appear wet because the nose has skin around the nostril opening called the rhinarium. The sweat glands on the rhinarium create moisture. The water on the nose then evaporates like sweat on skin, helping to cool the cat down.
A cat’s interior tear duct also creates drainage that can make a nose wet. Some cats might lick their nose to add another layer of moisture to evaporate to enhance the cooling process.
Sometimes, though, the reason for a cat’s wet nose is much simpler. The animal might have recently enjoyed drinking water from its bowl, getting its nose wet in the process.
A dry nose isn’t a cause for concern. If a cat has recently enjoyed a spot of sunbathing, the nose will naturally appear dry where the sun has evaporated the moisture.
How Do Cats Cool Down?
Cats only have a limited number of sweat glands – sweating isn’t enough to regulate a cat’s body temperature when it begins to overheat. Because of this, grooming can help cool the animal down. After a cat licks its fur and skin, the saliva evaporates, cooling the skin, much like how sweat evaporates from humans. This technique is used frequently by felines to remove excess heat.
While this behavior is normal, overgrooming due to dry, itchy skin or painful skin conditions isn’t. Sore skin could be the sign of an underlying health condition. Cats are intelligent animals and will find various ways to reduce their body temperature.
Cats will also find a shaded spot to rest in if they become too hot. Stretching out over a cool surface – like cold tiles or the floor of an air-conditioned room – can reduce body temperature. They will also nap during the day when it gets hot. This is why cats tuck themselves away throughout the day but come alive at night when it’s colder.
If a cat becomes too hot, it may begin to pant. Panting allows saliva to evaporate from the tongue and is another effective cooling process. Panting should only last a couple of minutes though – any longer, and your cat may be displaying symptoms of stress or extreme overheating. However, panting is more common in overheating dogs than cats.
If this happens to your pet, intervention could be required. Place your cat in a cool, dark space and provide plenty of water. Where possible, turn on the air conditioning or place a fan nearby to provide enough airflow to speed up the cooling process.
Perhaps surprisingly, fur can prevent the body from taking on too much heat when it’s warm by slowing down heat absorption. Cats – especially the long-haired kind – will shed their thick undercoats in summer. This undercoat is primarily for trapping heat in winter, so cats don’t need it in warm weather. The remaining outer fur will handle the heat.
While it might seem like a good idea to shave long-haired cats in summer, it can be counterproductive. The fur is an excellent barrier between the sun and a cat’s skin. Without it, a cat is more prone to sunburn and insect bites. Shaving could also lead to dehydration as the cat becomes hotter more quickly.
Do Cats Sweat When Sick?
Cats are stoic animals and will hide when they’re sick. But sweating can be a giveaway sign of illness. Whenever the body is experiencing a rise in temperature, the brain will send signals to the sweat glands to begin sweating.
While it’s difficult to see a cat perspiring, the fur might feel damp in extreme cases. A temperature that’s consistently over 102.8° F is a sign that something is wrong. If a cat suffers from a fever, it may display a reluctance to move, shallow breathing, lethargy, depression, or a lack of appetite.
Cats don’t only sweat due to sickness, though. Excitement or overstimulation can cause an increase in body temperature, which will trigger the sweating process. You may find that your cat keeps its mouth open or begins to pant as it tries to cool itself down.
If your cat calms down after 20 minutes or so, its body temperature is likely starting to regulate naturally. However, if your cat continues to display symptoms of overheating, it’s time to intervene.
Is My Cat Overheated?
Hypothermia, or heat stroke, as it’s more commonly known, is a serious condition where a cat’s internal organs fail due to an increase in body temperature. As described in ResearchGate, primary hypothermia occurs as a result of exposure to low environmental temperatures.
As the cat’s temperature increases, a cat will suffer from heat exhaustion and, in the worst cases, heatstroke. This is serious and will need immediate medical attention. Symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Increased or excessive panting
- Drooling, salivating
- Agitation or restlessness
- Red or pale gums
- Increased heart rate
- Distressed breathing
- Vomiting or diarrhea (which might contain blood)
- Delirium or mental confusion
- Muscle tremors
- Constipation or lack of urination
- Constant lying down
Symptoms should be taken seriously and monitored for any deterioration. If so, seek emergency advice as soon as you can.
How to Stop Your Cat from Overheating
If your cat is displaying any of the above signs, you can take measures to try and prevent the worst effects of heatstroke.
This includes giving your cat plenty of access to shaded areas inside and outdoors. When your pet is indoors, close curtains and blinds to stop the sun from getting in and heating the room. When the cat is outdoors, put up a parasol or something similar to create shade.
Always ensure your cat has plenty of fresh water to drink. Keep the water bowl away from the sun and refresh it regularly to encourage your cat to consume it.
To provide instant relief from the heat, spray a little lukewarm water onto the cat’s skin and fur. Placing a fan nearby will also help prevent overheating and will cool the cat down quickly. Never use ice cubs, though, as they can cause tummy discomfort and make the problem worse.
You can also purchase cooling mats and packs for your cat to lie in to provide instant relief from the heat. Wrapping some ice cubs or frozen packages in a towel also has the same effect. You could also try wetting a small towel and dabbing it over your cat’s fur for refreshment.
While a cat will groom itself, combing out the dead hair will always help your cat feel more comfortable. Excess fur on cats traps heat, so removing it will keep a cat cooler for longer.
Do Cats Sweat When Stressed?
Stress or extreme anxiety can cause a cat to sweat. Have you ever noticed paw prints on the veterinarian’s table during an examination? If so, this is sweat caused by a reaction to stress.
As documented in Science Direct, researchers discovered that 40% of cats had not been to a veterinarian in 2014 compared to 15% of dogs. Cat owners were more reluctant to take cats to the veterinarian due to the stress experienced by both the owner and cat during transport of the cat to and from the veterinary clinic and at the veterinary clinic.
When a cat panics or encounters a stressful situation, the body triggers a rush of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. The heart rate increases, and muscles tense to prepare cats to fight or flee. Once these bodily reactions occur, the sweat glands kick in to cool the body down, balance the body’s electrolytes and fluids, and hydrate the skin.
Cats may pant excessively, too. This is part of the cooling down process, but it can appear more troubling than it is. A cat’s body temperature will rise in stressful situations – the animal must do anything to cool itself down.
Does Cat Sweat Smell?
Cats are clean animals and spend around 50% of their time when awake grooming themselves. This is for many reasons, including cleaning injuries, removing dirt from their fur, and lubricating the coat and skin. However, one of the most significant reasons for grooming is because a cat needs to hide its scent from predators. Most predators track prey through scent.
Cats have a heightened sense of smell and can detect the scent of other animals. However, cat sweat is odorless to humans. If you’re identifying an unpleasant fragrance from your cat, another reason is likely to be the cause.
This can include skin disease or bacterial infections that create a yeasty body odor. It’s not always unpleasant, but it’s usually distinctive.
A cat’s anal glands usually cause musky or fishy odors. These little sac-like glands can become full and emit a foul smell when they need emptying. Owners can empty the glands themselves with careful instruction, or a veterinarian can do it reasonably quickly and easily instead.
Dried feces or urine can leave a nasty odor if left uncleaned. If a cat has a dodgy tummy or urinary infection and suffers from a toilet-related accident, it may not be able to clean itself effectively. Human help may be required to remove the offensive odor.
While cats don’t have a vast number of sweat glands, they are useful. It’s rare to see a cat actively overheating, and that’s because felines are derived from warmer climes. But not only that, they don’t just rely on their sweating system – they tuck themselves away in shaded areas to keep their body temperature regulated. And, being nocturnal, they’re far more active at night when it’s cool.