How Do Cats Cool Themselves Off?

Here’s a hint: It’s not by sweating through their paws.
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When temperatures rise, humans sweat, dogs pant, and cats ... don’t move enough to overheat? Well, partially. Cats, who need to maintain an internal body temperature of 101°F to 102°F, have several methods for keeping cool in sweltering weather—only one of which involves knowing better than to over-exert themselves on hot days.

Conduction allows cats to cool themselves off or warm themselves up via contact with objects of a different temperature. This is why you can often find your cat seeking out cool kitchen or bathroom tiles on a hot day. But this works for a dog or a person, too. What about when that’s just not enough?

It’s a misconception that cats sweat through their paws to cool themselves off. As summer wears on you might see moist paw prints, but as veterinarian Kimberly May told The Washington Post, “any secretions there or from their nose, mouth, or tongue are not for sweating; they’re for protection and moisture and are insufficient to cool the blood.”

Instead, cats recreate the sweating process—which works to cool humans via evaporation—by grooming themselves regularly. The saliva from their tongues acts like sweat that cools their body when it evaporates—which is why you can also help cool your cat down by using a damp washcloth to lightly wet their fur. In extreme weather, cats will also pant, but unlike dogs who pant regularly to keep themselves cool, a panting cat is a sign of more dangerous over-heating or other serious disease.

And if you’re tempted to shave your feline friend to help keep him cool—don’t!

“Fur acts as a thermal regulator to slow down the process of heat absorption,” James H. Jones, an expert in comparative animal exercise physiology and thermoregulation at the University of California at Davis, told The Washington Post.

Fur coats are highly evolved—in the winter they keep animals warm, but in the summer, they work both to protect delicate skin from the sun and slow dehydration (Jones notes that, according to research, shaved camels fared worse in the deserts than those with their fur intact).

But even with these methods for keeping cool, cats also rely on the perks of domesticity to stay comfortable. So even though they evolved from wild ancestors and are able to tough it out, leave the A/C (or a fan) on for your cats when you go out, and make sure to leave them plenty of water.

A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.