How Do Cats Cool Themselves Off?

Hannah Keyser
Hannah Keyser
Hannah Keyser / Hannah Keyser

When temperatures rise, humans sweat, dogs pant, cats...don't move enough to overheat? Well, partially. Cats, who need to maintain an internal body temperature of 101 to 102 degrees, have several methods for keeping cool in sweltering weather, just one of which involves knowing better than to over-exert themselves on hot days.

Conduction allows cats—or anything else—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 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, according to veterinarian Kimberly May, who spoke to 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. 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," says James H. Jones, an expert in comparative animal exercise physiology and thermoregulation at University of California at Davis.

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 (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 AC (or a fan) on for your cats when you go out.