Do cats sweat? Sweating sounds like an unlikely bodily function for a feline — after all, the popular image of cats is all about their fluffy, furball appeal, not a creature excreting buckets of sweat — but cats do indeed sweat. Although it’s not quite in the way you might expect …
When cats sweat, they don’t do so through their armpits — or, well, the bits that join the front and back legs to the body — but through their paws. Unlike us humans, who rely on eccrine sweat glands all over our bodies to let us literally sweat it out, it’s a cat’s paw pads that contain their vital sweat glands. So, cats sweat through their paws.
During exceptionally hot weather, you might notice your cat leaving a small trail of tiny wet paw prints as she leisurely sashays around. This is cat sweating in full flow. And while cat sweating usually occurs when the temperature rises, it can also happen as a bodily reaction to times of high anxiety or great stress. This is why when your cat visits the vet and becomes nervous or scared, she may leave small wet patches on the examining table. Those aren’t patches of pee — they’re droplets of sweat.
Dr. Jason Nicholas, the Chief Medical Officer of Preventive Vet, also mentions another function of cats sweating through their paws: “There are some theories that the paw sweat can act as a vehicle for carrying and depositing pheromones, species-specific chemical signals that can help cats communicate with one another.”
Cat sweating carries out the same function as when us humans and dogs sweat — to help regulate body temperature during hot times. But because cats sweat through their paws, and because those paws don’t make up much of a percentage of the cat’s overall body area, our feline friends have been required to supplement their paw sweats with other tactics to battle the heat.
This is why cats will often seek out shadowy nooks and shady spots during blistering-hot weather. It’s an instinct that comes from learning to combat the heat the best way they can. While we love to joke about feline kind’s inherent lazy streak — what with them being quite content to nap for 18 hours a day — staying still while in a shaded spot or against a cool tile floor actually means they’re not expending energy which would contribute to raising their overall body temperature. Smart tactic.
As Dr. Jason Nicholas explains, “Panting in cats, in general, can always be a concerning sign, as panting in cats is often a sign of fear, anxiety or pain.” He adds that cat panting can also be an indicator of a lung, respiratory or metabolic problem “that is causing them to need to blow off more carbon dioxide to help with their overall acid-base balance.”
If you notice your cat panting during hot weather, there’s a chance she might be overheating. In that case, Dr. Nicholas recommends taking steps to help her cool down — like moving her to a shady spot, pointing a fan in her direction and ensuring that she drinks water. If the panting continues, he recommends bringing your cat to a vet to get her properly checked out, including investigating whether “the panting is related to fear, anxiety, pain or an acid-base problem.”
Instead of panting, cats favor a far more refined supplementary tactic to cool themselves down. Along with sweating through their paws, you might notice your cat appearing to groom herself more frequently during the humid months. Nope, she’s not being vain: She does this because as the saliva evaporates, it wicks away some of her bodily heat. Another savvy heat management tactic.
So, not only are cats one of the world’s most magnificent creatures, they also sweat in a quirky fashion. Although none of this explains why some felines do that weird thing of liking to lick human sweat off of you during the sticky summer months … (See video above — ew!).
Thumbnail: Photography ©arkady2013 | iStock / Getty Images Plus.