Sweat is a hot topic this time of year, and the answer might surprise you.
Bright blue skies. Fluffy white clouds. Warm yellow sunshine. And … damp, drooling dog tongues? That's right. For dog owners, it's difficult to imagine a picturesque summer day without the peeping pink tongues of their canine companions lolling onto the scene. Most dog owners are accustomed to their pup's panting on a hot day, but is that really all it takes to keep cool, even underneath all that fluff and fur? What about perspiration—do dogs sweat?
You may be surprised to learn that, yes, dogs do in fact sweat—just not in the same way humans do.
Like humans, dogs have sweat glands, but the similarities stop there. For starters, dogs have much fewer sweat glands than humans, and the sweat glands they do have function differently. Dogs sweat through their paws.
"Their merocrine sweat glands, which are located mostly on the bottom of their paw pads, are similar to human eccrine sweat glands," says Kim Haddad, DVM, medical director at the VCA San Carlos Animal Hospital. "Humans have millions of eccrine glands which release liquid composed of mostly water and sodium chloride that, upon evaporation, help cool our body on a hot day or when exercising. This does not occur in dogs."
Turns out, stinky armpits and sweaty brows are uniquely human maladies. You likely will not even realize your dog is sweating, though it's possible she will leave a trail of wet paw prints on hot walks. Dogs can also sweat due to stress and anxiety, which will be evident through moist paw pads, Haddad says. Reducing her stress should resolve the situation, but if paw pads are also red or otherwise irritated, this may be an infection or another condition that needs to be evaluated by your pup's veterinarian.
RELATED: This Is Why Your Dog Is Always Licking His Paws
We've already established that dogs pant on hot days, and though dogs do sweat and have sweat glands as well, sweating is a separate function from panting. Panting actually plays a far more important role in regulating your dog's temperature.
"Sweating is not the main way dogs thermoregulate; they primarily regulate their body temperature by panting," Haddad says. "The moisture on their tongues helps to cool them down. They also are cooled by vasodilation, when blood vessels dilate and bring hot blood directly to the surface of the skin, allowing it to cool before returning back to the heart."
Though your pup is sure to demonstrate her panting prowess, it's ultimately up to you to ensure she stays safe in warm weather conditions. Haddad says overheating and heat exhaustion are deadly threats and can cause your dog's vital organs to shut down. Heatstroke can occur when a dog's body temperature surpasses 103 degrees. Overheated dogs may display the following symptoms:
- Excessive panting
- Abnormally red gums
- Thick saliva
- Increased heart rate
- Pink or red skin on ears, head, and belly
- Feeling warm to the touch
Overweight dogs and dogs with pre-existing conditions, such as lung and heart disease, are at increased risk for overheating. Brachycephalic breeds are also more likely to overheat due to their short noses that can cause difficulty breathing. Some of these breeds include:
- English bulldogs
- French bulldogs
- Shih tzus
- Boston terriers
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels
- Japanese chin
Your thick-coated dog may seem like a cause for concern under all that fluff, but dog fur acts as insulation from both cold and heat. Shaving your dog is not a solution and actually may cause more harm than good, according to the ASPCA. Instead, pay careful attention to the weather and consider how hot is too hot for what your pet can tolerate.
"Be aware of the conditions before exercise," Haddad says. "Take the temperature and humidity into consideration, and if you are hot and uncomfortable, you should assume your dog is as well and avoid excessive activity until the temperature cools down. Try to avoid exercising in temperatures above 75–80 degrees Fahrenheit."
Dogs left in the heat should be provided with adequate water, shelter, and shade, and any outdoor activities should be interrupted intermittently for water breaks. And of course, never leave your poor pup in a hot car as it can quickly become deadly.
Overheated dogs or dogs suspected of heatstroke should be attended to immediately. "If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, wet your dog with cool water, especially on the bottom of the feet and belly, and head to the nearest veterinary hospital," Haddad says.
You and your dog can soak up the summer sun safely with these considerations in mind—but only one of you will be soaked in sweat. For the other: sun's out, tongue's out!