Even though I am a lifelong and completely committed dog lover, the more I research, read, and write about dogs, the more wonderful creatures they become in my eyes. No matter how obscure or inane the topic, each is an opportunity to learn more about the secret world of dogs. Whether we are basking in or hiding from the sun in the heat of the summer, it is natural to find sweat beading upon our skin. It is also natural also to ask, with a dog by our side, “Do dogs sweat?”
The answer is yes and no. A dog’s body — though it has a head, chest, trunk, and limbs — may seem analogous to our own, but its functions could not be more different. When it is hot outside, or if we’re particularly nervous, humans sweat as a means to mitigate the heat or stress. Dogs also have physical mechanisms that perform these tasks, but they express themselves in areas that we might not immediately think of. Let’s delve into dog physiology and discover how dogs keep cool and manage stress.
This is a great place to start, because the answer is simpler. Yes, dogs do have sweat glands, also known as eccrine glands, and they do produce sweat in the same way that humans do. The human body is covered in pores and sweat glands. In dogs, sweat glands are found only on the largely hairless area of the nose and on the tough, but pliable, pads that line the bottom of a dog’s feet.
Though sweating can be inconvenient or embarrassing for humans, it serves an important purpose. In excessive or extreme heat, sweat beads on the surface of human skin, providing a layer of liquid relief as it does so, and cooling the body as it evaporates. The sweat glands on a dog’s nose and paw pads perform the same tasks.
Since the sweat glands on a dog’s nose and paw pads constitute only a fraction of the total body area, how are temperature control and stress relief achieved for the rest? As far as temperature control goes, the answer is in part the coat; for the rest, it’s panting. The coat, you say? While we may immediately associate a dog’s fur-covered body with our own heavy winter clothes, a dog’s coat is more like the insulation in our homes than winter gear.
A dog’s coat does trap warmth in cooler weather, but it also provides insulation for the skin against heat. However, the hotter it gets, the less able the coat is to maintain a constant skin and internal body temperature. That is where panting comes into play. Dog panting is like air conditioning — the more intense it is, the more relief it provides. A panting dog expels excess heat as moisture evaporates both from the surface of the tongue, as it hangs out of a dog’s mouth, and from the surface of a dog’s lungs.
Like human sweating, dog panting is also a physical manifestation and expression of stress. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can be its own stressor, but what if your dog is panting when it’s cool outside, or without physical exertion? Unfamiliar situations, like introduction to a new home or traveling in a car, are typical dog stressors, and excessive panting in dogs is one way they cope. Has your dog been rooting around in the garbage or in the garden? Excessive panting in dogs may also signal an allergic reaction or a case of poisoning.
Sweating and panting are insufficient for all a dog’s cooling needs, so how can you help your puppy pals maintain a consistent body temperature? The first thing is to make sure that they have ready and easy access at all times to fresh drinking water. In multi-dog households, it is especially important to keep water bowls full and accessible to every dog. For dogs who spend most of their time outdoors, a kiddie pool with a thin layer of water can provide welcome relief.
Since the nose and paw pads are the most exposed and sensitive areas, you may also consider getting one of those TSA-approved three-ounce spray bottles to carry with you when you and your dog go for a walk. As for walks, in summer’s heat, try to avoid exercising your dog in the middle of the day.
Sticking to early morning walks or early evening reduces the strain on a dog to pant his way to comfort. Most importantly, never leave your dog alone in a car, where heat is compounded by stress as the temperature rises.
How do you and your dogs keep cool during the hottest times of the year? Let us know in the comments.
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