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How Do Animals Keep Cool?

By Michelle A. Rivera
Animals use various ways to stay cool.

Every animal is different. They have unusual defense mechanisms, they have different diets and they have different ways of taking care of themselves.

All animals need to keep cool in summer, and they all have ways to adapt to the environment or regulate their body temperatures to keep cool during the summer and warm during the winter.

Tropical Animals

Elephants use their ears to keep cool.

Tropical animals, such as jaguars, and desert animals, such as cheetahs, keep cool by lounging in the daytime and hunting at night. They rest under the shade of a big tree during the day. Many animals living in the tropics and other hot places are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night.

Elephants living in the savanna also suffer the heat during the day, but their bodies are designed to keep cool. Elephants like to wallow in mud, covering their skin with cool, muddy protection. The wrinkles in the elephants skin help to keep the mud in place. Finally, their enormous ears act as fans, working to circulate the air around them. Incredibly, elephants have control over the dilation and constriction of the blood vessels in their vascular ears. When an elephant is hot, she dilates the blood vessels, pulling the heat from her body and letting it escape out of her ears.


Some birds fly high on cool air currents to avoid the heat.

Wildlife biologists have found that buzzards, vultures and certain storks defecate on their legs to cool themselves by evaporation, much like when humans perspire. These birds are frequently seen circling in the sky, soaring on cool air currents far above the heat on the ground.

Some birds migrate for cooler temperatures. Birds such as the Phainopepla and the Costa's hummingbird take off for higher elevations on the Pacific Coast to avoid the heat, just as other birds migrate south to avoid the cold. Most birds are active in the early morning and at dusk, when the earth is cooler. Those that are active during the day tend to spend more time perched in the shade.

Reptiles and other Critters

Bats usually hunt in the evening, when it's cooler.

Many snakes dig burrows in the ground and curl up during the day, reserving their energy for night hunting. Most rodents are also nocturnal. Bats leave their cave at dusk and return just before dawn, hanging around in a cool, dark cave for most of the day. Squirrels, like birds, are crepuscular, meaning that they forage at dusk and dawn and lay low during the day.

Dogs and Cats

Humans have sweat glands all over their bodies to cool the skin. Dogs and cats have sweat glands are in their paws. Dogs and cats also pant when they are hot. The saliva in their mouth wets the area, and the drawn-in air flows across the animal's tongue. Dogs do not have sweat glands on their tongues, but cats do. Cats also lick themselves to keep cool.

Like the elephant, dogs and cats have blood vessels that dilate to bring more blood to the surface of the skin.

Cattle and Horses

Cows do not sweat, but horses do. Cows only have sweat glands on their noses, but a horse has sweat glands all over his body, just like humans. Cows and horses find shady areas to stand in the heat of the day. Those animals that are near water drink a lot of water in hot weather, or go for a dip to cool down.


About the Author


Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.