Cows can sweat, but they don’t sweat effectively due to a lack of active sweat glands. Since cows can’t sweat effectively, thermal regulation can be difficult for them, and they have to employ a range of clever methods to avoid overheating, including using their breath and their horns to cool down.
This article is going to look at the reasons cows can’t sweat, the problems this creates for them, and look at some of the clever and surprising methods cows use to cool themselves down.
Can Cows Sweat?
Cows can sweat, but sweating is ineffective in cows due to a lack of effective sweat glands. Although cows can grow to over 20x the mass of the average human, they can only sweat around 10% as much as a human can. This means cows can not rely on sweating to cool themselves down.
Instead of sweating, cows’ main source of cooling during the day is through their breath, although they have several other methods too.
Cows usually build up an excess of heat in their bodies during the day before dissipating it through the night, which can be dangerous in warm climates.
Why Don’t Cows Sweat?
Cows do sweat, but it’s inefficient for them because they lack an effective volume of sweat glands, and their complex digestive systems mean they generate a lot of internal heat through the day while they eat.
Cows can only sweat around 10% as much as humans can, so they can’t rely on sweating for cooling like we can.
Cows don’t rely on sweating for cooling, because they have several other more effective methods that control their temperature, including losing heat through their breath, and by using their horns almost like a car radiator.
Related Article: Why Do Cows Wear Bells?
How Do Cows Cool Themselves Down Without Sweating?
Thermal regulation can be a big problem for cattle, especially in warmer climates. Most modern cattle are derived from Western European breeds such as Friesian-Holsteins, and Angus, which come from The Netherlands and Scotland respectively.
These breeds have evolved to deal with the mild European climate and don’t cope well in warmer climates.
According to the UK’s The National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), the maximum comfortable temperature for cattle is around 77°F (25°C). Cows are much happier in freezing conditions than they are in hot weather. Above this temperature, cattle can not dissipate the heat load they accumulate throughout the day and may be susceptible to heat stress.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways cows can naturally reduce their temperature:
Read Also: Are Cows Mammals?
1. Breath (Panting)
Cows expel bodyheat through their breath, in the same way a dog does.
2. Storing Heat until Night
Cows spend only a tiny fraction of the night sleeping. The rest of the time, they are chewing and digesting their food (ruminating) and dissipating the heat load that they built up throughout the day.
Cows are notoriously bad at thermoregulation, partly because they have a heat-intensive method of digesting their food, which involves fermenting the grass and other foliage multiple timers to extract as much energy out of it as possible.
Read More: What do Cows Eat?
Throughout the day, in some climates it’s just not possible for a cow to maintain their body temperature and they get hotter and hotter as the day goes on. This is called thermal load and is a major contributor to heat stress in cattle.
3. Taking Shelter in the Shade
Cows are pretty smart and perceptive. If they start getting too hot, they will seek a comfortable shaded area to lie in.
4. Using their Horns as Radiators
One little-known fact about cows is that they can use their horns as a sort of air-cooling system, almost like a car radiator.
Cows circulate blood into the blood vessels in the center of their horns, where it cools down since it’s far away from the cow’s warm core.
Related Article: Are Cows Man-Made?
What Does It Mean When Cows Sweat?
Since sweat isn’t an efficient way for cows to control their temperature, excess sweating is a huge red flag for farmers to look out for, since it can indicate that a cow is suffering from heat stress.
Heat stress is caused when cattle build up too much heat during the day, more than they can dissipate through natural means.
Symptoms of heat stress include excess sweating, excess panting, and increased water intake.
Read Also: What Eats Cows?
How To Help Cattle Stay Cool in Hot Temperatures
Heat stress is a major issue for cattle, and although the main contributing factor is the climate, there are still many ways to help cattle cool themselves down without moving the farm to Alaska!
Some possible methods to help cattle stay cool in warm weather include:
- Make sure they have enough water to drink or to stand in to cool them down
- Use a sprinkler system to help them with evaporative cooling
- Make sure the pasture land has plenty of trees for shade
- Avoid leaving them in dairy processing queues for longer than 30 minutes
- Consider letting the cattle into fresh pasture on hot days, since grass doesn’t hold the heat as well as dirt
- Let the cattle rest in the afternoon, since this is when they will be hottest
- Keep an eye out for sweating and panting, which can indicate heat stress
- Avoid feeding cattle dense grains like corn on hot days, since it takes more energy and creates more heat when they digest it
Related Article: Do Cows Get Ticks and Fleas?
To sum up, cows can sweat but they can not sweat effectively. Cows can only sweat roughly 10% as much as humans, which is insufficient to cool their massive bodies.
To cool themselves off, cows mainly use their breath, similar to how a dog pants, though they have a range of methods available including using their horns as a sort of radiator and sheltering from the sun in the shade.
Cows are not great at regulating their temperature and often build up more heat in their bodies during the day than they can dissipate by panting alone. Cows usually wait until nighttime when their body temperature drops naturally with the ambient outside temperature.
When farmers notice cows sweating, it’s a sign that they may be suffering from heat stress, a condition that affects cattle specifically due to their poor thermoregulation abilities.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.