Do Dogs’ Paws Sweat When They’re Nervous? The Surprising Truth

Introduction

Dogs have complex paw anatomy that serves several important functions. According to Ruffwear, the main parts of a dog’s paw include the claws, digital pads, metacarpal (front) or metatarsal (hind) pad, dewclaws, and carpal pad. Each part works together to allow dogs to grip surfaces, absorb shock, and regulate temperature. Understanding the anatomy helps dog owners care for their pet’s paws and identify any potential problems.

Do Dogs Have Sweat Glands in Their Paws?

Dogs do have sweat glands, but they are limited compared to humans. Dogs primarily sweat through the pads on their paws via merocrine sweat glands. As explained by the AKC, “Merocrine sweat glands function similarly to human sweat glands. Located in your dog’s paw pads, these glands activate when your pet is hot to cool them down.”[1] So while dogs do have some sweat glands in their paws, they do not have extensive sweat glands like humans do.

a diagram showing the sweat glands in a dog's paw pads

Most of a dog’s sweat glands are apocrine glands, which are located throughout their body. However, apocrine glands release sweat into hair follicles rather than through pores onto the skin’s surface like merocrine sweat glands. This means that apocrine sweat glands do not release sweat onto a dog’s paw pads.

So in summary, dogs have limited merocrine sweat glands located specifically in their paw pads that allow them to release some sweat to cool themselves. But their primary sweat glands are apocrine glands that do not directly deposit sweat onto the skin or paws.

How Dogs Cool Themselves

Unlike humans, dogs do not have functional sweat glands covering their bodies to help regulate temperature. The only sweat glands dogs have are located in their paw pads. So how do dogs manage to keep cool?

The primary way dogs cool themselves is through panting. When a dog pants, evaporation occurs as saliva evaporates off the tongue, nasal passages, and surfaces within the mouth. This evaporation has a cooling effect. As air passes rapidly in and out over these surfaces, it helps dissipate heat. This is why dogs pant more on hot days or after exercise. Panting can effectively lower a dog’s body temperature and is an efficient cooling mechanism (Eukanuba).

Dogs also release heat through their paw pads and nose. However, panting plays the biggest role in canine cooling.

When Do Dogs’ Paws Sweat?

Dogs have special glands in the pads of their paws called merocrine sweat glands that allow their paws to sweat. These sweat glands help regulate body temperature by releasing moisture, which evaporates to cool the dog down. Light sweating in the paw pads occurs when a dog becomes too hot, often from exercise or high environmental temperatures (1).

As the ASPCA explains, “Dogs do have some sweat glands, but they are much less effective than the glands in humans. Panting is a dog’s primary means of cooling” (2). So while dogs do sweat through their paw pads, it provides only a small amount of cooling compared to panting.

The AKC notes that sweat glands can become more active when dogs are anxious or stressed. However, light sweating in the paws due to heat is normal and helps them stay comfortable (3). Excessive sweating or sweaty paws in cooler conditions may indicate an underlying issue.

(1) https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/do-dogs-sweat/
(2) https://www.aspca.org/news/heat-wave-approaching-should-you-shave-your-pet
(3) https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/do-dogs-sweat/

Signs of Nervousness in Dogs

There are several common signs that indicate when a dog is feeling nervous or anxious. According to the VCA Hospitals, some of the most notable signs of nervousness in dogs include excessive panting, pacing, trembling, lip licking, and trying to hide. The dog may also whine or bark more than usual when feeling stressed.

a nervous looking dog panting heavily

Specifically, signs of a nervous dog can include:

  • Heavy panting or drooling
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Lip licking or yawning
  • Avoiding eye contact or hiding
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Whining or barking excessively
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low body posture with tail tucked

These types of anxious behaviors in dogs often indicate that the dog is not comfortable with a situation and needs help calming down. Knowing the signs of nervousness allows owners to better identify triggers and utilize techniques to reduce stress for their canine companion.

Do Dogs’ Paws Sweat When Nervous?

It’s a common misconception that dogs’ paws sweat when they are nervous or anxious. In fact, a dog’s paws do not have sweat glands like humans so they cannot physically sweat through them. However, this myth comes from the fact that sometimes it looks like a dog’s paws are damp or clammy when they are stressed or uneasy. This is not from sweat, however. So what causes this?

Dogs primarily cool themselves through panting and sweating through their paw pads and nose. Panting allows evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, while sweat glands in the paws help dissipate heat. However, dogs do not have sweat glands in their haired skin, so they cannot sweat through anxiety like humans (American Kennel Club).

The damp or clammy paws sometimes seen during stress are likely caused by vasodilation – the widening of blood vessels – which can increase circulation and paw pad moisture. But this is not the same as true sweating. Other signs of a nervous dog, like panting, pacing, shaking, etc. may mislead people into thinking paw dampness is nervous sweating. However, dogs simply cannot physically sweat through emotions. So while sweaty paws can signify stress, the paws themselves are not actually producing sweat. Monitoring a dog’s overall body language is a better gauge of their mental state.

Other Signs of Sweaty Paws

In addition to sweating when nervous, there are some other signs that may indicate your dog has sweaty paws:

Excess licking of paws – Dogs will often excessively lick and chew at their paws if they feel irritated or uncomfortable. The moisture from sweat can cause irritation, so excessive licking may be a sign of sweaty paws. According to PetHelpful.com, “[dogs] lick their paws to soothe the irritation caused due to sweat, pollen or other irritants.”

Damp paws – If you notice your dog’s paws frequently appear damp even when they haven’t been in contact with water, this dampness is likely due to sweating. As the AKC explains, “This is why you might notice damp paw prints on the ground during particularly hot days.” Pay attention to paw prints on surfaces like tile or wood floors.

Managing Sweaty Dog Paws

If your dog has sweaty paws, especially if it’s causing discomfort or irritation, there are steps you can take to help manage the condition:

someone wiping down a dog's sweaty paws

Wiping your dog’s paws regularly can help keep them clean and dry. Use a soft, absorbent towel or cloth to gently wipe between the toes and pads. You may need to do this several times a day, especially if your dog was just exercising or it’s hot out.

Regular grooming and trimming the hair around the paws can prevent dirt and moisture from getting trapped against the skin. Ask your groomer to trim the fur between the pads and toes.

Applying a paw wax or balm can create a protective barrier against wetness. Products like Musher’s Secret Paw Wax are made specifically for dogs and safe if licked.

You may also want to avoid walking your dog on hot pavement in the summer, which can burn sensitive paw pads. Stick to grass or cooler surfaces when possible.

If your dog’s sweaty paws don’t improve with routine care, or the skin appears irritated or infected, consult your vet. They can recommend medicated wipes, antibiotics, or other treatment if needed.

When to See the Vet

While occasional paw licking is normal, excessive or incessant licking can be a sign of an underlying health issue. If your dog seems obsessed with licking their paws, it’s best to schedule a veterinary appointment.

Signs that warrant a trip to the vet include:

  • Licking that leads to wounds, bald spots, irritation, or infection on the paws
  • Swollen, red, irritated paws
  • Evidence of bites, stings, cuts, or embedded foreign material in the paws
  • Skin irritation or inflammation between the toes or pads
  • Excessive chewing or biting at the paws
  • Foul odor coming from the paws
  • Lameness or limping due to paw discomfort

In these cases, the excessive licking is likely indicative of an underlying issue like allergy, infection, injury or skin disease. It’s important to get veterinary attention to properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Left untreated, excessive licking and chewing can lead to secondary infections or lesions. The vet will examine the paws and recommend medications, ointments, anti-itch solutions or other treatments to address the cause of the irritation and prevent further licking.

Getting to the root of the issue will provide relief for your dog and help restore their paws to a healthy condition. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your dog seems bothered by their paws. With the right treatment, your dog will be back to playing and walking comfortably in no time.

Conclusion

In summary, while dogs do not have actual sweat glands in their paws like humans do, they can still exhibit signs of sweaty paws when feeling anxious or nervous. This is because dogs sweat through their paw pads, which can become damp or leave wet footprints on the floor when a dog’s anxiety levels are heightened. Along with sweaty paws, other signs of a nervous dog may include: whining, shaking, drooling, appeasement gestures like licking, avoiding eye contact, and even aggression in some cases. If your dog has frequent sweaty paws that do not seem connected to heat, exercise or a specific anxiety trigger, it’s a good idea to mention this symptom to your veterinarian. They can help determine if an underlying health issue may be causing your dog’s anxious behaviors and sweaty paws. With the right approach, you can help keep your dog’s paws dry and their overall anxiety levels minimized.

a relaxed dog with dry paws sleeping contentedly

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