Staying Cool

posted: 05/15/12
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Panting helps a dog stay cool.
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Like all mammals, the canid family is able to control body temperature through various physical functions. Called thermoregulation, this ability allows canids to thrive in all types of climates, from the subarctic to the Sahara. Most mammals sweat to keep cool. But an absence of sweat glands on the canid's skin forces it to rely on other means.

In temperate weather, canids simply breathe in through their noses to stay cool: Nasal glands secrete fluid, and its evaporation within their nasal chambers creates a cooling effect. When the animals become significantly warmer, either through a change in air temperature or through physical exertion, they secrete even more fluid than usual. To cool down, they begin to pant with open mouths to breathe in more oxygen and help speed up the evaporation and cooling process. The lolling tongue increases the surface area where evaporation can take place.

Canids also rely on their coats to control body temperature. Species such as wolves that inhabit cold climates sport double coats, with a thick, insulating underlayer to retain heat and keep the cold at bay. The fur can be puffed up to trap warm air in cold weather or held closely against the skin to release heat on warm days.

Even the size of a canid's ears plays a part in temperature control. Such hot-weather species as the fennec fox, a tiny African desert dweller, sports oversized ears to maximize heat loss. The arctic fox, on the other hand, has minuscule ears to minimize the effects of the frigid weather in its northern homeland.

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