not a dumb question

Do Fans Work on Dogs?

Photo: jtyler/Getty Images

The window in the bedroom of the apartment I recently moved into is too large to support the window-unit air conditioner I used in my previous apartment. While I’m sure you do not care about this “window” into my life, ha-ha, this predicament and New York City’s recent ungodly July temperatures have caused me to ponder a question that I believe you will find quite interesting. Do fans work on dogs?

Fans, of course, do not cool the air. They work through convection and sweat evaporation. Heat is transferred from your body to the air surrounding it and blown away; and then heat is transferred from your body to the air surrounding it and blown away; and then heat is transferred from your body to the air surrounding it and blown away, etc.

I, of course, sleep with my dog in my bed every night — he is my little snuggle cuddle bug, and I love his face and ears. We currently sleep with a fan pointed directly at us. But is that fan doing anything for him? I reached out to Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club, to ask, and he pretty much immediately told me that it is not particularly doing much for him, no.

“You’ll see dogs sometimes standing in front of a fan because they like the feel of it,” Klein said, “but it’s not necessarily going to cool them in the same way it would a person.” This is because dogs do not eliminate body heat the way humans do. They sweat a little through their paw pads, but not through their bodies, where their fur acts like an insulator; a dog’s primary method of body heat removal is panting.

According to Klein, a fan might be enough to make a dog feel better if the temperature is in the 70s or 80s. “But when it’s dangerously hot, like in the upper 90s or the 100s, all a fan is going to do is blow hot air around. That’s not enough to create a safe environment for a dog.”

The danger here is heatstroke — the word that echoes through the minds of nervous dog owners all summer long: heatstroke, heatstroke, heatstroke. It is when (in this case) a dog’s self-cooling methods prove inadequate, causing his body temperature rise to the point of health complication or death.

“Something about heatstroke that I’ve noticed is dogs in nature don’t tend to die of heatstroke, because they’re smart,” Klein said. “They don’t exert themselves during the day, they seek shady areas, they never hunt during the day. Dogs undergo heatstroke because they’re immersed in an area where people put them, and they’re not being supervised.” Owners leave dogs in closed vehicles, or areas that don’t have shade. They tie them up somewhere seemingly shady, not realizing the sun is going to move. They leave them in dangerously hot apartments. “So we have to be cognizant of that,” Klein said. “It is a dangerous situation and dogs can die.”

(And as a PSA: Klein said another important thing about heatstroke is that it can be sneaky. “If you have a dog that you think was undergoing heatstroke, but then he starts to look better, get him into a vet anyway.” Heatstroke, which can present through excessive drooling, a color change in the gums and tongue, vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation, can sometimes take 12 to 24 hours to become fully noticeable.)

Before taking his role at the AKC, Klein worked as an emergency vet and said he did find a canine use for fans. “Ideally you want to get an animal suffering from heatstroke into an air-conditioned building or car as soon as possible. But one of the things we did do, which entailed a fan, is that we would mist them down with cool water — never cold, but cool — and we’d put a fan on them.”

Once they’re soaked with cool water down to their skin (cool rather than cold to avoid causing a shock to their system), the fan can do its evaporation work. “So it’s not like a fan can’t help, but it’s not the same as air-conditioning, and we have to understand that.”

Soaking a towel in cool water and wrapping it around your dog, making sure the skin is wet, and then making use of your fan can help, Klein said. But it’s not something to rely on when temperatures are dangerously high. And this, by the way, also goes for cats — they, too, only sweat a bit through their paw pads and need wetted skin to get much use from a fan.

So I suppose on dangerously hot nights, which we’ll be experiencing the next few days here in New York, my dog Peter will have to sleep in his crate in the living room, which has a window that properly fits a window-unit air conditioner. And I suppose I’ll sleep next to him there, on the couch.

Do Fans Work on Dogs?