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Can Dogs Catch the Common Cold?

Many pet parents wonder if dogs can catch colds, but the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. 

Can Dogs Catch the Common Cold?

Many pet parents wonder if dogs can catch colds, but the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. 

By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli

For humans, dropping temps, holiday travel, and sweater weather are often synonymous with runny noses and cold and flu season. If your nose is raw from constant contact with tissues, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults in the United States are affected with a cold at least once a year, and children average twice yearly. Although generally not life-threatening, the cold virus can make most people feel run-down and lethargic. It's not uncommon to want to cuddle your four-legged best friend when you are feeling under the weather, but should you?

It is likely okay to cuddle your dog when you are suffering from a cold. However, pet parents may be concerned about passing along an illness, like a cold, to their pup, or vice versa. Many pet parents also wonder if dogs can catch colds, but the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. 

What is a Cold?

The common cold in humans is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection caused by multiple viruses. Rhinovirus is the most frequent culprit, responsible for more than 50 percent of common colds in people.

Human colds are often self-limiting and characterized by various symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, runny noses, watery eyes, a sore throat, sniffling, and lethargy. Fortunately, there are no reported cases of people passing the common cold to dogs. However, because viruses can change and evolve, practicing good hygiene whenever you are sick is always a good idea, including hand washing before handing your dog or any of their toys or treats. 

Similarly, dogs can also exhibit cold-like symptoms, but there is no dog-specific common cold virus. However, there are a variety of infections, including viruses, which can affect a dog's upper respiratory tract, causing signs similar to the common cold in humans. In some cases, dogs who exhibit cold-like symptoms may be suffering from a more serious underlying illness. 


Signs of a Cold in Dogs

Like humans, dogs who suffer from a cold may have various signs, ranging from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause. Sometimes, dogs may exhibit similar symptoms to humans.

Common signs of a cold or upper respiratory infection in dogs include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Nasal discharge 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Decreased appetite
  • Gastrointestinal distress (i.e., diarrhea, vomiting)
  • Body aches 
  • Low-grade fever (approximately 103° F)

Common Causes of Cold-Like Symptoms in Dogs

There are a variety of illnesses that can affect a dog's upper respiratory tract and lead to cold-like signs. Illnesses, like allergies, can also mimic a cold, so bringing your dog for a veterinary examination is critical to rule out more serious causes. Fortunately, vaccinations are available to protect against severe disease associated with these common causes of dog cold symptoms, which include: 

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious infection also known as tracheobronchitis or canine infectious disease complex. It is primarily caused by exposure to Bordetella bronchiseptica but can also occur from various infectious bacteria or viruses.

Characterized by a goose-like honking cough, affected dogs may also show other cold-like signs, including coughing and sneezing. In severe infections, dogs may suffer from bronchitis or pneumonia in the lower respiratory tract, which can be life-threatening without treatment.

Canine Influenza

Like human flu, canine influenza (CI) is a highly contagious virus. Fortunately, there have been no reported cases of it spreading to people. Still, humans can spread dog flu to other dogs if they have been in contact with a sick dog or handled infected objects, like water bowls. Signs of canine flu are similar to the human flu and include a persistent cough lasting more than three weeks, a runny nose, and fever. 

Canine Parainfluenza

The canine parainfluenza virus is a highly contagious respiratory virus and one of the most common pathogens associated with other respiratory infections, including Bordetella sp. and canine adenovirus-2. Collectively, they are known as Canine Cough. Signs may resemble those of canine influenza, but they are unrelated viruses.

Canine Distemper

In addition to the respiratory effects, this highly contagious and potentially deadly virus can affect multiple body systems, including the gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Common signs include eye discharge, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, seizures, and hardening of the paw pads. Dogs who do survive an infection will likely suffer from life-long neurologic problems.

When to Seek Veterinary Care for Your Dog's Cold

The occasional cough or runny nose may not be cause for an immediate veterinary visit. Like humans, dogs may suffer temporary irritations, and coughing or sneezing may occur as a response by the immune system to clear their upper respiratory tract.

However, dogs suffering from cold signs that last more than a day or two should receive a veterinary examination, and pups with difficulty breathing should receive emergency veterinary care. Additionally, dogs suffering from cold-like viruses have an increased risk for secondary bacterial infection or more severe illnesses like pneumonia. 

Diagnosing and Treating Colds in Dogs

Cold symptoms can indicate numerous illnesses, so a veterinary examination is critical to prevent severe illness and rule out more serious diseases. Your veterinarian will perform a nose-to-tail examination and may recommend blood work to check overall organ health and the presence of infections. Specialized tests to rule out viral agents may also be required. Additionally, advanced imaging, like an X-ray, may be recommended for dogs with a chronic cough or congestion to examine the respiratory tract.

Treatment will depend on the severity of your dog's symptoms and underlying causes and may include:

  • Cough suppressants
  • Antibiotics to prevent and/or treat secondary bacterial infections
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids
  • Home humidification to aid breathing 

How to Prevent Your Dog from Catching a Cold

Dog colds are not always preventable, but staying on top of your dog's health will help prevent severe illness or infection. Tips to decrease the chances of severe respiratory disease in your dog include:

  • Bringing your dog for yearly or more frequent veterinary examinations
  • Ensuring your dog's vaccinations are current to prevent common dog infectious diseases
  • Supporting your dog's overall health with supplements, like Native Pet The Daily
  • Feeding your dog an AAFCO-approved diet for their age and breed
  • Ensuring your dog remains hydrated: providing your dog Native Pet Bone Broth can encourage them to drink plenty of water and provide added support if they have a cold.
  • Washing your hands before and after interacting with your dog or other canine friends
  • Regular cleaning your dog's food and water dishes, toys, and bedding
  • Avoiding dog parks, grooming facilities, doggy daycare, or boarding facilities when your dog is under the weather, undergoing treatment for a cold, or showing any illness signs  

Although dogs do not suffer a common cold, like people, they are susceptible to cold-like symptoms from various pathogens. While some dog colds may be self-limiting, it's always a good idea to bring your pup for a veterinary checkup when they exhibit any disease signs for more than 24 hours to prevent a more severe illness.

For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.

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