Can dogs get colds?
As a dog owner with a poorly pooch, you may be wondering whether dogs can suffer from cold. The answer is yes, dogs can get colds. But they aren’t quite the same as human colds – in fact they’re completely different viruses, so if you’re wondering, you cannot pass a cold from human to dog or vice versa – more on that later.
Dogs can suffer from a common canine cold and, just like us humans, the symptoms of a dog cold can range from mild to severe. In this guide, we’ll give you a helping hand to spot the signs and tell the difference between a mild dog cold, the slightly more serious canine flu and the infamous kennel cough.
How to spot the symptoms of the common canine cold
It’s horrible when your four-legged partner-in-crime seems a bit under the weather and, trying to weigh up if he or she needs a potentially pricy trip to the vets or simply a few days of rest and relaxation in the warm isn’t always easy.
Common canine cold symptoms can display themselves in a very similar way to human colds – here’s what to look out for:
- Blocked or runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Raised temperature
- General lethargy
If your dog is showing signs of a cold, the first thing you need to try and do is narrow down the symptoms to rule out more dangerous viruses.
Why is my dog coughing so much? Should I be worried?
What you need to know about Kennel Cough
Kennel Cough is the commonly used name for infectious bronchitis in dogs and it can be caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria.
You’ll almost certainly know straight away if your dog has kennel cough, it’s a particularly unpleasant and highly contagious virus, presenting with a deep, dry and guttural dog cough which tends to be part cough, part pained bark – you might have heard this one described as something like a goose honk. The coughing will be persistent and often accompanied by some unpleasant retching. It’s horrible to see (and hear) but take comfort in knowing that kennel cough is very common and, in the majority of cases, isn’t life threatening and rarely leads to any long-term health issues.
Kennel cough usually goes away on its own and without treatment within a few weeks but, if your dog is older, has a pre-existing medical complaint or if symptoms persist for more than three days, you should consult your vet.
If you think your dog has kennel cough, don’t panic – it sounds a lot worse than it usually is. Call your vet and explain your pet’s symptoms. Treatment may vary depending on whether your dog is still a puppy, or is getting a bit older, has recently received other medical treatment or has a pre-existing medical condition. Your vet will have your pooch’s health records and can recommend the best treatment for your dog.
Next, make sure you keep your dog away from other dogs. Kennel Cough is highly contagious. Cancel any regular play-dates and, if you have a dog walker, you will need to let them know straight away as it’s likely other dogs have been infected. The incubation period for Kennel Cough is 14 days so, if you have more than one dog, you can expect them all to come down with it.
To make your own dog more comfortable, remove your dog’s collar (you can switch to a harness if you feel more comfortable with that), keep your dog well rested – this should be easy as your dog is likely to be quite tired and sore from the coughing.
However, the infection itself is not likely to make your dog feel ill so there’s a chance your dog will still be full of energy. In which case, try to keep them in a calm, quiet and well-ventilated environment, this will help to minimise coughing fits which can be as alarming for you as they are for your dog.
You should also encourage your dog to eat and drink plenty of fresh water – he or she may be off their food for a few days, so now is a good time to spoil them with their favourites.
Kennel Cough is quickly spread from one dog to another through their saliva and they remain highly contagious for a while after the coughing has subsided. Try to keep your dog away from other dogs for a week after the coughing has stopped.
A Kennel Cough vaccine is available and is usually a requirement for dogs staying in kennels, where the infection is known to spread easily.
How to tell if your dog has Canine Flu
As any human who has ever fallen victim to full-blown flu will testify, there is a big difference between a cold and the flu. The same can be said for dogs and yes, canine flu really is a thing.
Canine flu first shows itself with very similar symptoms to the common canine cold – watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing. However, the difference between a dog with a cold and a dog with flu is that canine flu affects a dog’s respiratory system and causes breathlessness. If this is not properly treated, canine flu can develop into pneumonia – a very serious and life-threatening condition.
Contact your vet immediately if your dog is having difficulty breathing or if initial cold symptoms worsen or have not improved after 48-hours. Canine flu is nasty, and your dog will be feeling very sorry for themselves but in most cases, provided you take speedy action, it can be treated with antibiotics, rest and plenty of fluids.
Your vet will be able to test for canine flu if they think it’s appropriate and they will usually put your dog on a course of antibiotics to bolster their immune system.
How to tell if your dog has Canine Distemper
Canine distemper is a viral infection that infects dogs, as well as other animals. It is a highly contagious relative of the measles virus that affects humans and it can be transmitted to other dogs – as well as other animals, including foxes and ferrets if they come into direct contact. It can also be carried in the air. Canine distemper virus is different to the feline equivalent so, if your dog develops symptoms of canine distemper, they cannot pass it to your cat. Nor did they contract it from a cat.
There are various strains of Canine distemper and you may have heard one of them referred to as ‘hard pad disease’ as symptoms include a hardening of the paws and nose. Other symptoms of Canine distemper in dogs include: high temperature, redness of the eyes, lethargy, watery discharge from the eyes and nose, lack of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea, a persistent cough and seizures.
Due to its aggressive nature and high mortality rate, vaccinating your dog and keeping up with annual booster shots is highly advisable. This is included in the standard board of vaccines that dogs receive as puppies and on an annual basis via the booster.
Can you give the flu to your dog? Was it something I did & how can I make it better?
Your dog’s cold almost certainly couldn’t have been prevented so try not to worry about it – it’s just one of those things. Provided your dog is fully vaccinated, there’s not a lot you can do to protect him or her from picking up a virus. You could wrap them in cotton wool but they probably wouldn’t like that very much – sounds like more of a catty game. Speaking of feline-folk, it’s not their fault either; upper respiratory illnesses that cause cold-like symptoms are species specific so, whilst your cat and dog might share fleas (caring is sharing) – they won’t have passed on the snivels.
Colds and flu cannot be transmitted from humans to dogs – or vice versa – so, even if you’ve had a horrible cold yourself, you wouldn’t have passed it to your dog. Likewise, your dog might be looking a tad worse-for-wear if he or she has a cold – cuddling up to them and spoiling them for a few days won’t do either of you any harm.
My dog definitely has a small sniffle, can dogs get allergies?
Yes, dogs can get allergies. But it’s unlikely that your dog’s cold-like symptoms would stem from an allergy. Dogs can have adverse reactions to all sorts of things, including; certain foods, fleas and ticks, mould, other animals and hayfever. Typical allergic reactions in dogs tend to focus on itching and gnawing behaviours, or digestive issues, and will not usually follow any of the symptoms that you might associate with a cold. This allergic reaction is called Canine Atopy and you can find out more about it HERE.
What can you give a dog for a cold?
Once you’ve ruled out anything more serious (or that your dog is a really good actor), there’s not a lot more that you can do for your dog other than general common-sense care. Go easy on the exercise – fewer and shorter walks will be fine for a few days at least, and encourage your dog to rest for a few days to strengthen his immune system; make sure he is drinking plenty of fresh water; a warm and cosy draught-free room will help a dog’s cold, just as it would a humans; you might also want to try making your dog up a bed in the bathroom, so that he or she can benefit from the steam whilst you take a shower.
How do you get rid of a dog’s cold?
There are no quick fixes for getting rid of your dog’s cold. Apart from trying the suggestions above, you’re better off doing everything you can to keep your dog in best health so that his immune system is as strong as possible to help keep the pesky germs at bay.
How to keep your dog as healthy as possible:
- Annual veterinary check-ups
- Annual vaccination boosters
- Sign-up to email updates from your local veterinary practice – most vets will alert you of any local issues that might concern you and your dog
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of fresh air and exercise and enjoys a nice healthy diet
- Regularly clean your dog’s bedding, toys and food & water bowls – especially if these are shared with other pets
- Provide your dog with constant access to a bowl of fresh drinking water
- Give your dog a weekly once-over – check his ears and paws, look for lumps, bumps and dry patches in his coat and monitor changes in breath, teeth, and gum colour
My dog seems fine now, is my dog faking a cold?
Usually, if you dog seems unwell, they really are unwell and you should seek your vet’s advice or monitor them closely for 48-hours to look for signs that your pooch’s condition might be improving or getting worse. However, sometimes some very crafty canines have learned how to wrap their owner around their little claw and ensure they get lots of attention by, essentially, faking it.
Such cunning behaviours can develop when your pet has recently recovered from an illness and has noticed a waning in the attention that you are giving him now that he is on the mend. If your dog has been given a clean bill of health and the vet cannot find anything medically wrong with him, it could well be that this is an example of learned behaviour – your dog knows that if he limps, plays sick, scratches, coughs or yelps, he will get lots of lovely attention from his favourite human. In some ways it’s adorable but it can also lead to other behavioural problems, not to mention expensive unnecessary trips to the vets.
Your dog might be faking an illness if he or she appears to have some control over the symptoms – for example, there’s no problem at all when he’s allowed to lay on your bed, but he turns into an Oscar nominee if you usher him away to his own.
If a genuine illness has been ruled out, you can try and combat your dog’s manipulative streak by ignoring the apparent symptoms, then making a fuss of him when he behaves ‘normally’. You might also want to consider if there have been any major changes to your routine that could have made your dog feel insecure. A new baby in the household, a change of address or any other major lifestyle shift often calls for a behavioural training refresh to make sure your dog knows he is safe and loved – and to remind him who’s boss (that’s you by the way).
Which dog breeds are most susceptible to the cold?
As with humans, dogs can’t catch a cold from being outside in the cold but there are certain dog breeds that really don’t tolerate extreme-weather conditions without it having an adverse effect on their health. Whilst some breeds are well adapted to cold weather – those with a higher percentage of insulating fat and dual-layered fur – others will really struggle when the temperature drops. Greyhounds, Whippets, Chihuahuas and other lean or small dog breeds will need to be kept a close eye on in cold weather. When it comes to exercising these dog breeds, little and often is generally healthier than one long walk. You might also want to consider an insulating dog coat for added protection. If your dog refuses to go outside in very cold or wet conditions, try some indoor games to entertain them until the weather clears up.
- If your dog seems a little off, keep a close eye on them for a few days (it’s a nice excuse for extra cuddles).
- Call your vet ASAP if your dog is having trouble breathing, isn’t drinking much or seems exceptionally lethargic.
- If symptoms worsen or haven’t improved after a couple of days, put your mind at rest and call your vet.
- If you suspect that your dog has kennel cough, always call your vet first rather than drop-in unannounced. Kennel Cough is contagious so might inadvertently put already unhealthy dogs at a higher risk whilst in the waiting room. Your vet will likely advise you over the phone and tell you if you need to go in, or if it can be treated at home.
- Stay on top of annual check-ups and boosters.
We’d love to hear from you – share your stories, experiences and advice in the comments section below.