Can Dogs Catch the Common Cold?

Can Dogs Catch the Common Cold?
11.01.2024

With the common cold being so widespread in humans, you may be wondering if dogs with a runny nose might have a cold too. You may even be worried about passing cold germs to your beloved dog when you’re feeling under the weather.

While dogs can’t get the common cold, there are plenty of germs that cause cold- and flu-like symptoms in dogs.

When mild, many canine respiratory diseases will go away on their own, but it’s important for pet parents to know the symptoms and prevent the spread of doggie germs.

Can Dogs Become Sick With the Common Cold?

Dogs can get sick with a runny nose and a cough, which we might think of as a dog cold.

However, it’s not the same common cold humans get. Just like in humans, upper respiratory issues in dogs aren’t caused by one particular bug but by many different viruses and bacteria, sometimes working together.

Common human colds are often caused by rhinoviruses. Dogs can develop cold- or flu-like symptoms from viruses and bacteria such as canine adenovirus, canine parainfluenza virus, or Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough). These are just a few of the pathogens that are part of the canine infectious respiratory disease (CIRD) complex, similar to the common cold in humans.

While dogs can’t get the common cold, there are plenty of germs that cause cold- and flu-like symptoms in dogs.

Signs of CIRD typically last for one to two weeks, according to Dr. Jane Sykes, an infectious disease expert at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the medical advisory board for The Vets, a mobile veterinary service.

However, in recent months there have been reports of a “mystery” canine respiratory illness with signs in some dogs lasting up to eight weeks.

While it’s possible there is a new bug, Sykes says this also could be caused by more cases of some of the usual causes. It could possibly be multiple kinds of germs working together that increase the severity of symptoms.

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Sykes cautions that coughing in dogs can be caused by conditions other than just a mild cold. “If a dog does not get better in a few days or is lethargic and not eating, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian,” she says.

How Do Dogs Catch the Common Cold?

Dogs are most likely to pick up a bug through direct contact with an infected dog, sharing toys or bowls, or by visiting the places where an infected dog has been—especially indoors. Some pathogens can survive in the environment for mere hours while others can survive for months.

Common places dogs can become infected with a respiratory illness-causing germ include:

  • Doggy daycares
  • Boarding facilities
  • Training and behavior classes
  • Grooming facilities
  • Canine sporting events, such as flyball
  • Dog parks
  • Veterinary offices and hospitals

Sykes says that avoiding these places altogether isn’t necessary. However, there are some precautions pet parents can take, such as keeping ill pets home and keeping new dogs separated from other pets for two weeks. Above all, dogs should be kept up to date on their vaccines.

If you suspect your dog has an upper respiratory infection, let veterinary staff know at the time of scheduling and mention any high-risk environments they might have visited. This allows the veterinary team to take precautions against further spread, Sykes explains.

Can Dogs Get Human Illnesses?

“It is improbable that a dog would catch a cold from a human,” says Dr. David Israel, DVM, medical director of Veterinary Emergency Group in Denver, Colorado. He explains that the viruses and bacteria responsible for human colds typically don’t affect dogs, and vice versa.

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“There have been rare reports of dogs testing positive for COVID-19, but this usually leads to very mild or no symptoms,” he adds.

However, there is the chance that respiratory viruses can mutate, changing the species they affect and the severity of the illness. To prevent potential complications, Israel recommends calling your vet at the first sign of cold-like symptoms in dogs.

Cold Symptoms in Dogs

Some upper respiratory infections in dogs come with few or even no symptoms. For instance, Israel says dogs with kennel cough tend to cough but otherwise look and feel healthy.

Other common signs associated with CIRD include:

  • Runny nose
  • A rough or honking cough
  • Frothy mucus from the mouth
  • Congestion
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shallow or wet breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Upper respiratory infections can progress into life-threatening pneumonia, especially in young, immunocompromised, or senior dogs, or those infected with multiple pathogens. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs like English Bulldogs and Pugs are particularly vulnerable to severe respiratory infections because of their already narrow airways, Israel adds.

How Common Colds in Dogs Are Diagnosed

Figuring out the exact cause of most canine respiratory diseases can be challenging, just as it is with the common cold in people. The signs and symptoms of CIRD are often nonspecific and may overlap with other illnesses, such as allergies, heart disease, or cancer. Therefore, pet parents and veterinarians can’t diagnose an illness based solely on cold- or flu-like symptoms.

If medical attention is needed, a veterinarian can take samples for identification of the pathogen and perform other diagnostic tests to rule out underlying disease or illness.

Treatment of the Common Cold in Dogs

Fortunately, many upper respiratory infections in dogs are self-limiting—meaning they typically heal on their own without medication. However, it’s important to watch your dog’s symptoms and seek immediate veterinary care if signs continue or worsen, especially if your dog has a lack of energy or stops eating.

Above all, dogs should be kept up to date on their vaccines.

Treatment for canine respiratory infections depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying germs, explains Israel.

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Severe cases may require hospitalization with IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and antibiotics if the pathogen is bacterial, such as in the case of kennel cough.

Prevention of the Common Cold in Dogs

Israel and Sykes emphasize the importance of maintaining your dog’s vaccination schedule, especially if they frequently mingle with other pups.

“Have your dog vaccinated for all the causes of respiratory illness that we have vaccines for,” Sykes recommends. “Protection against one bug can help to reduce the severity of illness when other viruses and bacteria are also present.”

To reduce the spread of infectious pathogens, keep your dog home if they show cold-like symptoms. If you’ve recently brought home a new puppy or adult dog, keep them separated from other pets for two weeks to ensure they’re healthy enough to socialize. Lastly, avoid sharing toys or bowls with pups you’re not familiar with.

When To Call Your Vet

Should you notice any signs of a respiratory infection, such as sneezing, coughing, unusual discharge from their eyes, or a runny nose, keep your dog home and away from other pups. Call your veterinarian to figure out if they should be seen for an exam.

If your dog’s symptoms continue or show signs of worsening, especially lack of appetite, lethargy, or difficulty breathing, seek immediate veterinary care.

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