Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
I am walking into exam room one to see my 9:00 am appointment. My nurse relays to me that Nala is a 1-year-old Poodle that is presenting for coughing, runny eyes and sneezing. The nurse and I enter into the exam room, and there is Nala, wagging her tail and coughing away. I proceed to ask Nala’s mommy some more questions about Nala, and notice that she too has a runny nose and watery eyes. The first thing out of her mouth is, “I have a cold. Is it possible that I gave Nala my cold?”
As a small animal veterinarian, one of the most common ailments I see involves sneezing, a runny nose and coughing. Just like people, dogs can catch a dog cold. However, it is not like the common cold that we think of when we say, “I have a cold.” So many of my pet parents will ask me if they can catch the dog cold from their pet, or in Nala’s case, can they transmit a cold to their pet. The answer is no. Although the clinical signs are very similar, there are different viruses and bacteria that cause the human cold and the dog cold. So to answer the question, “Can a dog get a cold?” Yes, they can. But, what are the most common causes of the “dog cold,” and how can we prevent our pets from contracting them? Let’s get started:
Ways Dogs Contract an Upper Respiratory Infection
There are two types of viruses that I see that can cause a dog cold, more accurately known an as upper respiratory infection.
Kennel Cough (Bordatella-Infectious Tracheobronchitis)
Kennel cough is the most prevalent upper respiratory disease in dogs. It is a highly contagious disease that is caused most commonly by the parainfluenza virus, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and mycoplasma. The most common clinical signs are:
- A dry hacking cough—many of my pet parents will describe it as a honking sound, or like something is caught in their pets throat
- Watery nasal discharge
- Discharge from the eyes
With most of my pets that I diagnose with kennel cough, they are acting normally otherwise—eating, drinking and playing. Less commonly, I can have dogs present with lethargy, inappetance, respiratory distress and fever. If your pet is showing any of these clinical signs, it is imperative that you have them evaluated by your veterinarian.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for kennel cough—it has to run its course, which could take a few weeks. Most dogs with mild dog cold symptoms will not need any treatment, though dogs with more severe symptoms may need supportive care with fluids, supplemental feedings, or even antibiotics in the event of a secondary infection such as pneumonia.
Dog flu is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs. Two canine influenza viruses have been identified worldwide: an influenza H3N8 virus and an influenza H3N2 virus (the strand that was isolated in the Chicago 2015 outbreak). Generally speaking, the dog flu infections are mild, and dogs are able to recover in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, however, the infection can become severe. Signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Lack of Appetite
- Runny Nose
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for canine influenza, and like the human flu, it has to run its course—which could take a few weeks. Most dogs with mild symptoms will not need any treatment, though dogs with more severe symptoms may need supportive care with fluids, supplemental feedings, or even antibiotics in the event of a secondary infection such as pneumonia.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Sick?
Canine influenza and Bordatella (kennel cough) are highly contagious and are transmitted through direct contact, contaminated bowls or toys, or even by touching another dog after you have touched an infected dog. Dogs that are around other infected dogs, such as in boarding facilities, dog parks, grooming facilities and shelters are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
Be aware of any outbreaks in your area and react accordingly. If you come into contact with a dog that is showing any of the clinical signs listed above, wash your hands and change your clothes before touching your dog. In addition, keep dog toys and bowls clean.
When it comes to boarding, make sure to ask the facility staff if they have had any outbreaks of infectious diseases like canine influenza or kennel cough. Inquire about their vaccination requirements, and chose a facility that requires your pet be up to date on the kennel cough and influenza vaccination.
In addition, if your dog is diagnosed with the dog flu or kennel cough, you should keep your pet away from other dogs for 4 weeks. Although dogs typically recover sooner than this, they can remain contagious for about a month.
You can help maintain the physical well-being of your dog with multivitamin supplements. VetriScience Canine Plus Multivitamin Everyday Health Dog Chews are formulated with a balance of amino acids, fish oil omegas, and B vitamins to give your dog daily nutritional support that is often lacking in commercial dog foods.
Vet’s Best Multi-Vitamin Soft Chews help support your dog’s mental and physical energy, eye health, heart health, digestion, joints and bones with essential vitamins and minerals your pet may need each day. These chews contain natural ocean kelp, which provides antioxidants to support a healthy immune system and prevent contagious diseases.
I hope this helps to clear up some ongoing questions my pets parents have about dog colds. If you are concerned your pet is showing these signs and may have contracted an upper respiratory infection, contact your veterinarian. They are your best resource for the health and wellness of your pet.