Can Dogs Get Colds? What You Need to Know

By: Chewy EditorialUpdated:

shiba inu laying down
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Can Dogs Get Colds? What You Need to Know

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." 

Although the clinical signs are very similar, there are different viruses and bacteria that cause the human cold and the dog cold, which is more accurately known as an upper respiratory infection.

Ways Dogs Contract an Upper Respiratory Infection

There are two types of viruses that can cause a dog cold/upper respiratory infection.

Kennel Cough (Bordatella-Infectious Tracheobronchitis)

What is it? 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.

What are the symptoms? 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

Most pets act normally otherwise—eating, drinking and playing. Less commonly, 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.

What is the treatment? 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 sneezing
Photo: iStock.com/bruev

Canine Influenza (also known as dog flu)

What is it? 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.

What are the symptoms? Signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Coughing
  • Runny Nose

What is the treatment? 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.

Learn more about the dog flu.

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.

Here are some steps to take to prevent your dog from getting sick:

  • Wash your hands and change your clothes before touching your dog if you come into contact with a dog that is showing any of the clinical signs listed above.
  • Keep dog toys and bowls clean. Here's how to clean dog bowls the right way.
  • Be aware of any outbreaks in your area and react accordingly. Dogs who are around other infected dogs in areas such as in boarding facilities, dog parks, grooming facilities and shelters are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
  • Before boarding, ask to the facility staff about the following:
    • If they've had any outbreaks of infectious diseases, like canine influenza or kennel cough.
    • Their vaccination requirements (choose a facility that requires your pet be up to date on the kennel cough and influenza vaccination)

And if your dog is sick:

  • Keep your pet away from other dogs for four weeks. Although dogs typically recover sooner than this, they can remain contagious for about a month.

How Can I Help Maintain the Physical Well-Being of My Dog?

You can help maintain the physical well-being of your dog with multivitamin supplements. 

  • VetriScience Canine Plus Multivitamin Everyday Health Dog Chews ($10) 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 ($14) 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.
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About the Expert

Dr. Alison Birken, DVM, is a small animal veterinarian at Victoria Park Animal Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is also co-founder of Forever Freckled, a website dedicated to helping people with pets, children and everyday lifestyle.

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By: Chewy EditorialUpdated:

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