Sniffles and Sneezes: Can Dogs Get Colds?

Nothing is more important to a pet owner than their dog’s health and wellness. Here’s what every dog owner should know about dogs and colds.

Jun 2, 2023byHeather Jarek
can dogs get colds

The common cold is a familiar illness to people. The average adult suffers through a cold 2-3 times a year. A stuffy nose, sneezing, and sore throat are just a few of the symptoms a cold can bring on. Many people are unaware that dogs can suffer from cold-like symptoms too. However, it is common that a dog with cold-like symptoms could be suffering from a more serious illness. Knowing how colds or cold-like symptoms affect your dog is essential to ensuring they get the medical attention they need.

What Is a Cold?

sick dog under blanket

A cold is not a single virus but a wide range of viruses that cause similar symptoms. For people, these symptoms are coughing, sneezing, running or stuffy nose, sore throat, and tiredness. The most common viral agent that causes colds in people is the rhinovirus. Experts believe this virus causes almost half of all colds in people. Other common cold viruses in people are coronavirus, adenovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus. The same goes for colds in dogs. There is not one specific virus that causes cold symptoms in dogs but several viruses that cause cold-like symptoms.

What Does a Cold Look Like in Dogs?

sick dog with cold

Your dog’s cold symptoms may resemble yours and may include the following:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose

You may also notice a decreased appetite and a reluctance to play or exercise. If your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian. Some viruses that cause cold symptoms in dogs can be treated at home with rest and proper nutrition. Others can cause severe illness and need professional treatment right away. Never give your dog over-the-counter medications, and always consult your veterinarian before treating your dog at home.

Kennel Cough

kennel cough in dogs

Kennel cough is a common upper respiratory infection in dogs characterized by a severe “honking” cough. Several viruses and bacteria can cause kennel cough in dogs, but Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common. Kennel cough is highly contagious and is commonly transmitted when dogs are being boarded, groomed, or at the dog park.

Puppies, older dogs, or dogs with compromised immune symptoms may be at risk for secondary infections such as pneumonia. Fortunately, kennel cough is usually treatable with rest and antibiotics. Mild cases may even resolve on their own.

There is a vaccine to help protect dogs from catching kennel cough. If your dog frequents the kennel, dog park, or groomer, your veterinarian may recommend this vaccine. Like the flu vaccine for people, the kennel cough vaccine is not guaranteed to prevent infection but helps reduce the side effects and the likelihood of catching the illness.

Canine Influenza

canine influenza dog at vet

Another respiratory disease that causes cold symptoms in dogs is canine influenza (dog flu). This illness is highly contagious and can spread quickly amongst dogs. Dogs infected with influenza may have a persistent cough, thick nasal discharge, eye discharge, and other cold-like symptoms.

Like kennel cough, dogs with canine influenza can recover without medical intervention. Puppies and dogs with weaker immune systems may develop secondary illnesses that could be life-threatening. If you suspect your dog may have influenza, it’s important to isolate it from other dogs. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may be sick.

A vaccine is available for dogs with a high risk of contracting canine influenza. If your dog is boarded frequently or attends dog daycare, your veterinarian may recommend this vaccination.

Canine Distemper

dog wearing surgical mask

Canine distemper is another highly contagious virus that causes cold symptoms in dogs. It can cause severe respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system symptoms. Early symptoms include watery eyes, nasal discharge, and coughing. More severe symptoms can be vomiting, seizures, or paralysis.

Puppies and dogs who have not received all of their distemper vaccinations are at the highest risk for contracting canine distemper. Puppies will undergo a series of distemper vaccinations starting between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Adult dogs that are up to date on their vaccines should get their distemper booster every three years.

Other Causes of Cold Symptoms in Dogs

dog laying in tall grass

Aside from viruses, several other conditions can cause cold symptoms in dogs. Allergies and fungal infections can cause nasal discharge, watery eyes, sneezing, or coughing. Parasitic infections and heartworm disease can cause coughing and lethargy. Keeping up with your dog’s routine veterinary visits can help prevent many of these conditions. Talk with your veterinarian about medications your dog can take to help with bothersome allergy symptoms.

What is the Treatment for Colds in Dogs?

dog getting nose swabbed

The first step to treating your dog’s cold symptoms is a trip to the veterinarian. A complete physical exam will be performed, and diagnostics such as bloodwork, radiographs, or a fecal exam may be recommended. Your veterinarian will want to rule out any severe infections before advising you on how to treat your dog at home.

Your veterinarian will design a treatment plan based on the cause of your dog’s cold symptoms. For minor illnesses, this may mean fluids and rest at home. Your dog may need to be hospitalized with round-the-clock care and medications for more severe cases.

Can Dogs Catch Human Colds?

child kissing dog

Fortunately, the viruses that cause colds in humans rarely affect dogs. You can rest assured that your cold won’t be passed to your dog. The same goes for your dog. If your dog is experiencing cold symptoms, giving that illness to a human would be exceedingly rare. So, if your cold has you feeling down, don’t hesitate to cuddle up with your four-legged best friend!

How to Prevent Your Dog from Catching a Cold

dog getting vaccines

Since various illnesses cause cold symptoms in dogs, there is no single form of prevention. Vaccines exist for some conditions that cause cold-like symptoms in dogs. These include kennel cough, influenza, and canine distemper. Your veterinarian will help you decide which vaccinations are best for your dog.

Some dogs cannot be vaccinated due to other health issues or vaccine reactions. If your dog is not vaccinated against kennel cough or influenza, you may want to consider a private sitter over a boarding facility. You may also want to keep your unvaccinated dog away from dog parks and consider play dates with dogs you know are fully vaccinated.

Heather Jarek
byHeather Jarek

Heather is a lover of all animals, big and small. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology in 2014. She has been working as a licensed veterinary technician for the last eight years. Her favorite hobby is horseback riding, and she has been riding horses since the age of eight. She enjoys spending time with her family at the lake with their golden retriever Calista in her free time.