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Can dogs get a cold or flu?

Can dogs get a cold or flu?
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As winter approaches, with cold and flu season, you may  wonder, 'can dogs get a cold or flu?' The good news is that your dog can’t catch your common cold and you won’t catch the sniffles from your dog either. However, dogs do have their own respiratory viruses and bacteria that cause cold and flu symptoms very similar to colds and flu in humans. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of canine cold and flu and make sure you’ll know what to do if your dog is sick.  Read on to learn more about respiratory infections in dogs, and what you can do to keep your dog healthy this winter season.

Symptoms of respiratory infections in dogs

Symptoms of a cold or flu in dogs can be very similar to those in humans. Your dog may feel unwell and may be reluctant to participate in his or her normal daily routine. He or she may also display some common symptoms of respiratory infections, including:

  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing (severe cases)

If your dog exhibits these symptoms, it’s possible that he or she has a respiratory infection – the canine version of a cold or the flu. Some respiratory infections can be serious, so it’s best to see your veterinarian for an examination and treatment as soon as possible.

What causes canine cold and flu?

Just like there are many viruses in humans that can cause cold and flu symptoms, there are also many viruses and bacteria in dogs that cause respiratory symptoms. In many cases, we don’t know exactly which pathogen caused a dog’s respiratory symptoms. Common causes of cold and flu symptoms in dogs include:

  • Canine Influenza
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine herpesvirus
  • Canine adenovirus
  • Canine parainfluenza virus

Because testing for these diseases is expensive and treatment is often the same regardless of the exact cause of illness, these pathogens are often classified under the umbrella term “Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex” (CIRDC).

Can Dogs Get a Cold or Flu?

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Does my dog have a cold, flu, or something else?

Is your dog feeling under the weather? If your dog is exhibiting the upper respiratory symptoms outlined above, you may be wondering if your dog has a cold or if something more serious is going on. Unfortunately, many illnesses can share the same symptoms, so it is best for your dog to see a veterinarian if he or she is sick to determine exactly what is causing the symptoms. Your veterinarian will perform a full head to tail physical examination on your dog, and may recommend some additional diagnostic testing such as taking radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate your dog’s lungs or taking swabs from your dog’s nasal passages to test for common respiratory pathogens. Once the underlying cause of your dog’s symptoms has been diagnosed, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe appropriate treatment to help get your dog back in fighting shape.

Treatment of respiratory infections in dogs

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Many respiratory infections in dogs are mild and will resolve on their own with time and supportive care, similar to a mild cold in humans. Your veterinarian may recommend keeping your dog quiet at home, ensuring your dog continues to eat and drink well, and keeping your dog away from other dogs until he or she is no longer contagious.

In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe treatment with antibiotics to combat secondary bacterial infections. Your dog may also be prescribed additional supportive care, such as intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous (SQ) fluids, appetite stimulant medications, and cough suppressants. In severe cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized for more intensive care and monitoring by the veterinary team.

It is best not to give your dog any home remedies or over the counter treatments for cold or flu as these may not be safe for your pet and they are not likely to be effective. Many decongestant and cough suppressant medications contain ingredients which are toxic to dogs. As always, consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any new medication, supplement, or home remedy.

Preventing colds and flu in your dog

The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent your dog from contracting respiratory infections and minimize the severity of the illness if your dog does become infected. Vaccinations are available for some canine respiratory pathogens, including canine influenza virus (CIV) and Bordetella Bronchiseptica (kennel cough). Although vaccination does not prevent your dog from coming into contact with and potentially contracting the disease, it does greatly reduce the severity of the infection. It is especially important if your dog frequents areas where he or she may have contact with other dogs, such as dog parks, boarding kennels, or grooming salons.You can also protect your dog by avoiding areas where dogs congregate, such as dog parks and daycares, if there has been an outbreak of respiratory disease in your area, and avoiding contact with any dog that is showing symptoms of respiratory disease.  

Canine cold and flu: more than just the sniffles

Although your dog can’t catch a cold from you, there are a lot of other respiratory diseases he or she can catch from other dogs. By knowing the symptoms of respiratory disease and keeping your dog up to date with regular veterinary wellness care and vaccines, you can help keep your dog protected from these common canine diseases. If your dog does display signs of respiratory illness, be sure to keep him or her away from other dogs, because he or she may be contagious just like when you have a cold or the flu. Seek veterinary care right away and be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions closely to help get your dog back to his or her old self as quickly as possible.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Since obtaining her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Dr. Racine has worked exclusively in small animal general practice. Her work has been featured in blog posts, articles, newsletters, journals, and even video scripts.