Can dogs get sick from humans? Here's what a vet had to say

Dog laying with ill human
(Image credit: Getty)

Whether you’ve got a mild cold or a seriously miserable stomach virus, you might be curious what the answer to ‘can dogs get sick from humans?’ might be. Many people assume that bacteria and viruses wouldn’t jump across species, but you might be interested to learn that dogs can indeed get sick from their human owners. However, just because a dog can pick up your illness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll display symptoms.

It’s also worth noting that, while the answer to can dogs get a cold or flu is yes, it doesn’t happen particularly often. This means that it’s not very likely that your dog will pick up your flu, even if you’ve been sneezing and wheezing all around the house. 

We asked veterinarian Jo Woodnutt to break down the common illnesses that dogs can pick up from humans and the indications you should look out for that your dog is feeling under the weather. 

Dr Joanna Woodnutt BVM BVS BVMedSci MRCVS
Jo Woodnutt

Dr Joanne Woodnutt graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham and went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She soon developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behavior, and nutrition. She now specializes in helping clients understand their pets better. 

Can dogs get sick from humans?

If you’re wondering whether your dog can get sick from humans, the answer is yes – but much of the time it’s usually nothing to worry about. Jo Woodnutt says, “Respiratory diseases like flu are often easy to spread between animals and even from humans to dogs. COVID-19 and human influenza have both been isolated in dogs, but they don’t tend to cause symptoms in dogs.”

However, bacterial diseases are a different matter altogether. While respiratory diseases cause minimal symptoms (or no symptoms at all), bacteria can have much more of an effect on your dog. Jo says, “Bacterial diseases are much easier to spread. Vomiting and diarrhea bugs from diseases such as Salmonella and Campylobacter can transfer from human to dog (and vice-versa). These bugs usually need to enter the mouth, so common routes of infection are from dogs drinking from the toilet bowl when a family has a stomach bug.”

MRSA is also something for humans to be aware of when handling their dog. Jo says, “MRSA is a type of bacteria that lives on human skin. It is resistant to most or all known antibiotics and is responsible for thousands of deaths worldwide. Dogs don’t naturally have this bacteria on their skin, but their skin and wounds can become infected with it if handled by humans carrying the bacteria. 

“Humans don’t have any symptoms of having MRSA on their skin, which is why it’s so important to treat wounds with clean hands.” MRSA can cause infections of the skin, respiratory tract, and urinary tract, so if your dog has an injury, then make sure to handle it carefully and wear gloves to prevent any potential infection from occurring. 

How can you tell if your dog is ill?

If you’ve been unwell and you’re worried that your dog might have picked up your illness, then it’s understandable to be concerned. We asked Jo to break down the common symptoms that dogs might display if they’re feeling under the weather.

She says, “Any number of symptoms can be signs that your dog is ill. Common signs include being off their food, having diarrhea or vomiting, or being lethargic. Coughing and sneezing are less common signs of illness in dogs than in people, but do still happen. Dogs ill with respiratory infections may also have sore and runny eyes, or discharge from their nose.”

However, if your dog isn’t feeling well, sometimes the signs might not be quite as obvious. “Some dogs are stoic and don’t show signs of being ill, and some diseases are subtle and don’t have many symptoms. As a pet parent, you’re best placed to notice if something isn’t right with your dog, and it’s always best to get them checked out if you aren’t sure.” 

One symptom that can be easily overlooked is a change in behavior. If your dog has suddenly started doing anything from licking their tummy more to snapping or nipping out of the blue, this could be a sign that they’re in discomfort or pain. This is why most reputable dog trainers and behaviorists will usually suggest a vet visit before recommending a new training plan for a sudden change in behavior. 

Dog laying with ill human

(Image credit: Getty)

5 illnesses dogs can get from humans

If you’re wondering what type of illnesses dogs can pick up from humans, we’ve listed the five most common types below.

1. The flu

While dogs can pick up canine influenza, they can also be infected with human influenza viruses, including the H1N1 strains and H3N2 strains. However, while dogs can contract the human flu, they don’t actually appear to become ill. 

2. Bacterial infections

Dogs can pick up bacterial infections from a variety of places (including the best raw dog food, if it hasn’t been stored, defrosted or handled correctly), but they can also be passed from human to canine as well. Common causes of infection include Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni, both of which have a fecal-oral transmission – this means that if you don’t properly wash your hands after the bathroom and touch your dog’s mouth or face, you might pass the bacteria on. 

3. COVID-19

There are reports that a small number of dogs have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after having close contact with an owner who had contracted the virus. It appears that dogs don’t display any symptoms, or only have mild symptoms. 

Dog paw in human hand

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that can affect skin, hair and nails. It’s spread through contact with the fungus and, while more often spread from animals to people, it can also be passed from human to dog. If you see bald, scaly patches (particularly on your dog’s ears, face or tail), then your dog might have contracted ringworm.

5. Mumps

There have previously been antibodies to the mumps virus found in dogs, which suggests that they can be infected by the virus. However, mumps is very rare in humans now thanks to vaccinations, so it’s unlikely your dog would pick it up. 

For more on this, take a look at our feature covering food vs environmental dog allergies with expert advice.

Louise Carey

Louise Carey is a freelance writer and the Editor of sister website Top Ten Reviews. She has been working in publishing for seven years, contributing to publications including The Independent, TechRadar, Digital Camera World and more. As the proud pet parent of a reactive border collie with a food allergy, it’s been necessary for Louise to explore a variety of fun and exciting ways to enrich an energetic dog that can’t always go on walks. She’s passionate about sharing the information she’s learned to help other pet owners as well.