In most areas of the country, it’s cold outside. Snowy, icy, wintery weather keeps us indoors this time of year. Being in close quarters spreads germs and is a surefire way for us to get sick.
Winter’s cold and flu season impacts us. But what about our dogs?
Most definitely! They can’t catch a cold or the flu from us because their viruses differ from ours. But when they get a cold, their symptoms are often the same. Sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose make our dogs miserable too.
The right diagnosis is important
The thing about these symptoms is they can mean your dog has a cold, or they can be a sign of something else. Some conditions with symptoms similar to a cold are very serious.
For instance, canine distemper. It’s a viral infection that can be deadly. The symptoms include coughing, thick discharge from the dog’s eyes and nose, and a high fever. But with distemper your dog may also vomit, not typical with a cold.
Besides distemper, parasites and fungal infections can get into the lungs, heart and trachea. These conditions also bring on cold-like symptoms—specifically coughing and breathing problems—and can lead to life-threatening complications.
The sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes can also be allergies. They can make your dog miserable but they’re generally not life threatening. There’s help for canine allergies. So talk to your vet.
Many people confuse kennel cough with a cold. A dog can easily contract kennel cough from another dog that has it. Usually when you’ve boarded your dog or your dog has come in contact with a dog that has recently been in the kennel. It causes a dry honking cough and you have to treat it.
How about the flu? People often say they have the flu when they have a bad cold. But your dog probably doesn’t have canine flu. It’s not that common. But any dog that comes in contact with it is likely to get it because most dogs are not immune to it.
Coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge look the same in canine flu as they do with a cold. But the flu may bring on lethargy and loss of appetite. Just like in humans, your dog will seem sicker with the flu than a cold. If you suspect the flu, call the vet. A dog with the flu can get pneumonia and that’s serious.
If you suspect that your dog’s symptoms are something more than a cold, it’s always a good idea to get them to the doctor.
Dogs catch colds the way people do
One way a dog can catch a cold is from another dog that has one. And, surprisingly, your dog can catch a chill just like you can.
When your mother threatened, “You’ll catch a chill”, did you wonder why you should care?
Well, if you catch a chill, your body needs to work harder and use more energy to stay warm. Expending more energy lowers your immune system. The same is true for your dog.
So if your dog often gets a cold, try to keep them dry and warm in the winter. A nice cozy sweater when they go outside is a great idea.
Many dogs will live their whole lives without ever catching a cold. But some dogs get them every year. It depends on the dog and their ability to fight infection.
Truthfully, of the eight dogs I’ve had, not one of them ever caught a cold. But my sister had a dog that had several colds over her life. Every dog is different.
Keep your dog’s immune system strong. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, access to clean fresh water, and a clean living environment are prevention measures you can take to keep colds away.
Treatment is similar too
Just like you would if you caught a cold, keep your dog hydrated. Feed them healthy food—even chicken soup as long as it’s not too hot and there are no bones. Keep them warm and dry.
Humidify the air near the area where they sleep if they’re having trouble breathing. You can also fill the bathtub with hot water to create steam and let your dog lay on the bathroom floor (NOT in the tub). Steam clears the sinuses and lungs.
If your dog is healthy overall, they’ll be over their cold in a few days. But some dogs need antibiotics or other meds. If your dog’s symptoms are lingering for more than 3 or 4 days or they’re worsening, see your vet.
Very young and very old dogs should see the vet at the onset of symptoms. Their immune systems can’t fight off a cold and may need some other interventions.
If you have multiple dogs and one has a cold, separate them. Colds are contagious, dog-to-dog.
Just like you can’t give your cold to your dog, they aren’t contagious to you. Remember, they are different viruses.
Has your dog had a cold? How did you know? Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.