Can dogs get colds?

May 22, 2024 - 7 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM on May 21, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

A young boy sitting on a grey couch blowing his nose, with a Jack Russell dog laying in his lap

Can dogs get colds?

Dogs can get colds—sort of. While they can’t usually contract the types of viruses that cause the common cold in humans (rhinoviruses, for example), they can suffer from several upper respiratory infections that cause cold-like symptoms. 

Over the course of this article, we’ll use the word “cold” to describe such mild conditions (though it might be more accurate to call them upper respiratory infections). Recognizing the signs of canine colds early can help your dog get the care they need and prevent more serious problems from developing. 

Respiratory illnesses in dogs

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Symptoms like coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and lethargy can all be cold symptoms (though they can also point to a range of other issues). With colds, the symptoms are somewhat similar to those of more serious conditions like pneumonia or chronic bronchitis but generally milder. 

However, a cold can sometimes turn into a more serious condition. Identifying symptoms early can help your dog recover more quickly and prevent the spread of illness to other pets. 

Causes of canine respiratory illnesses

Various factors, including viral and bacterial infections, as well as environmental influences, can lead to respiratory issues.

Viral infections, such as canine adenovirus type 2 and canine parainfluenza

Viral infections are a common cause of respiratory illnesses in dogs. Several viruses can be to blame but two of the most common are canine adenovirus type 2 and canine parainfluenza. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and occasionally a mild fever.

Both viruses spread easily in places where dogs gather, such as dog parks, boarding facilities, and grooming salons, and can be an underlying cause of kennel cough. Vaccination can help protect your dog.

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Bacterial infections, including Bordetella

Bacterial infections are another common cause of respiratory illnesses in dogs. One of the most well-known bacterial infections is Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is often associated with kennel cough. This highly contagious condition is characterized by a persistent, dry cough, which can sometimes be severe enough to cause retching or gagging.

Whether it’s caused by a virus or bacteria (or both!), kennel cough is often spread through contact with infected dogs, shared water bowls, or contaminated surfaces. Vaccinations are available for Bordetella, and good hygiene practices can help reduce the risk of infection.

Environmental factors and allergens

small chocolate labrador retriever puppy combats itching by scratching with its hind leg

Environmental factors and allergens can also result in symptoms that look a lot like a cold. Dust, pollen, mold, and smoke are common triggers that can cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. Dogs with allergies may also experience symptoms like itchy skin, watery eyes, and ear infections.

Keeping your home clean and free of irritants can help minimize these issues. Regularly cleaning your dog's bedding, using air purifiers, and avoiding smoking around your pet are practical steps you can take.

Can dogs get sick from cold weather?

Cold weather itself does not directly cause respiratory illnesses in dogs, but it can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to infections. During colder months, keep your dog inside when you can’t monitor them outdoors. Consider using a dog coat or sweater, and limit their time outside during extreme weather. 

Signs and symptoms of a dog cold

By staying attentive to specific indicators, you can provide timely care and prevent minor issues from escalating into more serious health problems.

Common symptoms of colds and respiratory illnesses in dogs

Dogs with colds often display a range of symptoms similar to those in humans. These can include:

  • Coughing: A persistent, dry, or wet cough is a common symptom of respiratory illness.

  • Sneezing: Frequent sneezing can indicate nasal irritation or infection.

  • Nasal discharge: Clear or colored discharge from the nose may suggest a cold or other respiratory condition.

  • Watery eyes: Excessive tearing or eye discharge can be a sign of irritation or infection.

  • Lethargy: Dogs may become less active and more tired than usual.

  • Appetite changes: A reduced appetite or difficulty eating can occur due to nasal congestion or general malaise.

  • Fever: A mild fever may accompany other symptoms, indicating an underlying infection.

Monitoring the severity and progression of these symptoms can help you determine whether your dog has a mild cold or something more serious that requires veterinary attention.

Differences between canine and human cold symptoms

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While dog colds and human colds don’t share the same causes, dogs can develop symptoms that resemble human colds. But there are also some differences.  

For example, while humans might suffer from headaches or muscle aches, these symptoms are harder to detect in dogs. Instead, watch for signs of discomfort, changes in behavior, or other symptoms mentioned above. 

Can dogs get colds from humans?

In general, dogs can’t catch colds from humans. The viruses responsible for colds in people are specific to humans and don’t typically infect dogs, although in rare cases, transmission between species is possible. However, dogs can easily catch respiratory illnesses from other dogs, so keep your dog up-to-date on vaccinations and try to keep them away from sick dogs. 

Diagnosing dog colds

If your dog has mild symptoms and isn’t eating or drinking abnormally, watchful waiting may be an appropriate response. Similar to how colds work in people, many dogs will recover with just a little extra TLC. However, it’s time to see a veterinarian if your dog’s condition gets worse or their symptoms aren’t mostly gone in a week or so.

Effective treatment always starts with an accurate diagnosis. Understanding the diagnostic process helps you know what to expect when you take your dog to the vet for respiratory issues.

Veterinary evaluation and diagnostic tests for respiratory illnesses

Your vet will start with a thorough physical examination. This includes listening to your dog’s lungs and heart, checking their temperature, and observing their overall condition.

Based on the initial examination, the vet may recommend several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the symptoms. These tests can include:

  • Chest X-rays: To check for abnormalities in the heart, lungs, and airways.

  • Blood tests: To identify any underlying infections or other health issues.

  • Nasal or throat swabs: To test for specific viruses or bacteria.

  • Bronchoscopy: A procedure that involves inserting a small camera into the airways to look for obstructions or other problems.

These tests help the veterinarian pinpoint the exact cause of your dog’s respiratory symptoms and rule out more serious conditions.

Differentiating between viral and bacterial infections in dogs

a vet nurse examines an Alaskan Malamute on a table

The treatment approaches for viral and bacterial infections can differ substantially. Viral infections, such as canine adenovirus type 2 or parainfluenza, may require supportive care to help your dog recover while their immune system fights off the virus. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses but can be prescribed if there’s a secondary bacterial infection.

Bacterial infections, such as kennel cough caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica, may require antibiotics to eliminate the infection. In complicated cases, your vet may use diagnostic test results, such as cultures from nasal or throat swabs, to identify the specific bacteria and determine the most effective antibiotic treatment.

If your dog shows signs of a moderate-to-severe respiratory infection, don’t delay in seeking veterinary care to make sure they get diagnosed and treated before symptoms get worse. 

Treating respiratory illnesses in dogs

Once a respiratory illness in a dog is diagnosed, appropriate treatment options can help manage symptoms and speed up recovery. 

Medications for managing symptoms and infections

Medications can play a crucial role in treating respiratory illnesses in dogs. Depending on the diagnosis, your veterinarian may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics: These are used to treat bacterial infections, such as those caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough) or to prevent bacterial infections if a dog is at high risk.

  • Antivirals: While less common, antivirals may be prescribed for severe viral infections.

  • Cough suppressants: These can help manage persistent coughing and provide relief for your dog.

  • Anti-inflammatories: These medications reduce inflammation in the airways and can alleviate symptoms and make your dog feel better.

  • Decongestants: These may be used to reduce nasal congestion and improve breathing.

Be sure to follow your vet’s dosage instructions carefully and complete the full course of meds as prescribed.  

Home remedies and supportive care for dogs with colds

A woman with curly hair wearing a yellow shirt is sitting on the floor, working on a laptop and holding papers. She is surrounded by documents and a coffee mug. Behind her, a dog with a white and black coat is lying on a teal sofa, resting its head on a pillow.

In addition to medications, home remedies and supportive care can help manage your dog’s symptoms and promote healing. Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water, as hydration helps thin mucus and reduces congestion. Using a humidifier in the room where your dog sleeps can help keep their airways moist and ease breathing.

Encourage your dog to rest and avoid strenuous activities until they’re fully recovered. Keep your dog warm and comfortable in a cozy environment, avoiding drafts and cold areas. Providing a nutritious diet supports your dog’s immune system, and soft, easy-to-eat foods can be helpful if they have a reduced appetite.

These supportive measures can make a significant difference in your dog’s recovery process.

Recovery and management

When it comes to recovery and preventing future colds, regular veterinary check-ups are crucial, especially for dogs who are prone to respiratory issues. Schedule regular visits to the vet to monitor your dog's health, and keep up with vaccinations and preventive treatments

And try to minimize their exposure to allergens that may trigger respiratory symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is just as important. You can boost their immune system and overall health by feeding them a nutritious diet, giving them regular exercise, and providing them a low-stress living environment.

Tips for preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses in multi-dog households

If you have multiple dogs, it's important to take measures to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. One effective strategy is isolation: Keep the sick dog isolated from other pets until they have fully recovered to prevent transmission. Make sure to use separate bowls, toys, and bedding for the sick dog, and disinfect any shared items regularly to minimize the risk of spreading germs.

Hand hygiene is extremely important in these situations. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the sick dog to avoid spreading germs to other pets. And regularly clean and disinfect common areas in your home where your dogs spend time.

Ensuring your dog's health with pet insurance

Keeping your dog healthy and managing their recovery from respiratory illnesses can be challenging, but having pet insurance can provide peace of mind. To help your pup receive the best care possible, ManyPets offers dog insurance plans that cover unexpected veterinary expenses, including respiratory conditions.

Learn more about ManyPets dog insurance and get a quote today

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We've got your dog's back (even if it's in a brace).

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David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.