January 26, 2021 6 min read
We all know what it's like to wake up in the morning with a cold - headache, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose. If you're lucky, you spend the day in bed drinking soup and watching Netflix, but if you're not you have to drag yourself around the day with over-the-counter pain medication to keep the symptoms under control.
If you're spending the day cuddled up on the couch with your pooch, you may have asked yourself - can dogs get a cold? It's a good question, and while the short answer is yes, the long answer is a bit more complicated.
First, it's important to realize that both in humans and dogs, a cold is actual a general description that covers a wide range of viral infections of the upper respiratory tract. They can be caused by many types of viruses, which is one of the reasons that colds can vary quite widely in terms of both symptoms and severity.
While both human and dog colds come from viral infections, the viruses are generally specific to each species, so you're not likely to pass your cold to your dog and vice versa. Colds in dogs are commonly caused by a few different viruses - canine parainfluenza virus, canine adenovirus and canine respiratory coronavirus. That said, you don't need to worry about which virus is the cause of your dog's cold, because they all cause very similar symptoms.
The symptoms of a dog's cold are more or less what you'd expect and are very similar to those of a human cold. They include:
Of course, you probably recognize that one of the challenges of diagnosing a cold in humans also exists here - many of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. Since unlike a human patient, your dog can't communicate how ill he's feeling, it's definitely best to keep an eye out when you see these symptoms to make sure they don't become more serious.
One important note - if you're concerned about your dog's health, the best place to go is always your vet.
With that in mind, there are a few things that you can look for that differentiate a dog cold from something more serious.
With canine influenza, you may notice a few symptoms that you won't see with a cold, including vomiting and discharge from the eyes and nose. Beyond that, canine influenza generally shares most symptoms with a cold but is more severe, so look for things like a cough that's especially persistent or that sounds as though it is getting worse over time.
Kennel cough, like a cold, can have a few different causes, but most commonly it is a result of a bacterial infection by the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica (which you've probably heard of from your dog's bordetella shot, which helps to protect against kennel cough). It is normal fairly easy to distinguish from a cold because it comes with a distinct-sounding cough that sounds something like a goose honking.
As with humans, dogs can get bronchitis. While this does share symptoms with the cold, it also tends to include wheezing, plus it may also display vomiting or retching as symptoms.
Distemper is more serious and a bit different than a cold. It generally includes a water discharge from the eyes as well as discharge from the nose, plus many of the other symptoms of a cold.
The most important way to treat a dog with a cold is with kindness and sympathy! Beyond that, there are a few things you can do to help your pup recover as quickly as humanly (doggily?) possible.
First of all, you should know that your dog needs the same thing you need when you're feeling under the weather - lots of rest! If your pup doesn't look up for it, you should go ahead and skip the walk, so she can use all her energy to get better. This is doubly true during cold weather, which can exacerbate the symptoms of a cold.
Another familiar treatment is food that's easy on the stomach - we definitely recommend boiled chicken and rice (see: Can Dogs Have Rice?). It's a healthy but bland combination that will get your dog the nutrients she needs while minimizing the risk of vomiting or other stomach issues. In addition to food, water is always good for sick dogs. While you can't really force your dog to drink water, make sure there is a fresh bowl as close as possible, so she doesn't have to get up to get a drink.
Lastly, keep your dog clean, warm and dry. If you see discharge from the eyes or nose, wipe it away with a soft cloth. Keep the room temperature on the warm side, and run a dehumidifier if you're in a damp place.
While it's important to know the symptoms of a cold as well as the best ways to treat it, in an ideal world our dogs would never get sick at all, so we wouldn't have to worry about it.
The first thing you should do is make sure that your dog is up to date on all of his shots. If he's had his bordetella, he's much less likely to get kennel cough (which is why most dog boarding facilities require it for all dogs who board with them). A bit less common but increasingly used vaccination is canine influenza. It's very similar to a human flu shot in that it only protects from some strains of the flu (if you want as much protection as possible, ask your vet for a bivalent shot, which protects against the two most common strains), but it's still worth doing as it poses almost no risk to your dog but can save them from what can be a pretty unpleasant illness.
Unfortunately, as with humans, there is no shot to prevent the common cold. There are still plenty of things you can do to ensure your dog has a strong immune system, though. Proper diet and exercise are the most important start - make sure you're feeding your dog high-quality dog food, and if you see any issues with his stool, mention those to your vet. Remember that dog nutritional needs change - that's why there are special foods for puppies and older dogs.
Your dog's water bowl is a source of possible illness, and we recommend using a stainless steel bowl rather than a plastic one, as plastic bowls are more likely to have bacterial growth. Change your dog's water regularly and clean the bowl frequently as well.
There are also foods and supplements than can help to strengthen your dog's immune system. Probiotics are good bacteria that can help with digestive and immune health, and you can find them either in supplement form or in a number of foods. Yogurt (we always recommend plain Greek yogurt for dogs), asparagus, bananas and apples are all good options that also make delicious, healthy snacks.
Lastly, make sure that your dog gets enough, good-quality sleep. Just as you don't sleep well if there are lots of loud noises and lights, neither does your dog. Make sure you have a quiet, dark place that is kept at an appropriate temperature for your dog to sleep.
We all love our dogs and hate to see them suffer, which is why we want to jump into action when we see a tired, coughing pup. Just remember that a canine cold is a lot like a human cold - annoying and uncomfortable but rarely serious. The best thing you can do is make sure your dog has plenty of water, a comfortable spot to rest and bland but healthy food.
Of course, we very much recommend making sure that your pup has a healthy, nutritious diet, plenty of exercise and a good place to sleep - those are the best things to stop a cold from coming on in the first place.
Lastly, we just want to remind you that while a cold isn't especially dangerous, does share symptoms with more serious illnesses. If your dog's cold is dragging on without getting better, or if you're seeing new, more concerning symptoms, you should always call your vet.
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