Dogs and Colds - Can Dogs Get Colds?

How Do Dogs Get Colds? A Complete Guide to Dogs and Colds

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Every year, once the warm weather fades away for the year in most parts of the country, most of us expect to end up with a cold or two before the spring, and resign ourselves to a few days of sniffing, snuffling and coughing. But how about our furry friends? Do dogs get colds? How do dogs get colds? Can they catch our colds?

The very simple answer is no, dogs do not get colds, or at least not the kinds of cold viruses we do. The issue is murky as, even in humans, there is no such thing as a cold, in the way there are measles, or even COVID-19. Instead, there are a group of rhinoviruses that we all tend to lump together and call a cold, and in this sense yes, dogs get rhinoviruses that produce the symptoms we think of as cold symptoms in them, although they are not the same viruses as humans catch.

Do Dogs Get Colds?

As we just mentioned, the term 'cold' is a very loose one, but dogs can get rhinoviruses that are very much like colds. Vets often give it the same generic term as well, to avoid confusion for pet parents, but they are usually referring to one of a specific set of viruses. These include canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine respiratory coronavirus or Bordetella, which is more commonly known as kennel cough.

How Can Dogs Get a Cold?

American Eskimo white dog in the snow

Most of the conditions we would think of as a dog cold are viruses, and like most viruses they are often caught when the pup is around another dog with a 'cold', and a few are air transmitted. What does not cause a 'cold' in dogs is the cold itself, that is an old misconception, and it's as untrue for canines as it is for humans.

Bordetella, aka kennel cough, is different. It is caused by specific bacteria, and while it usually resolves on its own in some cases pus may need a course of antibiotics to treat it (which is not the case for other colds, which are strictly viruses.) Dogs can also receive vaccinations to help prevent them from developing Bordetella, and you will usually find that this is mandated if your dog attends doggy daycare, a dog training class or is going to be boarded.

Can a Dog Get a Cold From a Human?

Dogs cannot get colds from humans, and humans cannot get 'dog colds', so if they are sick they won't infect you and vice versa. Other dogs can catch his 'cold' though, so if he has housemates keeping them separate may be a good idea (or coming to teams with the fact they'll both get it, just like human kids) and they should not socialize with other pup outdoors until they are feeling better (so stay away from the dog park until he's on the mend).

How Do I Know if My Dog Has a Cold?

A sick and tired German Shepherd lying down on the ground

'Dog cold' symptoms are often very similar to human cold symptoms, which means you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Excessive sneezing
  • Sniffing and snuffling
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Low fever
  • Cough - Bordetella produces a dry, hacking cough, thus why it was termed kennel cough

In a Nutshell

Although most dog colds resolve easily on their own, if your pup becomes overly lethargic, stops drinking, does not eat at all or seems to be in pain he should visit his vet, primarily to rule out other, more serious conditions that these symptoms can also be a sign of.

How Often Do Dogs Get a Cold?

The more time a dog spends around other dogs, the more likely it is he will 'catch' a cold. Of course, most pups like to spend time with their dog friends, but keeping them at a distance during peak 'cold season' may help prevent your pup from getting sick. Many dogs will get a cold, or even two, every fall and/or winter, just like we do.

How Contagious Is It?

Different viruses that might be classified as a 'dog cold' have different levels of transmission, and these can be very hard for even experts to predict. The one that is proven to be very infectious is Bordetella, and that is usually spread very quickly in settings where lots of dogs are together in a small space, such as a shelter, a boarding kennel or a doggy daycare. This is, fairly obviously, how the term kennel cough came about.

The best protection against Bordetella comes from vaccination. Bordetella vaccination is recommended for healthy adult dogs who come into contact with large groups of other dogs once a year, although some boarding and doggy daycare facilities may ask that pups get a booster every six months. You should talk to your vet about vaccinating your puppy against Bordetella at the proper age.

How Do You Treat a Dog With a Cold?

Cold Chihuahua dog wearing a knitted jumper

If your pup has Bordetella he may be treated with antibiotics from your vet, although these are not always needed, and, as the over prescription of antibiotics in dogs is as harmful as it is in humans, if your vet does not feel they are necessary don't demand them just because your neighbor's dog was once given them.

Most other 'dog colds' can be treated at home with basic care measures, as is the case for humans.

The basic treatment of a dog cold is very similar to that a human would follow. You should try to ensure that your pup has tasty, nutritious food to eat, access to plenty of clean water, and has the opportunity to rest as much as possible.

If your pup is cold and shivering, especially during the cooler months of the year, consider getting an inexpensive dog sweater (like this found on Chewy)

If your pup seems congested, adding a humidifier (get it on Amazon) to their sleeping space, or the room where they spend the most time, will often be very helpful. If you can trust them to behave, the steam from your shower can be very soothing as well.

Labrador sitting beside a humidifier to help with allergies, breathing and sleeping issues for dogs.

Dogs and Cold Remedies

The viruses we think of as colds in both dogs and humans can't be 'cured'. But that does not stop humans from resorting to all kinds of over the counter medications and home remedies in an effort to lessen their cold symptoms, or shorten their duration. These usually produce varying results. Some OTC medications mask symptoms well enough that people can function, and some home remedies are very soothing. But that's in humans, how about dogs?

Take Note

To begin with, you should never give your pup any kind of over the counter cold medication that is designed for humans, even in very small doses. Many of the common ingredients in these medications, including Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen and Pseudoephedrine, can be toxic to dogs (and fatal to cats) even in small doses.

As most cold medicines contain a combination of these ingredients not only should they never be given to dogs, any that are kept in the home for human consumption should be kept well out of their reach, and if they are accidentally ingested by your pup a prompt call to Animal Poison Control is a must.

Take Note

If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially toxic substance,call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

But what about home remedies? 

You'll find all kinds of dog cold home remedies on the internet, and many of them are either not very helpful or, in some cases, dangerous. You may see honey recommended for dog colds, for instance.

The logic here is that it can be soothing for a human with a cold, so why not dogs? The problem is that even natural honey is very high in sugars dogs don't need, and as they can't tell us, we have no idea if their sore throat feels better or not.

You may also see aroma based essential oil treatments suggested for dogs with colds, again, going on the logic that they help some humans with a cold feel better, so why not dogs?

The fact is that you need to be very careful when using essential oils around dogs at all. Dogs navigate their world primarily via their sense of smell, and even if a cold is making that less efficient than usual as dogs have a sense of smell that is over 40 times more powerful than ours, the pungent aroma of essential oils may make a pup even more agitated and upset than they were before.

One older human cold remedy that might very well help your pup feel a lot better if they have a cold is chicken soup. You should not share your soup with them, as it is probably high in sodium and may contain ingredients like onions that dogs should not consume at all.

Brutus Bone Broth for Dogs 64 oz | All...

A store bought dog bone broth is safe though, and may tempt a dog with a cold into eating again while providing him with lots of extra vitamins and minerals he'll benefit from as well. You can also try making your own at home, as long as you leave out the extra salt and seasonings you would probably add if you were making the soup for yourself.

How Long Do Dogs Have a Cold?

Most 'dog colds' will last about as long as a human cold, a week or so. If, however, your pup is sick for longer than that, or seems to be getting worse instead of better, if you have not done so already, you should take him to see his vet.

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Medical Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not intended to help assess or manage animal exposures or as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.

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