Sniffles and Sneezes: Do Dogs Get Colds?

Sad puppy looking up do dogs get colds

As pet owners, we always want our dogs to stay healthy. With allergy season here again, we might wonder: can dogs get colds too?

While we know what a cold looks like in people, it’s not so clear if dogs can catch them.

In this guide, we will explore the sniffly world of dog colds—what they are and how they happen.  You will also learn what you can do to help your dog get over their cold. 

What Exactly Is A Cold In Dogs?

Just like humans, dogs can fall prey to viral and bacterial infections that affect their respiratory systems—a.k.a. the dreaded common cold.

But don’t worry.

The viruses that cause colds in dogs are different from those that bug us. They are usually species-specific, meaning they only affect the canine species and no others. These colds, while usually not serious, can make your dog feel pretty lousy.

Types of Dog Infections:

  • 1. Kennel cough, caused by the bacteria Bordetella, is a highly contagious respiratory disease in dogs, often contracted in environments with close dog-to-dog contact, such as boarding facilities or dog parks.
  • 2. Distemper is a serious infection that affects dogs. The virus attacks the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems of dogs.  This infection can cause issues ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to pneumonia and even seizures. Vaccination against this virus starting at a young age can prevent its spread.
  • 3. Canine Influenza, also known as “dog flu”, is caused by Type A influenza. The symptoms are persistent cough, thick nasal discharge, fever (often 104-105℉), lethargy, runny eyes, and reduced appetite.
  • 4. Atypical Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex, also known as the “Mysterious” Canine Respiratory Infection, burst on the scene of canine health in 2023. It has spread widely across 16 states. A hallmark of this infection is chronic pneumonia (in addition to other respiratory symptoms) that does not respond to antibiotics. At the time of this article, research into this virus is ongoing and the US Department of Agriculture is investigating this disease.
  • Allergies, while not exactly a cold, can manifest through various symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, itching, and skin irritation. Antihistamines like Benadryl may provide some relief for your dog but be sure to consult a veterinarian before using this medication. 

Recognizing The Sniffles: Cold Symptoms In Dogs

Dogs have some of the same symptoms that humans have and they can usually last from 5-10 days. Monitor your dog for the following symptoms: 

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Lethargy
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild fever (102.6-103℉)
  • Labored breathing

Also, just like when we catch a cold, your pup might experience a lack of appetite or thirst.

How Dogs Catch Colds

Dogs are social butterflies, and they can catch colds from other dogs. Think of places where dogs mingle – dog parks, boarding kennels, or even during walks around the block.

do dogs get colds 2 dogs playing at the park

If another dog is carrying a cold virus, it can spread through the air or by direct contact.

Sniffing Out A Diagnosis

If you suspect that your dog has a cold and seems to be feeling worse by the day, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Once at the clinic, the doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and check vital signs (temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate).

They may likely recommend some diagnostic tests like bloodwork to check evidence of infection and chest X-rays to rule out pneumonia. 

Depending on your area and if there is a virus going around, your vet might order a special test called a Canine Respiratory Panel. 

This test checks for:

  • Canine Distemper Virus
  • Canine Herpes Virus
  • Canine Parainfluenza Virus 
  • Canine Respiratory Coronavirus 
  • Canine Adenovirus-2 
  • Influenza A
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Mycoplasma spp.

Typically, a simple nasal or throat swab from your dog is required and results come back in 3 business days. This respiratory test can give some insight as to exactly what is causing your pup to be sick. Your vet can then tailor treatment depending on what virus or bacteria is found, if any.

Treatment: Helping Your Dog Feel Better

Most dog colds don’t need severe medical intervention. Your vet may suggest giving them a nice spot to rest, plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated, and maybe some dog-friendly steam therapy to clear those airways.

For more serious cases like pneumonia, antibiotics and cough suppressants may be prescribed.

If the vet is concerned about your pup’s breathing or it has low oxygen levels (below 95% on room air), hospitalization, oxygen therapy, and IV medication would be recommended. 

Black labrador laying on a white bed
Photo by: Supitnan Pimpisarn

Human to Canine: The Contagion Question

As a veterinarian, I get this question often – “Can my dog get sick if I’m under the weather?”  Well, in most cases, it’s quite unlikely. The bugs that give us colds are generally not transferable to pooches. However, it’s always wise to practice good hygiene like frequent hand washing just to be on the safe side.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

While there’s no failsafe method to prevent dog colds completely, you can surely bolster their defenses. Keep their vaccinations up to date, feed a high-quality diet, and try to minimize contact with sick dogs.

Not only will this help keep your dog in tip-top shape, but it also ensures they continue to thrive.

Home Remedies

To help your dog recover from a cold, here are some things you can do:

  • Keep them warm and comfortable: Provide a cozy and warm environment for your dog to rest.
  • Ensure hydration: Make sure your dog has access to fresh water at all times to stay hydrated.
  • Encourage rest: Allow your dog plenty of rest to help their body fight off the cold.
  • Offer a bland diet: Consider giving your pup boiled white rice and broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable) in small amounts to encourage their appetite.
  • In-home steam treatment: Steam therapy can help relieve congestion in your dog’s respiratory system. You can run a hot shower and let your dog breathe in the steam for a few minutes, or use a humidifier in the room where they rest.
  • Follow veterinarian recommendations: If medications or treatments are prescribed, make sure to administer them as directed.
  • Limit exposure to other pets: Keep your sick dog away from other pets to prevent the spread of illness.

Monitor their symptoms: Keep an eye on your dog’s symptoms and contact your veterinarian if they worsen or if you have any additional concerns.

Closing Thoughts

While a dog cold isn’t usually a trip to the emergency room, it’s important to monitor your pet’s health and seek veterinary advice if symptoms persist. Remember, you know your furry friend best, and your observation can make all the difference.

And there you have it—everything you need to know about dog colds. A touch of care, a sprinkle of prevention, and an abundance of love can help keep your loyal companion healthy and happy. Keep on wagging, and stay pup-dated on all things canine care!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Can I give my dog human cold medicine?

It’s not recommended to give human cold medicine to dogs without consulting a veterinarian first, as many ingredients like dextromethorphan and pseudoephedrine can be harmful or even toxic to dogs.

  1. Should I keep my dog away from other dogs when they have a cold?

Yes, it’s a good idea to keep your dog away from other dogs to prevent spreading the illness. Do not board them or take them to a dog park or other areas where dogs play until their cold is over.

  1. Can dogs with colds still go for walks?

Limiting your dog’s activity when they have a cold is generally recommended to allow for rest and recovery. Short, gentle walks may be okay, but strenuous exercise should be avoided until your dog is feeling better.


Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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