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canine health problems

Preventing and caring for colds in dogs

Cough drops and NyQuil won’t cure colds in dogs, but here’s what you can do to help your dog’s sniffles and “achoos.”

Updated September 20, 2021

Created By

Paige Bennett,

📷 by Gemma Evans

Can my dog really get a cold? 

Just like us humans, dogs can catch a cold, although human and dog colds are caused by different viruses. Humans typically catch a cold from rhinovirus, which can’t be transferred to animals. Doggie “colds” are typically caused by viruses that are unique to canines.

If your pup has a cold, they may have a runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, and frequent sneezing, similar to our own symptoms. They may also seem less playful than normal, trading extra walks or tug-of-war for more naps.

What causes colds and sniffles in dogs

A pup’s sneezes and watery eyes could be caused by several different types of viruses. Your dog may have canine influenza, canine parainfluenza, or canine adenovirus types 1 and 2, which are canine hepatitis and respiratory disease, respectively. 

Cold symptoms in a dog could also be signs of canine infectious tracheobronchitis, known as kennel cough, or canine distemper, both of which can become very severe. While colds are generally considered harmless for humans, cold symptoms for a dog can be serious.

Can dogs get colds from humans?

There’s nothing quite as healing as having your furry friend curl up with you on the couch while you’re stuck at home with the sniffles. Luckily, you don’t have to stress that this cuddle time will leave your dog sick, too. Rhinovirus, which causes most cases of the common cold in humans, can transfer from human to human, but not from human to dog. Humans can also get a cold from coronaviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza and parainfluenza viruses; in these cases, there’s a very low risk for humans to pass these on to their dogs.

Colds vs. kennel cough

Kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, is more serious than a common cold for dogs. It’s highly contagious and impacts a dog’s respiratory system. This disease is common in spaces where large numbers of dogs gather, so be wary of kennel cough risks when you take your dog to daycare or the dog park

Kennel cough and cold symptoms are similar: lethargy, sneezing, and coughing. But kennel cough can also cause a fever and appetite loss. Of course, kennel cough’s most distinctive symptom is the cough, which is not phlegmy but dry, loud, hacking, and persistent. This cough typically becomes a coughing fit, then the dog will vomit up phlegm.

👉 Many puppies are vaccinated against Canine Parainfluenza (one of the viruses that cause kennel cough). Make sure your dog visits the vet annually to stay up to date on their vaccinations.

Colds vs. other respiratory diseases

Dog colds have symptoms that are identical to symptoms caused by serious illnesses, such as distemper or respiratory coronavirus. For example, canine distemper is caused by a paramyxovirus and leads to widespread infection in a dog’s body that can be deadly. The symptoms at the start of this illness can include watery eyes, nasal discharge, and coughing. 

Distemper, kennel cough, parainfluenza, canine flu, respiratory coronavirus, and adenovirus can all have symptoms like coughing, lethargy, and sneezing. It’s important to take your dog to the vet at the first signs of what may seem like a cold to evaluate the real cause of the symptoms.

Signs your pup may have a cold

Dog colds have very similar symptoms to human colds, from lethargy to sneezing. But for dogs, each of these symptoms could also be signs of serious health risks. If your dog sounds or looks sick, be sure to call or visit the vet to determine whether or not your dog has a cold.

  • Nasal discharge. Wet noses on dogs are normal, but if there’s nasal congestion and/or excessive nasal discharge dripping from the nostrils, this could be a sign of a cold.
  • Watery eyes. Like humans, dogs can get watery eyes during a cold. Keep in mind, though, that eye discharge could also mean allergies or serious health issues like distemper or a corneal ulcer.
  • Sneezing. If your pup’s sneezing more than usual, it could be a cold.
  • Low-energy. Dogs tend to prefer resting overplaying while they have a cold. They’ll likely experience low energy for five to ten days during the duration of the cold.
  • Heavy breathing. What does a dog cold sound like? It could be heavy breathing or snoring due to congestion.
  • Coughing. Pay attention to the sound of a dog’s cough. Honking, gagging, or “wet” coughs could be signs of dangerous ailments like pneumonia, tracheal collapse, or even heart disease.

👉 These symptoms can also be signs of more serious conditions like kennel cough, influenza virus (dog flu), bronchitis, and more.

If your dog’s showing signs of a cold, call the vet

Watery eyes, runny noses, sneezes, and coughs aren’t always symptoms of a viral infection in dogs. Bacteria, fungi, parasites, or even allergens can cause symptoms similar to a cold. Your pup can’t tell you how they’re feeling, so it’s important to take them to the vet when you hear frequent coughing or sneezing or notice watery eyes or a dripping nose.

The vet can evaluate your pet to determine if it’s truly a cold or if there are other underlying health issues, plus prescribe any necessary treatments to help your dog get back to optimal health.

There are many methods a vet will employ to determine the cause of the cold or cold-like symptoms in a dog. First and foremost, there are vaccines for many viral infections in pets, so your vet can check to make sure Fido has been vaccinated against distemper, for example. The vet will give your dog a physical exam to check the heart and lungs for signs of fluid or congestion.

A vet can do a respiratory disease panel to test for bacterial and viral infections. For the test, the vet will swab the dog’s inner eyelid and back of the mouth with sterile swabs. The specimens will be sent to a lab for PCR (DNA) testing, and results will be available within one to four days.

If the vet rules out a cold, they may also require additional tests like blood work, fecal testing, or radiographs to find out what could be the issue. If the vet does diagnose a cold, your pup will exhibit its symptoms for about five to ten days while the cold runs its course.

📷 by William Priess

Caring for your pup at home

Once your vet confirms that your dog has a cold, it’s important to keep your pet comfortable while they recover. Dogs recover from colds just like us: with plenty of rest and fluids.

Provide a warm, humid home  — Add a humidifier or two throughout your home. The humidity can help loosen congestion for your dog. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can bring your dog into the bathroom while you take a hot shower. The steam will also help with congestion. Like humans, being chilly with a cold can make your pup feel worse, so keep your house warm and limit cold outdoor walks to just the necessary potty breaks.

Offer lots of fluids — Keep your dog hydrated by keeping their water bowl full of fresh water. Consider making some warm, homemade bone broth (just be sure to remove bones before serving) or offering some warm, low-sodium chicken soup or store-bought broth for nutrients and hydration. 

Let your dog rest — Your dog needs rest to heal. Skip the long walks or jogs until Fido is feeling better. Instead, make sure the couch and dog bed are clean and comfy for plenty of naps.

Keep eyes and noses clean — A drippy nose is annoying, and incessantly watering eyes can be uncomfortable. Use a clean, dry cloth to wipe away nasal and eye discharge. 

👉 Visit your vet if you notice yellow or green eye or nasal discharge, which can be an indication of a bacterial infection.

Keep these items on hand

If your dog has a cold, here’s what you should keep in your pup’s care package so they’ll feel better in no time.

Snout Soother. During the cold, your dog’s nose may discharge clear liquid, and you’ll probably spend a lot of time wiping it clean. Soothe any dryness or chapping with a natural Snout Soother or Vaseline.

Warm blankets. If your pup is shivering, keep them dry and warm with their own blanket. Avoid using a blanket that gets hot, as it can cause thermal burns. Give your dog plenty of space to move away from the blanket if they get too hot. Remove the blanket if your dog is panting, which is a sign that your dog is too warm.

Humidifier. A humidifier will help loosen congestion, so add one to the room where your dog sleeps.

Low-sodium beef broth. Native Pet makes a yummy organic bone broth for dogs and cats in chicken or beef flavors, which can be warmed up as a liquid drink. If you give your dog low-sodium beef broth from the store, be sure to check the ingredients in broths before serving, as ingredients like onion and/or garlic are toxic to dogs.

Raw honey. Unsurprisingly, a cold can also mean a sore throat. Raw honey can help coat and soothe the throat, and it also has the benefit of being anti-viral, -bacterial, and -fungal. For a medium-sized dog of about 30 to 50 pounds, you can give 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of raw honey three times a day.

Can you prevent your dog from getting a cold? 

It’s impossible to completely prevent the common cold, but there are ways to help keep your dog as healthy as possible. First and foremost, make sure your dog is up to date on their vaccinations. While there’s no vaccine for a cold, there are vaccines for the viruses that cause distemper, kennel cough, adenoviruses type 1 and 2, parainfluenza, and canine influenza.

Otherwise, it’s a matter of good hygiene and keeping your dog away from other sick pets. Keep food bowls clean daily, wash your hands when handling pet food and waste, and avoid pup playdates when you know a friend’s pet has recently been sick.

How to boost your pup’s immune system

Even diligent preventative measures can’t always prevent a cold — just an hour at the dog park could lead to a common cold. But there are ways you can help keep your dog’s immune system strong, even during cold and flu season in the fall and winter.

Best practices for any pet parent

Keep your dog clean The key to staying healthy is good hygiene to keep viruses and bacteria at bay.  But good hygiene for dogs is different than for humans, as daily cleanings can actually weaken a dog’s immune system. Aim for washing your pup about once a month and after particularly muddy adventures. 

Help your pup stay at a healthy weight Talk to your vet about weight goals for your pet. Over- or under-weight dogs are at risk of weakening their immune systems, but you can help keep your pet at a healthy weight with nutritious foods, portion control, and exercise. 

Keep their bowls and toys squeaky clean Dog noses come in contact with a lot of germs that then transfer to food and water bowls and toys. Clean food and water bowls daily, and wash toys with warm water daily, too. Fully dry these items to prevent bacteria from breeding in the wet environment.

Find ways to keep your dog stress-free Stress can weaken immune systems for pets and humans alike. Stress for a dog may mean irregular feeding and walking times or negative interactions with another dog at the park. Create, and stick to, a schedule for feedings and walks, give your dog regular exercise daily, carve out time for playing and cuddling, and avoid negative interactions with other animals or humans.

Consider adding something to their diet

Give your dog a healthy diet — Dogs need healthy, nutritious foods just like humans do (although healthy foods for dogs can sometimes vary from human dietary needs). Choose healthy dog foods made with real, natural ingredients, and then give your dog some antioxidant boosts with occasional treats of bananas, apples, carrots, or broccoli.

See if your dog would benefit from a probiotic — Some dogs may benefit from probiotics, or “good” bacteria, in their digestive systems, which can help fend off illnesses. Talk to your vet about probiotics, and then take a look at one of the best probiotics for dogs.

Consider salmon oil — Salmon oil for pups has many health benefits. In addition to strengthening the immune system, salmon oil can protect heart health, relieve allergies, and support skin and fur health. Just be sure to choose a trusted salmon oil for dogs.

Check out multivitamins High-quality dog multivitamins may also help boost your dog’s immune response.

👉 Always ask your veterinarian before adding a new probiotic, supplement, or oil to your dog’s diet.

Stay aware of dog disease outbreaks in your community

While humans transferring illnesses to dogs (and vice versa) is rare, it’s extremely common for dogs to make one another sick. Dogs explore their world through their snouts and mouths, and that means viruses and bacteria can easily move from one dog to the next. Dogs tend to be social creatures, so playdates, dog park visits, and even strolls through the neighborhood tend to be a social affair with dogs mingling with one another.

It’s important to talk to your fellow pet owners about any disease outbreaks in the community, and limit pet interactions until the infected pups are healed. Vaccinate your pet against common diseases. If your pet catches an illness, whether it be a small cold or something more serious, keep them away from other animals both in your home and in public places (including dog parks, pet stores, or around the neighborhood).

Just like we’d stay home until our illness is over, your pup should stay nice and cozy at home until they’re 100% healthy again.