Can Dogs Catch Colds? Depends On What You Consider a Cold...

Dr. Patty Khuly

Can my dog get a cold?

Here’s a common scenario: Dog comes to the vet after a few days of coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, upper respiratory congestion, and general malaise. His person asks, “What’s up with him, Doc? Does my dog have the flu?”

After a physical examination reveals nothing more illuminating than the above-mentioned symptoms, I’m typically forced to explain that he probably has something more akin to a cold than the flu. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to confirm it. At that point, the somewhat deflated dog person probably wonders why they bothered to bring the dog in if the vet can’t tell them for sure what’s going on.

If you think about it, though, that’s pretty much what happens when, assailed by the same symptoms, you drag yourself or your kids to your family doctor or pediatrician. The doc will typically look at you and say, “Sorry you feel so bad, but there’s not much we can do. You probably have a nasty cold bug and all you need is rest, fluids, Tylenol, and other symptom-specific treatments like decongestants or cough suppressants.”

Kinda unsatisfying, right? Especially if you dragged yourself to the urgent care place in the middle of the night because you were convinced you were dying of some unspeakable influenza infection. Instead, the doc on duty informed you that most likely you’d been caught in the snare of a rhinovirus, the most common cause of what we call a “cold.”

Sure, you could also have respiratory syncytial virus, a people-specific parainfluenza virus (dogs get their own version of this too) or human metapneumovirus (among a couple of others). But it doesn’t much matter; they’re going to treat you the same way. And they’re going to call it the same thing, a “cold.”

It should now be clear to you that the diagnosis of a cold has more to do with the symptoms of an infection than with anything else. Which is why it’s easy to conclude that, seeing as dogs suffer the very same symptoms when exposed to similar kinds of germs, they too can get “colds.”

Is Kennel Cough a Cold?

Seeing as many of the symptoms of the cold are the same as kennel cough’s, and given that what we refer to as “kennel cough” (or more correctly, “kennel cough complex”) can be caused by a variety of germs, this is an excellent question.

Again, the answer depends on your definition of a cold. Most veterinarians would agree that kennel cough qualifies as a “cold.” Which makes the kennel cough-causing bugs (like canine adenovirus type 2, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine parainfluenza virus, and Bordetella bronchiseptica) cold-causing organisms.

Makes sense to me.

So now that you know dogs can get colds, you might wonder “can my dog catch my cold?” or vice versa.

While we can’t attest to the impossibility of transmission, the cold-causing viruses tend to be very species specific. While highly transmissible from dog to dog or human to human, they don’t like to jump from species to species. The influenza viruses, on the other hand, have been known to be a little less discriminating, albeit only rarely.

Not surprising, right? Not at all. In fact, colds are equal-opportunity evils plenty of animal species suffer. Here’s hoping that one day we’ll manage to vanquish the creatures once and for all. Or at least make their presence less uncomfortable.

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