Do Dogs Get Colds?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM October 02, 2019

It’s the time of year when the sound of someone sneezing makes most of us want to bathe our entire body in hand sanitizer. The cold and flu are everywhere! You’re probably aware of what a cold looks like in people and things that you can do for yourself at home. But what does having a cold mean for your dog? Let’s explore the many cold symptoms that dogs may display and ways to help keep your best friend healthy this season.

Do Dogs Get Colds?

Based on the symptoms presented with a common cold, dogs do contract this type of illness. The causative agents aren’t the same as those that cause colds in humans, but the symptoms of coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, and a runny nose are similar. A cold in your dog can be treated at home, but it’s best to seek veterinary advice.

People are always talking about having a cold or the flu, but what does that mean? The flu is more easily defined as an illness caused by one specific type of virus, the influenza virus, but colds can be caused by a variety of different bugs. The most common culprits are the rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, or parainfluenza viruses. These viruses are grouped together because the illnesses that they cause present similar symptoms of coughing, sneezing, running nose and eyes, sore throat, headaches, and nasal or sinus congestion.

Similarly in dogs, a group of different viruses cause like symptoms that can make your dog sick with what we would call a cold. These are not the same viruses that cause colds in humans.  The viruses that cause colds in dogs are canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus and the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica.

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has A Cold?

If you picture yourself with a cold, you would think of having a scratchy voice, a pounding headache, and having to blow your nose with tissue scattered everywhere. Now picture those same symptoms in your dog. While they might not translate completely, the symptoms of a cold are basically the same between you and your pooch. Your dog just might not present them so clearly. Let’s look at some of those more obvious cold symptoms as well as the less obvious.

  • Coughing

Inflammation in the airways can lead to scratchiness or the tickling sensation that you feel in your throat that causes coughing. Congestion in the chest is another symptom that leads to a coughing. Most of the time, dogs with a cold will have a mild, dry cough due to inflammation. More serious coughs that sound like a goose honking or producing phlegm should be looked at by your veterinarian.

  • Sneezing

Irritation to the nasal airways from cold viruses may have your dog sneezing occasionally throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if the sneezes are followed by some clear discharge from the nose. However, sneezing from colds should not cause a bloody discharge and should be looked at by your veterinarian.

  • Sore throat

This one may be a little harder to judge since your dog can’t just tell you that their throat hurts, but sore throats can affect the way your dog swallows. They may take hard gulps instead of easy swallows while eating or drinking. They may also tend to lick their lips more in an effort to keep from swallowing saliva.

  • Fever

Colds can occasionally cause low-grade fevers. These fevers shouldn’t last for more than 24-48 hours, any high temperature longer than that should be looked at by a vet.

  • Runny nose

Colds caused by viruses tend to produce a clear nasal discharge. Sometimes you won’t actually see the discharge but instead will notice your dog licking their nose more than usual. There may also be more ‘tearing’ in your dog’s eyes with a cold as well. In some cases, colds may cause a thick, yellowish nasal discharge. This usually indicates a bacterial infection that will need to be treated by a vet.

  • Feeling ‘off’

Most of the time, you are going to notice something in your dog just seems off. Perhaps they don’t jump into your arms when you get home from work or maybe they only eat half of their dinner for example. This symptom should go away within four to five days as the cold subsides. If your pup is feeling ‘off’ for longer than that or is just down in the dumps barely responsive to anything normal, then get them checked out.

Will Dog Colds Go Away On Their Own?

Mild colds in our pups are typically nothing to worry about and will go away within a few days. If your dog has a mild cold, then they will show some coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose. However, they will still be eating and drinking well and is relatively active. The colds that have your pooch unwilling to get off the couch, even for a tasty treat are when they are sporting a high temperature or other severe symptoms. In these cases, they will to go see the vet.

What Are Some At-Home Treatments For Dogs With A Cold?

When people have colds, we tend to throw every over-the-counter medication at it. None of us want to feel crummy for any longer than we have to. The same goes for your dog, but without the over-the-counter meds part. For dogs with mild colds, it’s best to treat the symptoms and let the cold run its course.

Encourage your dog to keep eating and drinking by providing regular meals and lots of fresh clean water. Sometimes adding a little canned or other healthy enticing food won’t hurt! You might also choose to substitute the long run for a short walk so that your dog will get necessary rest and relaxation. Healthy nutrition, water, and rest are what your dog’s immune system is craving when it’s busy fighting cold bugs. Think of it like supplying an army on the front lines.

To make your pup more comfortable, consider wiping their runny nose and eyes with a warm, damp washcloth. Also provide them with a warm bed, especially if they’re outside dwellers. For those pups with nasal or sinus congestion, bring them into the bathroom with you when you shower. The warm moist air will help relieve congestion to allow your pooch to breathe easier. Again, please do not give over-the-counter human or animal medications to your dog without first consulting your veterinarian.

When Should I Bring My Dog With A Cold To The Vet?

Most mild colds will go away on their own within less than a week. For those tougher illnesses, it’s important that your dog sees your vet. Tougher illnesses include:

  • High fevers

Anytime your pup spikes a fever over 104 degrees, you should see your vet. Since most of us don’t have the ability or aren’t eager to take our dog’s temperature, consider it a high fever when you can obviously tell by touching your pup’s ears or nose. High fevers usually cause very sad and down dogs as well, meaning they’re probably not eating, excited about anything, or even wanting to get out of bed. Low-grade fevers, of 103 degrees or less, that last more than a couple of days should be looked into as well.

  • Not eating

The way to most dogs’ hearts is through their stomach. A dog that doesn’t eat is usually a sick dog. Of course you know your pup best and maybe one skipped meal is a normal occurrence for them but two in a row means something might be wrong. Any appetite change that’s out of the ordinary should be discussed with your vet.

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and other yuckiness

Vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI issues aren’t normal symptoms of colds in dogs. If your dog is showing signs of a cold mixed with gut related troubles, see your vet.

  • Trouble breathing

Nasal and sinus congestion are what you can normally expect when it comes to colds in dogs, but this congestion shouldn’t be so severe that your pup is having trouble breathing. If you notice your dog panting more than usual, using their entire abdomen, or even body, to breathe, or you can hear a wheezing or rattling when they breathe, then it’s time to see the vet. These are signs of more serious issues such as pneumonia.

  • A cough that just won’t quite

If you can mistake your dog’s cough for a flock of geese flying overhead, you should see your vet. A deep, honking cough that just won’t go away or that causes your dog to wretch or vomit could be a sign of kennel cough, a very contagious illness that needs further treatment.

  • A long, drawn out process

Even if your dog is presenting the mildest of cold symptoms, those symptoms should go away within a week. Any illness that lingers longer than a week without improvement should be looked at by a vet.

Is My Dog’s Cold Contagious?

Anytime there’s coughing, sneezing, and snot, then consider it contagious. Airborne viruses, like those causing colds in dogs, rely on transmission through respiratory secretions. That means that everyone within range of those coughs, sneeze droplets, and snot balls are fair game for being the next cold victim.

Dog colds are not contagious to humans and vice versa. Most cold-causing bugs are species specific, meaning they prefer the companionship of your dog over you or your cat. That being said, there have been some cases of certain types of influenza viruses that can cause illness in both dogs and humans, so you still want to be careful.

Can I Prevent My Dog From Catching a Cold?

Since your dog is unlikely to increase their hand washing routine during cold and flu season, you’ll have to help them take preventative measures. First and foremost, make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations. Core vaccinations for dogs include canine adenovirus and parainfluenza virus, as well as some to help prevent even nastier diseases like parvo and distemper. You may also choose to get the kennel cough vaccine if your dog is frequently around other dogs when boarding, grooming, or training.

If your pup is sick or you notice that others are, avoid the dog park and other communal dog areas. Don’t let your dog come nose-to-nose, or butt-to-nose, with dogs that you don’t know. If your pup spends time outside, make sure your yard is securely fenced, to keep your dog in and others out. Finally, don’t forget to supply the immune system with healthy nutrition, water, and rest.


Cold and flu season is upon us, so don’t let your best friend fall victim to a cold this year. Take the proper preventative measures, most importantly vaccinations, and be on the lookout for any changes in your dog’s behavior and habits. Most cases of the dog cold will pass with just mild discomfort, for both you and your dog, and should be nothing to worry about. However, don’t let a small dog cold turn into or mask something worse. Keep tabs on your sick pup, pamper and adore them just a bit more and this cold season won’t be one for the dogs.

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