Can Dogs Get Colds or Flu?

Updated: 3/19/20242-4 minutes
A dog and its owner snuggle on the floor together

Whether you’ve got a sniffle or something more serious, you may be worried about the potential risks for your four-legged friend. We’ve put together this guide to tell you everything you need to know about dog colds and flu to help you better understand your dog.

When the trees start to lose their leaves and we have to defrost the car each morning, we know one thing for certain – cold and flu season is on the way. This has become a natural fact for humans, and we’re no stranger to stockpiling tissues and remedies, but what about our four-legged friends?  

Can Dogs Get Colds?

No, dogs don’t get colds in the same way that humans do, and they cannot catch the cold virus that causes symptoms in humans. However, dogs can get infections that create symptoms like a cold, such as sneezing and congestion. In general, these “dog colds” are specific to that species, so you won’t be able to catch the same cold as your dog either. 

Can Dogs Catch a Cold From Humans?

It is very unlikely that your dog will contract a cold from a human. If you have a sniffle or cough, you may be worried that you may pass the cold onto your companion, but you’ll be glad to know that this isn’t possible. Dogs are not affected by the common cold virus that infects humans.

Can Dogs Get the Flu?

Dogs also can’t get the same type of flu as humans, but they can get canine flu. The symptoms are similar to flu symptoms in humans, but they have a different cause. Your dog may experience sneezing, runny nose, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite and fever. 

Dog flu is easily spread among other canines once they’ve been exposed to the illness, and according to WebMD, if your dog is exposed to an infected dog, the chances of them getting it are very high.  

While humans can’t get ill from dog flu, if you’ve been in contact with an infected dog, there is a possibility that you could pass it on to your dog. Dog flu can live for a few minutes on your skin, but up to a day on your clothes. If you’re around an infected dog, make sure you change and wash your clothes before you see any other dogs.

Other Dog Specific Illnesses: 

Just like in humans, there are a variety of conditions that might seem like dog colds and flu, or covid in dogs. Here are a few of the most common:  

  • Kennel cough: This respiratory infection is characterized by a dry cough which will sound like honking. If you think your dog has kennel cough, contact your veterinarian right away.  
  • Dog allergies: Your four-legged friend can suffer from seasonal and environmental allergies, similar to how humans get hay fever.  
  • Canine distemper: Your dog should be vaccinated against distemper with their initial puppy vaccinations. Canine distemper can be life-threatening, which is one of the many reasons it’s incredibly important for your dog to be vaccinated.  
  • Respiratory conditions: Some dog breeds are more likely to suffer from respiratory conditions than others, in particular, brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs and Shih Tzus.

Does Your Dog Have a Cold? Dog Cold Symptoms to Watch For

Dog cold symptoms are very similar to human cold symptoms. The most common signs are sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, runny or congested nose and lethargy. However, these can be symptoms of illnesses other than colds, so it’s important to ask your veterinarian for advice.

You might notice your dog having trouble breathing through their nose due to congestion, or even sneezing. It’s also possible for them to have low energy or lethargy when suffering from a cold. They might not be as excited to play and could prefer sleeping more than usual. These can all be symptoms of a cold and could last from five to 10 days. You probably won’t need to contact your veterinarian unless you are concerned that your dog is struggling to breathe or is showing other concerning signs, such as not eating or drinking.

Should You Walk a Dog With a Cold?

Avoid taking your dog for a walk if they don’t seem interested. Just like humans, dogs need time to rest when they’re feeling unwell, and although getting some fresh air might seem like a good idea, it’s best to be guided by your dog. A short quiet walk may help them feel brighter, but strenuous exercise can put extra strain on their respiratory tract when it is already inflamed.

If your dog isn’t feeling well, it’s worth keeping playtime gentle, too. It's also important to avoid contact with other dogs since they can pass on the infection to others. Avoid greetings on walks and playtime with canine friends, and instead spend time with them playing low-energy games, or practicing tricks like sitting, staying or shaking paw. They will surely appreciate the attention and enjoy the interaction. 

How to Treat a Dog Cold or Flu

Here are a few things you can do at home to help a dog with a cold get better:  

  1. Give Your Dog Warm Food. Due to the congested nose that usually accompanies a cold, your dog might not be able to smell the food and enjoy it. A good idea is to warm it, to make it more aromatic and easier for your pup to enjoy. 
  2. Use a Humidifier. Make it easier for your dog to breathe by increasing the humidity of the air, especially where they sleep.  
  3. Keep Your Dog Well Hydrated. Dogs suffering from colds need to remain hydrated as part of their recovery. So don’t forget to check your dog’s water bowl and make sure they’re getting plenty of fluids. Chicken soups for dogs are also a handy option to help your pup top off their fluid levels.  
  4. Allow Your Dog to Get Plenty of Rest. Keep daily walks at a comfortable pace, and avoid excessive exercise while your dog is recovering from a cold. They might even snooze more than usual. This is normal as their body needs plenty of rest during this time.  
  5. Wash Your Dog’s Toys and Blankets. Get rid of germs by cleaning your dog’s toys, washing blankets and cleaning any other items your pup is constantly in contact with. 

Your dog may not need treatment, as many dogs simply get better on their own. If your dog has only mild “dog cold” symptoms, is eating and drinking as normal, and still seems to have the same energy levels, it’s usually no need for concern, and they should go back to feeling normal within a few days to a week.

However, if your dog appears to have more than a mild dog cold and they’re off their food, not drinking, obviously uncomfortable and/or having difficulty breathing, you should contact your veterinarian right away.  

If your veterinarian suspects it’s something serious, they’ll ask about your dog’s flu or cold symptoms, do a full examination and may run some diagnostic tests to identify the cause of the problem. The recommended treatment will depend on the diagnosis, but may include antibiotics, cough suppressants and fluids. Never give your dog cold remedies for human use because these can be highly dangerous.

Preventing Dog Flu and Colds

Now that you know the answer to the question of can dogs get colds and flu, you may be wondering how you go about preventing it. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of your pup getting sick.

Keep Their Vaccinations Up-to-Date

Unfortunately, vaccinations won’t protect your dog from everything, but they can dramatically reduce the risk of certain illnesses, like kennel cough. Your pup’s vaccinations will also protect them against parvovirus, canine distemper, leptospirosis and infectious canine hepatitis.

Clean Their Things Regularly

Another thing you can do to prevent the spread of dog colds is to regularly wash their food and water bowls and their favorite toys. This is particularly important if they share these with other dogs. Also, make sure that you change their water at least once a day.  

Rest is Key

On average, dogs will sleep from 12 to 14 hours a day. To prevent your dog from falling prey to certain illnesses, always make sure that they’re getting enough sleep.

Feed Good Quality Nutrition

You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The same wisdom applies to dogs (not necessarily apples, but you get the idea). By feeding your dog a good quality diet that has all the nutrients they need, you can help to boost their immune system and prevent them from getting dog colds or flu.

Look Out for Potential Outbreaks

One of the best ways to protect your pup against a dog cold or flu is to keep an eye out for any possible outbreaks in your area.

Your veterinarian will usually alert you to anything of concern and will tell you if there are any further vaccines required, if there are certain areas you should avoid, and if your dog should be kept inside for a period of time.

For more expert tips on the health of your dog, explore our other dog symptoms articles. 

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