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Can Dogs Get a Cold from Cats?


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Updated: 9/21/2021

As the saying goes: "Misery loves company." So if your cat is sneezing and has a runny nose, could she share her head cold (more correctly called an upper respiratory tract infection) with the dog? 

Can Dogs Get a Cold From Cats?

No, canines cannot catch a cold from felines. Or at least, they are very, very unlikely to. This is because the bacteria and viruses that cause colds tend to be species-specific and stick to one kind of animal. There are exceptions but these are rare, and probably worth writing a scientific paper about if they happen. 

For example, 90% of colds in cats are caused by two viruses: feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Did you spot the significant word there: feline - meaning cat only. Cats can have cold symptoms due to chlamydia and bordetella, but in the case of the latter, the dog is more likely to give it to the cat than the other way round. 

Apart from the bugs being species-specific, another safety factor is that cats and dogs are rarely bedfellows. This is significant because most cat viruses are spread by close contact or sharing food and water bowls.

Does My Dog Have a Cold?

A dog with a cold shows subtly different symptoms to cats or people.

  • Coughing spasms

  • Mild fever

  • Off food

  • Altered bark

  • Sore eyes

  • Runny nose

The above are mere signs of a cold, and can occur for other reasons.

To reach a diagnosis, the vet conducts a thorough physical examination. Often the history gives vital clues. For example, a recent stay at a boarding kennel increases the chance of an infectious cold.

How Do I Treat My Dog's Cold?

Just like in people, when a dog has a cold they do best with a little TLC (tender loving care).  

  • Let the dog rest: Allow light exercise only and don't force a reluctant dog to go for a walk.

  • Make food more appetizing: If your dog isn't eating well, try warming their food or hand feeding.

  • Antitussives: Speak to your vet about a cough medicine that is safe for dogs.

  • Antibiotics: If your dog is feverish and off their food, the vet may prescribe antibiotics for a secondary infection.

Most colds work their way through after 10 to 14 days.

How Are Colds Similar in Dogs and Cats?

Colds are similar in that they are infectious and easily passed between individuals from the same species. In both species, the upper respiratory tract is affected, although not necessarily in the same places (see below).

How Are Colds Different in Dogs and Cats?

There are more differences than similarities, with regards to colds in cats and dogs. Cats tend to get runny snout colds with a discharge from the nose and gummed up eyes. However, it settles more in the airway in dogs, causing a sensitive windpipe so they cough easily. Also, dogs seem to suffer more with sore throats, while cats get ulcers on the tongue, which makes eating difficult. 

In addition, dogs usually develop immunity to the bug that caused the infection. Thus, they feel poorly for a couple of weeks, recover, and are protected against that bug. However, this isn't always so clear cut for cats. Some cats (especially those in poor health or the very young) only partially clear the infection and become carriers. Not only are they a risk to other cats, but they may become sick again at times of stress.

Case Study

Radar develops a nasty hacking cough and goes off his food. Your neighbor remarks their cat is also unwell and has a cold. Radar and the cat have a grudging regard for one another, and sometimes bump noses through the fence. Radar has a checkup at the vet, and infectious tracheobronchitis is diagnosed. It turns out there is a rash of cases at doggy daycare, and the cause of Radar's illness is, after all, another dog. Radar isn't running a fever and so the vet suggests nursing him along and keeping him away from other dogs. After a week of coughing, he makes an uneventful recovery.

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