Can Dogs Get Respiratory Infections From Humans?

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It’s flu season! You, get your flu shot to make sure you don’t get any nasty respiratory infections. How come there is no flu shot for your dog? Can you give your dog a respiratory infection? Can your dog give you one?

Can Dogs Get Respiratory Infections From Humans?

NO!

Well, technically the answer is actually yes... It is possible, but very unlikely, so you do not need to be overly concerned about giving your dog a respiratory infection or getting one from your dog. So when you're feeling under the weather, feel free to cuddle up on the couch with some Kleenex, a blanket, some chicken soup, and your pooch, in order to feel better sooner. Most respiratory infections are the result of viruses, which tend to be species-specific.

There are zoonotic viruses, that can be transferred from animals to people, and vice versa, but they are fairly rare. A recent example is the H1N1 virus, which may have been passed from humans to animals resulting in illness. However, cases of this are thankfully uncommon. Some bacterial causes of respiratory infection, such as Bordetella, can cause respiratory infection in both you and your dog, but even though it is technically feasible, it is uncommon for dogs and people to share respiratory infection bacteria. If you are concerned about the cause of your respiratory infection being passed to your pooch, taking precautions such as washing hands and avoiding coughing, sneezing, or breathing on your pet will reduce the already small risk even further.

Does My Dog Have Respiratory Infection?

A respiratory infection is a viral, parasitic, or bacterial infection of the respiratory system and upper airways in your dog.

Symptoms of a respiratory infection in your dog are:

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Watery eyes

  • Nasal discharge

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Difficulty breathing

Respiratory infections are most commonly caused by bacterial or viral organisms, many of which are contagious, but the vast majority of which are species-specific. However, there are some exceptions.

There is some evidence that Bordetella, the kennel cough bacteria, can be transferred between people and dogs. As well, Staphylococcus bacteria may infect many different species of animals, causing illness.

Viruses are almost always species-specific in nature and do not generally transfer between species, however, any virus can mutate and become zoonotic, that is transfer to another species. Although this is rare, exceptions occur. The recent H1N1 virus transferred from swine to people, and in a few instances transferred from people to cats, ferrets, and a dog. Viruses can transfer through body secretions such as saliva or feces or through parasitic vectors, such as tick bites or mosquitos. It is much more likely that your dog will catch a virus such as canine influenza virus or canine parainfluenza virus, from another dog. The risk of acquiring a virus from you or another person is negligible. Puppies, elderly dogs and immune compromised dogs have a greater chance of developing respiratory infections.

Diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection in your dog is performed by your veterinarian who will perform a complete physical exam and take a medical history of your dog. Blood and urine tests, as well as swabs of excretions from your dog's upper airways, can be used to identify the presence of bacteria or parasites, or the likelihood of a virus that is causing your dog's respiratory symptoms. Other medical conditions and pulmonary disease may need to be ruled out before determining if a respiratory infection is the cause of your dog's symptoms.

Read more at our guides to Kennel Cough and Canine Influenza.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Respiratory Infection?

If a viral agent is the cause of upper respiratory infection, supportive care for your dog's symptoms, such as cough suppression, rest, a good diet, and immune system support with diet and supplements is recommended.

If bacterial infection is suspected, treatment of your dog with antibiotics will be necessary.

Parasitic infections can predispose your dog to respiratory infection, and should be treated with anti-parasitic medication if they are present.

It is recommended that dogs with contagious respiratory infections be isolated from other dogs, and therefore, treatment at home is usually recommended. However, if dehydration or more serious symptoms manifest, hospitalization and treatment with intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, and other supportive medications may be required.

Anti-Inflammatories and bronchodilators are other medications that may be required to treat a serious respiratory infection in your dog.

Recovery with veterinary treatment and supportive care is usually good, unless severe respiratory compromise has occurred prior to obtaining medical support for your dog, in which case prognosis is more guarded.

How are Respiratory Infections Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

Respiratory infections occur in dogs, cats, people and other animals, and have several commonalities.

  • They can be caused by contagious viruses or bacteria

  • They are most commonly acquired from another animal of the same species

  • They can, although rarely, be caused by the same zoonotic organism

  • Symptoms are similar: coughing, fever, nasal discharge

  • Treatment is similar:  rest, antibiotics, cough suppressant, immune system support

How are Respiratory Infections Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

Respiratory Infections in dogs, cats and people have some notable differences.

  • They are usually caused by different organisms; it is rare for the same virus or bacteria to be transferred between pets and people.

  • Parasites predispose dogs to respiratory infection, such as nasal mites, which are much more common in dogs and cats than in people

  • Your dog can not tell you what he is feeling, so ruling out other conditions and determining onset of respiratory infection can be difficult

  • Humans frequently get vaccinated for prevalent flu viruses to prevent respiratory infection. Although vaccines for dog flu is available, it is not commonly used as transmission is less frequent.

Case Study

In 2009, the first recorded case of the H1N1 virus being transferred to a pet occurred. The incident involved human to cat transmission, where a pet owner with H1N1 became severely ill and was hospitalized. While in hospital her pet cat acquired and succumbed to the disease, which was presumably transmitted from the owner to the cat. Transmission to other pets including other cats, ferrets, and one dog have since been recorded. It is possible that more infections were passed on from humans and not identified. The animals, including the dog, showed similar respiratory symptoms to humans including rapid respiratory distress, and some of them died as a result. Although cases of transmission from humans to pets were rare, it is important in future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases to be vigilant for signs of infection in companion animals that may occur so appropriate treatment can be obtained.