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Can Dogs Get Sick From the Cold?


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While the weather outside might seem frightful to you, chances are good your furry friend can't wait to get out and enjoy that fresh snowfall. But the reality is, just like humans, your canine buddy is susceptible to a range of illnesses brought on by exposure to cold weather. Chief among these are hypothermia, frostbite, a cold, and kennel cough.

Human beings are subject to a number of conditions we only see during the winter months, conditions other than a kennel cough, that are very similar to those seen in dogs. We can easily become hypothermic (when your core temperature becomes too low) or get frostbite, and everyone knows winter is the best time to get a cold.

The best thing you can do for your dog in the winter is to limit their exposure to the elements. While some breeds like Alaskan malamutes, Siberian huskies, and Samoyeds are bred for colder climes, most dogs are not well-equipped for long-term cold weather exposure and are susceptible to the effects of winter.

Can Dogs Get Sick From the Cold?

Your dog can get sick from being outside in the cold weather for too long. It is too easy to think that just because your dog has a "fur coat", he is protected from the ravages of winter weather. This simply is not the case, as only certain breeds have an undercoat that is designed to help insulate them from the cold. Most dogs are not equipped to survive for extended periods of time in cold weather.

Does My Dog Have a Cold?

Although it might surprise you, your dog, just like you, can catch a cold during the winter months. The good news is that he cannot catch one from you and you cannot catch a cold from your dog. The viruses responsible for colds in humans and dogs are different.

Symptoms of a Canine Cold

  • Coughing (be sure you know the difference between a cold and kennel cough)

  • A runny nose (not a wet nose, but nasal discharge)

  • Sneezing

  • Watery eyes

Causes of a Canine Cold

The most common cause of a cold is exposure to the cold virus. Much like humans, your dog can come into contact with a cold virus by being close to another dog with a cold and by coming into contact with a contaminated surface. Prolonged exposure to cold weather may compromise your dog’s immune system and make him more vulnerable than usual to viral infections.

Diagnosis of a Canine Cold

If your dog is in good health but has started to cough or sneeze on occasion or has a runny nose, chances are good he has a cold. However, if the symptoms persist, you should plan to take him in to see his vet as there are several other highly contagious conditions that have cold-like symptoms including the adenovirus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, and tuberculosis that require proper medical care.  If you are not sure what is going on with your dog, you should, of course, take him to see his vet as soon as possible.

How Do I Treat My Dog's Cold?

When you stop to consider that most of the symptoms of your dog's cold are very similar to your own, it only stands to reason that you would treat him in much the same way as you would take care of yourself.

Treatments for a Canine Cold

Treatments for a canine cold are similar to the ones you use for yourself and your family, including:

  • Keep your dog inside and warm as much as possible

  • Consider using a humidifier in the house, especially in the room where he spends most of his time. You may even want to put him in a small room (the bathroom for example) with the humidifier to help loosen up the mucus in his lungs and sinuses.

  • Be sure he gets plenty of liquids-- some vets even recommend the use of chicken broth as it contains a broad spectrum of important minerals and vitamins (or may simply be more appealing than regular food and water to a dog whose appetite is poor).

  • Take your dog in to see his vet for a full checkup to make sure he does not have a more serious condition such as a kennel cough that would require treatment using antibiotics or other medications.

Recovery from a Canine Cold

If all your dog has is the common canine cold, with a little care and comfort at home, he should make a full recovery within a few days. If he does not seem to be getting any better or his condition appears to be worsening, you should take him in to see his vet.

While it is uncommon for a dog to come down with a cold, it is possible and is a condition that should never be ignored as it can easily develop into more serious medical conditions.

For more information on canine colds and influenza, and to get advice from a veterinarian, check out our Condition Guides.  

How is a Cold Similar in Dogs and Humans?

The common cold, whether it is canine or human, tends to display many of the same symptoms and require the same basic treatments. Among the similarities are:

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Runny nose

  • Congestion

  • Watery Eyes

You can treat your dog's cold in much the same way as you might treat yourself or another member of your family who has a cold. These include:

  • Keeping him warm

  • Using a humidifier

  • Giving plenty of fluids, including chicken soup

How Is a Cold Different in Dogs and Humans?

For the most part, the symptoms and treatments are virtually identical to those seen in humans. This is because humans and dogs share many of the same anatomical structures.

  • The biggest difference is that your dog cannot tell you that he is not feeling well and thinks he has a cold.

  • The virus responsible for a canine cold is not the same one responsible for the common cold in humans.

  • While recovery from a canine cold should happen in a few days, your dog's immune system may not be as strong as yours and he may need medications to help him recover.

Case Study

The weather has been freezing for weeks, the snow is piling up and your dog loves to romp in it at every opportunity. All seems well until one day you notice he seems to be coughing and sneezing frequently. Upon close inspection, you notice his eyes are watering and there seems to be a fair amount of nasal discharge.

You call the vet and he tells you to try a humidifier, keeping him warm, and trying to feed him chicken soup. While the idea of giving your dog chicken soup might bring a chuckle, you heat some up and put it in his bowl. You find out just how much your dog loves chicken noodle soup and within a few days, he seems to be back to his normal self.

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