Dogs, Cats, and Colds

A dog and cat play a ball together

Sniffling? Sneezing? Feeling run down?

Ahh, those all-too-familiar symptoms. Cold and flu season is well underway.

Many people take supplements, vitamins and other steps to help prevent catching these contagious illnesses – but what about your pets? Do they get colds? How are they treated? Can they be prevented?

What is a cold?

A cold is a viral infection that typically attacks the lining of the nasal cavity and throat. Colds cause symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, runny eyes, sore throat, congestion, coughing, and fever. These symptoms usually last 7 to 10 days, but some can last longer. They are caused by many different types of viruses.

How does a pet catch a cold?

Just as in humans, dogs and cats can catch viruses from the environment or from other animals. Since dogs are very social animals, many of them are exposed to colds on a daily basis. Doggie daycare, the groomer, walks around the block (especially in cold, damp weather), trips to the pet store, and playtime at the dog park can expose a pup to many different types of viruses.

Cats that venture outdoors can catch colds from other neighborhood felines. Indoor cats are not as susceptible to catching a virus, but they can still be exposed to outdoor cats through screens of open windows. They can also pick up viruses as kittens, like herpesvirus or calicivirus, while housed in shelters or catteries or while living outdoors as strays. They carry these viruses throughout their life and, during times of stress, these latent viruses can pop up, causing symptoms of illness.

Human cold viruses cannot be passed to pets, so if Fido and Fluffy are sick the same time as you, it is probably just a coincidence.

What is the treatment for my pet’s cold?

If your pet is exhibiting more than one cold symptom, it is best to visit your veterinarian for treatment. Some pets can become very sick from a cold and develop complications like pneumonia which can be very serious.

Antibiotics do not kill viruses, but they are usually prescribed to help prevent secondary bacterial infections that can take hold while the immune system is temporarily weakened. Pills, liquids or long lasting antibiotic injections can be given. Sometimes eye drops or nasal drops are needed. Supplements, such as L-lysine, can be given to help prevent the virus from becoming worse. To help your pet while he is fighting off the illness there are several things you can do at home to help relieve some of the symptoms.

Keep your pet’s eyes and nose clean of any discharge. Make sure your pet is drinking and eating well. Give special treats such as canned food or baby food to stimulate their appetite. To encourage drinking, you can add some chicken stock or small amounts of bouillon to their water. To help relieve congestion, you can bring your pet into bathroom while a hot shower is running (not into the shower) in order to breathe in the steam.

Can I prevent my pets from getting a cold?

Keep your pet inside during cold, wet weather. Feed a healthy, high-quality diet in order to keep your pet’s immune system working properly. Make sure to keep your pets up to date on their vaccines, even if they do not go outdoors. L-lysine can be given in times of health to prevent recurrence of latent viruses. Vaccinating your cat against upper respiratory conditions can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks from latent viruses.

Chris Campbell is a veterinary technician with12+ years in the field. His experience and education have given him a solid background in veterinary medicine & all things pet health-related. His ambition is to share his knowledge with pet parents so their ‘babies’ can live a long, healthy life!