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How do I know if my pet has a cold?

Q: My dog is sneezing more than usual. Could she have a common cold? How can I tell if I should be concerned?

A: Dogs and cats can catch cold, though the viruses that cause cold symptoms in pets differ from those that affect humans. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you decide whether your pet has a simple cold or a more serious health problem.

Different Viruses, Similar Symptoms
In humans, the common cold is usually caused by what’s called a rhinovirus (literally a “nose virus”) that results in sore throat, swollen or irritated mucous membranes, runny nose, and often a “wet” or productive cough. Dogs are not vulnerable to the human rhinovirus, so inter-species transmission is not a concern.

The most common causes of cold symptoms in dogs include:

  • Canine respiratory coronavirus (not COVID-19, but a different coronavirus)
  • Canine adenovirus type 2
  • Canine parainfluenza virus
  • Kennel cough (Bordetella brochiseptica)—a highly contagious bacterial infection.

Note: Among cats, the picture is slightly different—with either herpesvirus or calcivirus as the most likely cause of cold symptoms.

Cold symptoms in dogs and cats usually manifest as frequent wet sneezing, coughing, chest congestion, labored breathing, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Caring for a Pet with a Cold

Like human colds, most colds those experienced by otherwise healthy pets usually do not present a significant health risk. If you believe your pet is suffering from a cold, here are some things you can do to make them more comfortable:

  • Provide access to water—adequate hydration is as essential to pets as to humans.
  • Gently wipe away any mucus or discharge from your pet’s nose and eyes.
  • Allow plenty of time for rest.
  • Use a humidifier to increase ambient moisture if your pet has chest congestion.  
  • If you have multiple pets, try to keep your sick animal isolated.

When to Call the Vet

Persistent or worsening cold symptoms could be a sign that something more severe than a common cold is happening. See your vet if your pet:

  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Has pale gums
  • Shows no interest in food or water
  • Is extremely lethargic or unresponsive
  • Has concurrent non-cold-like symptoms (like vomiting or nausea)
  • Has a pre-existing health condition that may worsen symptoms

Colds vs. Allergies
Like humans, cats and dogs can experience allergic reactions to various agents, including certain pet food ingredients, pollens and grasses, or cleansers and detergents used in the home. While most display allergic symptoms via the skin, some can cause cold symptoms. (For example, one of our cats develops runny eyes from kibble with a high fish content.) Knowing what’s normal for your pet can help you spot any danger signs early.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

Protect your pet from the unexpected with Figo Pet Insurance, rated “Best Pet Insurance” by since 2017.

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