Can dogs catch a cold or get the flu?

The love we can have for our four legged friends knows no bounds, and it’s entirely reasonable to be concerned about whether dogs can get ill, especially during cold and flu season. The short answer to the question in the title is that while dogs cannot catch the same colds us humans get, they can get infections which result in similar symptoms – this article looks in a bit more detail at the kind of illnesses dogs can get, so you can put your fears at rest and know how to look after them a little better.

 

Humans – Dogs

Colds and flus are caused by viruses, which are very rarely infectious across different species. They can cross the barrier through mutation, but this is a relatively rare occurrence. This means that your dog cannot catch your illnesses, and you cannot catch theirs. Dogs can however catch something called canine flu, and while this isn’t exactly the same as a human influenza, it is still a virus. It produces similar symptoms to those that we humans would experience when infected with an influenza virus, and there are two prominent strains – H3N8 and H3N2.

While humans can’t catch the dog flu and dogs can’t catch human flu, both are still highly contagious, and humans can give their dogs the flu if they have been in contact with another infected dog. The virus can live on your clothes for around a day, so if you’ve petted a dog that you’ve noticed has the symptoms of dog flu, it’s highly possible you’re now carrying it on your clothes and hands.

 

Prevention

Preventing dog flu can be difficult – you can’t tell your dog to be careful when it’s out and to not lick any sticks or pick up tennis balls – but there are some steps you can take.

Dog flu can be spread three ways: 1) direct contact with another infected dog (smelling or touching the dog) 2) being near an infected dog which has just sneezed or coughed 3) coming into contact with an infected object such as a ball or piece of clothing.

If you’re a member of a local dog chat on WhatApp, Facebook or something similar, you might hear if local dogs have the flu or not. If you know that there is an outbreak in your area, you might choose to walk your dog elsewhere, or to call them back to you when there are lots of dogs around.

You can also be more careful about which dogs you touch, and if you do pet a dog that might be infected, you can make sure you wash your hands and change clothes before you pet your own dog. You can also be sure to carry your own dog bowl – you don’t know which dogs have used communal drinking spots, and it’s easy to carry a little packable container around with you. 

If there are frequent outbreaks in your area, you might want to consider getting your dog vaccinated. There are vaccines for both strains, and a vaccine which covers both in one. Getting your dog vaccinated might be a good idea if they’re elderly or suffer from respiratory diseases already, as they’ll probably be more at risk than an otherwise younger and healthier dog. While the vaccine, like with humans, won’t necessarily stop all influenza cases, it’s likely that it will make the symptoms less severe, and potentially save the life of more at risk dogs.

As with humans, prevention can be aided through keeping your dog healthy! Dogs need much more sleep than us – up to 14 hours a day, so make sure they’re rested and are fed on a healthy diet appropriate to their size and breed. 

 

How to spot it

The symptoms of dog flu can be very similar to those of human flu. These can include a runny nose, lots of sneezing, high fevers going all the way up to 105 F, coughs, and potentially uncharacteristic lethargy and loss of appetite. Just as with human flu, viruses can be asymptomatic – your dog could have the flu and show no symptoms, or only one of the symptoms listed above.

 

Is dog flu dangerous?

While it is often not threatening to the wellbeing of your dog, dog flu has the potential to become something more serious. It’s possible that canine flu can turn to pneumonia, which can have far more serious effects – young pups and older dogs are at a higher risk in these cases.

As well as old and young dogs, another category which is at a higher risk are brachycephalic breeds such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Shih Tzus, as the compact nature of their face and nasal cavities can lead to respiratory complications. 

 

How to treat it

Much as you would with a human – the two priorities are that your dog is able to rest and stay hydrated. You’ll want to provide a quiet, dark space with no sensory overload – don’t forget that a dog’s senses are far more sensitive than a humans, so any sound or feeling you might find overwhelming when ill could feel many times more intense for them. Although it shouldn’t have to be said, don’t give your dog human medicine! It won’t be designed for them, and it could be extremely dangerous

While your dog is sick, you should make sure to keep them apart from other dogs while they’re still infectious. You can still walk them of course, if they feel up to it, but don’t take them to dog parks, and try to take them somewhere without too many other dog walkers. Keeping them on the lead so you can keep an eye on them might be a good idea. The chances are they won’t want to walk – think how you feel with the flu, going for a run is probably the last thing on your mind. 

Most dogs get better after a couple of weeks. If your dog remains ill or it seems that their condition is worsening, it isn’t a bad idea to get the opinion of a vet. You can call helplines at any time and they’ll ask you some questions, and if they think there is a further risk, will ask you to come in for a physical exam. Your dog may not like the vet, but it’s better safe than sorry, and they might be able to help. If the dog has developed bacterial pneumonia, the vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help them get over it.

 

Other illnesses

Flu isn’t the only illness dogs can get, and there are other conditions which could produce similar symptoms. These include:

  • Kennel cough – this is a respiratory infection which will produce a dry cough. It’s advisable to contact your vet if you think your dog may be infected.

  • Canine distemper – caused by the paramyxovirus, it produces symptoms which are at first similar to canine influenza, but can become far more serious, leading to paralysis and even death. Most dogs will have been vaccinated at a young age, but if you have your concerns, be sure to contact a vet.

  • Dog allergies – just like us humans, dogs can be susceptible to allergies, whether environmental or seasonal. If your dog suddenly starts sneezing, with none of the other symptoms of flu such as lethargy, nasal discharge, or fever, it may be likely that they are simply having an allergic reaction – hay fever for dogs!
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