Can My Dog 'Catch' a Cold?
Winter isn’t the only time of year we have to worry about "catching" a cold, but it is the primary time for it. We’re spending more time in closed quarters, with windows and doors shut tight and no way to escape the germs. It is only a matter of time before someone in the house becomes sick. It could be you, but did you know that it could also be your dog that comes down with this common respiratory infection?
While there are differences in the types of viruses that infect humans versus dogs, the symptoms are basically the same: sneezing, coughing, runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes. What can you do to protect your dog from catching cold, or if your dog does come down with a case of the cold, what can you do to treat it?
Different Germs, Different Viruses
As mentioned above, the type of cold a dog suffers from is different from the type a human suffers from. The illness is not communicable between species — at least, one has not yet been discovered — so there is no need to worry about catching your dog’s cold, or vice versa.
You will need to differentiate a common cold from a more serious health issue. For example, a common cause of dry cough is a condition known as "kennel cough." This contagious type of cough, as its name suggests, is typically contracted through a kennel or boarding facility. This cough is most easily recognized by its characteristic honking sound. If your dog has recently been boarded or has had contact with a dog that has been boarded recently, this will need to be considered, and will need to be treated by a veterinarian.
There are other highly contagious, cold-like illnesses to be familiar with, as well. The influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, and tuberculosis are all illnesses that can be transmitted by infected dogs.
Another potentially life-endangering viral illness is canine distemper. A dog exhibiting symptoms of distemper will usually have coughing, vomiting, high fever, and a thick discharge from the eyes and nose.
When a Cold is Not a Germ or a Virus
There are several types of parasites that can get into the lungs, heart and trachea, and which can also cause symptoms that mimic a cold infection. Coughing and other breathing problems are the main symptoms. Fungal infections are also commonly found in dogs, and can sometimes lead to life threatening conditions, when the fungal parasite sets up house in the lungs, causing ongoing, repetitive coughing, scarring of the lung tissue, and eventually, in some cases, pneumonia.
More difficult to distinguish in many instances, but just as common in animals as in humans, are allergies to environmental triggers and/or food products. An undiagnosed asthma or allergies that trigger respiratory symptoms can also bring on coughing and sneezing fits in dogs.
How to Care for a Pet with a Cold
If your dog is coughing or sneezing, but is in otherwise good health, you may be able to treat the condition as you would a simple human cold — with lots of liquids, healthy foods (Chicken soup, even? But of course! Just make sure to leave out the bones.), warmth, and maybe even some time in a warm and humid room. This can be done by placing a humidifier near his rest area or by filling the bathtub with steaming water and letting the dog hang out in the bathroom for a bit (not in the water), just to let the steam loosen up his sinuses and lungs.
It is important to note that while most respiratory conditions will begin to improve within several days from the time of onset, some dogs’ immune systems are not as prepared for an infection and may need a course of antibiotics or other medications in order to fully recover.
If your dog is either very young or very old, it is best to have her looked over by your veterinarian, since dogs at either end of the age scale tend to have less capable immune systems and can suffer more as a result.
You can help to prevent a cold by keeping her indoors during cold, wet weather, with just brief trips outside for relief. It isn’t the cold temperature that creates the illness, of course, but over exposure to unfriendly temperatures or environments can create a physical situation that makes it easier for a bacterial or viral germ to latch on and take hold in the body. And making sure the physical body is at its healthiest is the main preventative for a host of diseases, not just the cold. Provide your dog with plenty of fresh water — even if there is water still in the bowl, make sure to change it out at least once a day, ideally with a clean bowl every day — and healthy foods so that your dog’s immune system can keep up with whatever germs come his way, and so that he has the strength to exercise at a level that is normal for his age and breed. If your dog is of a breed that typically has respiratory challenges, your veterinarian may suggest keeping a humidifier in your dog’s rest area as a matter of course.
Finally, it can be challenging enough to have one pet who is as "sick as a dog," you certainly don’t want a house-full of them. While your dog is ill, make sure she is separated from the other dogs in the house so that the infection is not passed along, and if symptoms don’t improve or appear to worsen, consult with your veterinarian.
Image source: tanakawho / via Flickr