How to Tell if Your Dog Has A Cold

Jocelyn Bishop
January 21, 2020

Company News


It may be Cold weather is great for snuggling, that is when you or your loved one isn’t coughing! This time of year, many illnesses spread around, so we know ahead of time when to stock up on medicine. But what about our pups? Do dogs get colds, too? If so, what type of medication should you use if you notice Fido sneezing, coughing, or with a runny nose?

Did you know? – In the United States alone, there are millions of cases of the common cold per year. 

Although we may feel in-tune with our dog’s feelings, they cannot tell us how they feel. Although they can’t speak to us, anyone lucky enough to live with a dog knows their little furry bodies can be quite expressive! And once we do learn they may be coming down with an illness, pet health and safety becomes a top priority for us pet parents. Keep reading to stay proactive about what to do when your dog may have a cold.


Cold Temperatures and Your Dog 

According to PetMD, Generally speaking, cold temperatures can become an issue for most dogs once it drops below 45° F. When temperatures drop below 32° F, they can pose a threat to small dogs without a heavy coat. When temperatures drop under 20° F, they become dangerous to all dogs. 

How to Tell if Your Dog is Cold 

If your dog is cold, they may exhibit the following behaviors:  

  • Shivering or trembling
  • Walking slowly
  • Whining or barking
  • Looking anxious 
  • Hiding
  • Curling up into a ball 
  • Extreme and unusual lethargy

Keep your dog warm and safe from extreme temperatures that can lead to canine colds, the flu, hypothermia, and, if left untreated, serious canine respiratory issues. It’s important to check the weather outside, touch your dog’s body, and watch their body language. Pet parents should especially do this if it is noticeably cold out. 

Can Dogs Catch Colds From Humans? 

So, you’ve caught a cold and have a stuffy nose, but your fur baby wants to cuddle. The good news is, you don’t have to turn them away! Most canine infections and viruses, such as the common cold or flu, are species-specific. A species-specific virus means you don’t have to worry about passing it along to your dog!

What is Canine Influenza Virus?

Canine influenza virus; or, CIV, is primarily the result of two influenza strains: H3N8 from an equine origin and H3N2 from an avian origin. According to VCA Hospitals, Both of these strains were previously known to infect species other than dogs, but have since evolved to affect dogs, as well.

Dogs of any breed, age, sex, or health status are at risk of infection when exposed to the virus. Two strains of CIV have been identified in the U.S. The H3N8 strain of CI was first found in 2004 in Florida and has since spread to several other states. In 2015, the H3N2 virus strain was identified in Chicago. 

How do Dogs Catch Colds? 

Canine influenza (CI or dog flu) is a year-round infection transmitted by direct contact with infected dogs through nasal discharge and the exchange of saliva through barking, coughing, sneezing, and contaminated objects. 

Did You Know?: Dog’s can’t catch colds from humans, and you can’t catch a cold or the flu from dogs.

Behavioral Changes 

When dogs are in pain or don’t feel well, they will typically show changes in behavior. If your dog seems more sluggish than usual or showing signs of discomfort or irritation, it may be a sign something is wrong. Some breeds may become more clingy than usual overcome increasingly needy. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to your dogs and how they are feeling every day. 

Although not all dogs will display all symptoms, some dogs that feel uncomfortable and possibly ill may snap at you if you get too close, or hold them in a way that irritates their site of pain. If you notice any sudden changes in your dog, contact your vet for assistance.

Weight Loss

Weight loss does not always mean your dog is ill. However, most dogs should not lose a substantial amount of weight unless there are changes to their diet or lifestyle. 

Upper Respiratory Problems

Coughing, wheezing, and nasal discharge are all possible signs your dog has a respiratory issue. This could mean your dog is coming down with a cold or even the canine flu. 

Red Eyes 

Redness of the eyes in combination with coughing, wheezing, and nasal discharge are almost sure signs your dog may have a cold or flu. Check the color of your dog’s tongue and gums if they’re having bad breath. If their tongue is discolored, they may need immediate medical care. 

Changes in Elimination 

If you know that your pup is properly house trained, you generally won’t expect them to urinate or defecate around the house unless there’s good reason.

Monitoring Stool 

It may sound gross, but it’s important to scope out your dog’s stool often. Generally speaking, a healthy canine stool is moist and firm, and has a mild odor. Most healthy dogs experience an occasional episode of loose stool or diarrhea that resolves within 12 to 24 hours. The underlying issue in most of these cases is indiscriminate eating or stress.

If your dog seems fine after a bout of diarrhea, meaning they are acting normal, it’s safe to simply keep an eye on them to ensure her stool returns to normal within a day or two. However, if your dog is experiencing recurrent bouts of diarrhea, even if they continue to act normal, it’s time for a checkup. 

Pro-tip: It’s important to bring a sample of your dog’s stool to your appointment, even if it’s watery. This sample will help your vet identify potential underlying causes for diarrhea.

Contact your vet if you notice the following changes in elimination: 

  • Difficulty Defecating 

A single case of constipation does not necessarily mean your dog is sick. Many times, constipation is a result of a change in diet, not incorporating enough wet food, dehydration, and even insufficient exercise. 

  • Blood in Stool 

If you see blood in your pet’s stool make an appointment with your vet immediately.

  • Trouble Passing Urine 

There are many illnesses much more serious than a cold or flu that may cause difficulty urinating. 

  • Excessive Urination 

Excessive urination may point towards something more serious than a cold or the canine flu, for example,  kidney malfunction. 

  • Diarrhea 

Like constipation, a single case of runny stool does not indicate an issue with your dog’s health; however, multiple instances of diarrhea with no change to their diet may be a cause for concern, and a reason to call your vet. 

  • Change in Appetite 

Another indication that something may be wrong with your dog is a change in appetite. If Fido suddenly turns his nose up at his favorite meal, no longer finishes his food, or just plays with it during mealtime, you should call your vet for help. 

  • Increased Thirst 

According to the American Kennel Club, A change in drinking habits is also something pet parents should monitor. If it’s not particularly warm outside and your pup is suddenly drinking an excessive amount of water, they may be coming down with a cold or fever.


Top 10 Signs our Dog Has a Cold or Flu

  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • High fever (over 104 -105 degrees)
  • Excessive urination
  • Recurring diarrhea  
  • Change in activity level 
  • Excessive stiffness
  • Lethargy 
  • Frequent digestive upsets 
  • Dry, red itchy eyes 
  • Coughing or sneezing 
  • Behavioral changes 

How to tell if your dog has a cold

Taking a Trip to the Vet

Dogs are family, so naturally, you want to do the best for your dog. If you suspect your dog is sick in any way, contact your vet for a physical examination and subsequent advice. Don’t forget to write down your questions before heading to the office so you do not forget anything important

Pet parents should always take recommendations from their vet seriously. For instance, if you are instructed to allow your pup to get plenty of rest, you should not encourage too much playtime. Although you don’t have to worry about contracting the common cold from your dog, you may want to give them an appropriate amount of space when there are not well. 

Being Around Other Dogs

If your dog usually spends time around other furry friends, be sure to ask your vet if they are contagious or not. The last thing you’d want to do is infect a healthy dog when otherwise easily preventable. 

With a little rest, healthy meals and lots of water (and any medication subscribed by your  vet) your dog should be feeling like themselves in no time! 

Fun fact: Dog flu is not usually fatal. The death rate is reported to be less than 10 percent among flu-infected dogs. (Source: Canine Journal)

Just like little humans, dogs and puppies are most susceptible to viruses if they spend a lot of their time around other dogs, in daycare, or at the park. Puppy playtime and dog socialization is fun and important, just try your best to make sure all the dogs your pup is playing with are free from virus. 

Kennel Cough

Infectious tracheobronchitis, aka; “Kennel cough”, is a highly contagious respiratory issue for dogs. This virus is often contracted in kennels or boarding houses where there are many other dogs present. 

Because viruses can live on items like water bowls and toys, Kennel Cough can be spread to your dog without coming in contact with an infected dog. Although symptoms of Kennel Cough are similar to that of CIV, dogs with CIV will have a mix of symptoms listed earlier. 

When a dog is infected with Kennel cough, it’s typically quite noticeable. According to Vetstreet, “A blaring, hacking cough” that sounds like a goose is a common sign of the infection. 

Treatment for Kennel Cough 

Treatment for Kennel cough also includes isolation from any other dogs for up to two weeks to help prevent further exposure to the extremely contagious illness. Most dogs recover during this time; however, some dogs may develop secondary bacterial infections which may lead to more severe illness and pneumonia. If you’re concerned about your pet’s health, or if they are showing signs of canine influenza, they should contact their veterinarian.

5 Ways to Prevent Your Dog From Getting a Cold

  1. Keep your dog warm and healthy 
  2. Keep dogs Indoors on cold and rainy days
  3. Use warm dog coats and blankets 
  4. Use winter boots in extreme weather 
  5. Don’t miss a vaccination appointment

Vaccines are available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the canine influenza virus. The CIV vaccination is sometimes called a “lifestyle” vaccination because it’s recommended for dogs at risk of exposure due to their increased exposure to other dogs such as boarding, attending social events with dogs present, and visiting dog parks. 

Your veterinarian can provide you with additional information about vaccines and whether you should consider vaccinating your dog.

Bottom Line: Take All Colds Seriously! 

Pet parents should keep in mind that a canine cold is rarely as simple as it seems. Take the condition seriously and provide your loved one with veterinary care if needed. Properly taking care of your dog’s health will keep cold symptoms from developing into a more serious, life-threatening respiratory infection.

Has your dog ever had a cold? Tell us about it in the comments below! 


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