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Can Dogs Get Colds?

Can dogs get colds? Symptoms. Signs that it’s something more serious. When to contact your veterinarian.

Dogs do not usually get colds like humans. They can develop similar symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, nasal discharge, decreased energy, and a decreased appetite. If your dog develops these symptoms, it is important to contact your veterinarian to know if they should be examined or if the symptoms can just be monitored. These symptoms can be an indication of various underlying issues. Some of them are outlined below.


Kennel cough is an infectious respiratory disease complex that is highly contagious between dogs. It can be caused by bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica and viruses such as canine adenovirus, distemper, influenza, and parainfluenza. Vaccines are available to prevent serious illness associated with kennel cough.

Kennel cough is often self-limiting, but the cough can sound severe, alarming an owner. Uncomplicated kennel cough will cause coughing for several weeks, but in general an affected dog will act normal and eat fine. If a dog is lethargic, has a decreased appetite, or is having trouble breathing, kennel cough may have progressed to something more serious such as pneumonia.

Other causes of cough include fungal infections, allergies, and inhalation of foreign material. Cough from laryngeal paralysis, cancer, or heart disease are more common in older dogs. Dogs may also have a temporary cough from intubation with anesthesia.

Sneezing, Nasal discharge, and Congestion

Sneezing and nasal discharge are common with respiratory infections. Respiratory infections can be contracted when dogs are in close contact such as at daycare, kennels, or at a groomer. Infectious nasal discharge can be clear but progress to a yellow or green substance. Excessive tear production is also common with colds.

Other causes of sneezing include allergies, inhalation of foreign material, and growths in the nasal passage or sinuses. Recurrent bloody nasal discharge or ongoing sneezing episodes are symptoms that should prompt a veterinary visit.

Reverse sneezing in a dog is forceful inspiration through the nasal passages. Also known as paroxysmal respiration, reverse sneezing is common and usually happens in episodes. It tends to be associated with irritants or allergies.

Decreased Appetite/Energy Level

As respiratory infection progresses, a decrease in appetite and energy can be associated with a fever and can indicate a more serious infection or a different disease. Infectious pneumonia is more concerning than an infection that only involves the upper airway. If a dog is not eating well, drinking normally, or has low energy, they should be examined and treated by a veterinarian.

How Can An Owner Help?

If a dog has mild symptoms but they are still eating and acting normal, there are simple at home remedies that an owner can use to shorten duration of illness. Cool mist humidifiers can help with congestion in dogs. Cleaning around the eyes and nose with a lukewarm wet gentle cloth can help make a dog feel better. Preventing active playing and running and preventing close contact with other dogs will make them feel better and limit the spread of an infection.

While most respiratory illnesses in dogs are self-limiting, there are some symptoms that should prompt an owner to have their dog examined by a veterinarian. These symptoms include trouble breathing with or without increased abdominal effort, decreased eating or drinking, bloody discharge from the mouth, nose, eyes, or rectum, and acting lethargic. With proper attention and care when a dog gets sick, most will get better in a short time.