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Can dogs catch colds?

dog cold symptoms

If your dog is coughing and has a runny nose, you may be wondering if she has a common cold. It’s important to know that dogs can show cold-like symptoms due to a variety of causes including infection, foreign material in the nasal passages, polyps, parasites, and dental disease. Keep reading to learn more about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of cold-like symptoms in dogs.

What Causes Colds in Dogs?

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Colds caused by viral or bacterial infections may be part of a condition known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (CIRD), also called Kennel Cough or Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Learn more about Kennel Cough by clicking here.

Dogs get colds from other infected dogs, through:

  • Direct contact
  • Infected droplets in the air
  • Contact with contaminated surfaces such as food bowls, leashes, or people

Crowded conditions such as animal shelters, boarding facilities, and breeding kennels increase the risk of dogs spreading certain diseases. Places where dogs may come into contact with each other, such as a dog park or a grooming facility, also pose risks of transmitting colds or other illnesses, especially in unvaccinated dogs.

All breeds can be infected, with greyhounds known to be at higher risk for developing severe, life-threatening pneumonia.

What are other causes of sneezing and runny nose in dogs?

Foreign Objects

A dog’s sense of smell is between 1,000-10,000 times better than ours. Using their sense of smell, dogs can identify gender, mood, sickness, food and so much more. Because they use their nose so often, dogs are at a high risk of getting a foreign object, such as a foxtail or other plant material, stuck in their nose. Usually, these can be sneezed out or swallowed. Unfortunately, the object can sometimes get stuck and cause signs that look similar to a cold.

Polyps or Other Growths

Polyps, growths, or tumors in the nose block the flow of air and can often cause nasal irritation with discharge, swelling, and pain.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections cause the body’s immune system to react similarly to viral or bacterial infections. This often results in nasal discharge, swelling, and pain.


Nasal mites are small bugs that are transmitted from other dogs or foxes. A dog with nasal mites may experience irritation and a runny nose.

Severe Dental Disease

Dental problems can occur when dogs do not get regular dental exams and cleaning. Certain dental issues can lead to deep infections that involve the sinus passages.

Talk to your vet about dental care and the prevention of oral disease for your dog. Learn more about how to take care of your dog’s teeth by clicking here.

Signs of Colds or Other Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs

Signs and symptoms depend on the cause of the problem and range from mild to severe life-threatening pneumonia. They can include the following:

  • Runny nose that is clear, yellow, green, or obvious blood. Discharge may be from one nostril or both
  • Productive/moist cough (coughing up phlegm) or non-productive (dry) cough
  • Decreased activity, reluctant to move
  • Fever
  • Not eating
  • Difficulty breathing with increased respiration rate or movement of the chest while breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (glands located under the jaw are noticeably larger than normal)

Diagnosis of Colds or Other Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs

Your vet will ask about your dog’s recent exposure to other dogs that could potentially transmit infection. Determining the cause of your dog’s symptoms includes a complete physical exam and possibly blood work and x-rays. Sedation may be required to do a more complete exam of the mouth and nose to see if the problem is related to the teeth or in the nose.

Treatment of Sneezing and Nasal Discharge in Dogs

Treatment depends on the cause of your dog’s symptoms.

For symptoms caused by viral or bacterial infections, treatment focuses on supportive care of coughing, nasal discharge, fever, decreased appetite, and treating secondary bacterial infection(s). Your dog should be kept away from other dogs as many respiratory diseases can be transmitted to other dogs.

Foreign objects, polyps, dental problems, and tumors often require sedation or anesthesia for further evaluation. Your vet may recommend x-rays or other imaging to determine the best treatment options.

Follow all instructions from your vet, including giving medication as directed, checking to make sure your dog is eating and drinking, and follow-up visits to make sure your dog is responding to treatment.

How can colds and other upper respiratory symptoms be prevented?

Vaccinations are available that help protect and prevent your dog from several viruses and bacteria that can cause serious respiratory infection. These including distemper, parainfluenza, and Bordetella. Your dog may still get an infection while vaccinated; however, the vaccine helps keep your dog from becoming severely ill and decreases shedding of the virus to other dogs.

Puppies should be fully vaccinated before visiting a dog park or staying in a boarding facility. For more information on vaccinating your dog, click here.

Because of the way many of these infections are spread in dogs, always practice good hygiene. If your dog is sick, wash your hands well before and after touching her to help prevent possible transmission to other pets.

Your vet can prescribe medication to prevent nasal mites, which often works to help prevent other things your dog is exposed to regularly, such as heartworms and other parasites. Learn more about preventing heartworms by clicking here.

Talk to your vet about a preventive dental healthcare plan, including homecare recommendations

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog's coughing and sneezing or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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