Can dogs and cats catch a cold? An animal expert explains how to protect your pet

With winter comes cold and flu season, making coughing and sneezing a common occurrence. But it’s not just humans who are hit with these seasonal diseases – our pets can catch them too.

While many of us have an arsenal of home remedies that we can use to combat these illnesses, the same is not necessarily true for pets. So what can we do for our four-legged friends if they get sick – and how can we prevent seasonal illnesses in the future?

Pet Respiratory Infections

In the same way that coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses spread more easily when we are indoors with other people, so do our pets. Dogs often contract illnesses after staying in kennels, attending indoor training classes, or at competitive events where they are in close contact with other dogs. Infections can spread quickly via airborne particles, by sharing drinking water, or from contaminated surfaces.

We can also inadvertently transmit infections to our pets, especially if we have already handled or petted an infected animal. Some pathogenic organisms can even remain viable on our clothes and shoes for several hours. Washing your hands, changing your clothes and having good hygiene are simple but effective ways to limit the spread of many infections, especially if you are regularly in contact with several animals.

Occasionally, diseases can also be transmitted from one species to another, including from animals to humans and vice versa. These are called zoonotic diseases and can range from mild infections to more deadly illnesses, such as rabies. In such cases, more extreme control measures are needed to control the virus, such as quarantine of animals.

But if you have a cold, your pet won’t catch it. Viruses that cause colds are specific to humans, although there are dog and cat versions that can cause similar cold symptoms in our canine companions and feline friends. The good news is that they can’t share their cold with us either.

Similarly, influenza tends to be species-specific, although the influenza virus is good at mutating and sometimes “jumping” the species barrier. Although rare, this means there is a theoretical risk of flu transmission between animals and humans. This is why good hygiene and minimizing close contact with other species during outbreaks is a good idea.

Cold Symptoms in Dogs and Cats

Protect pets by staying aware of infections.Tatiana Meteleva/Moment/Getty Images

If your dog or cat catches a cold, the symptoms are very similar to what we experience: sneezing, runny nose, cough, possibly fever, fatigue and often reduced or lost appetite.

If you think your pet is sick, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian first to make sure you get the correct diagnosis. Your pet may also need specific treatment (such as antibiotics). However, never be tempted to treat your pet with human medications. Over-the-counter medications that are safe for us can potentially be toxic to our pets. Ibuprofen, for example, is dangerous for dogs.

There are many simple things you can do to help your pet when they are sick. First, make sure they are warm and comfortable, as this is essential to help them recover. You can do this by providing them with extra bedding or even pet-safe clothing. Many older dogs benefit from coats inside and out to keep old joints warm. Just be sure to wash or change their bedding regularly to maintain a pleasant environment in which they can recover. This will also help reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other pets in the household.

Rest is important. Make sure your pet has a quiet, safe space away from people and other animals. Reducing exercise is also a good idea, especially if your pet has a respiratory infection, so as not to further stress their body.

Make sure that fresh, clean drinking water is always available. If the weather is very cold, consider adding lukewarm water to encourage drinking. This is especially important for animals that live outdoors.

If your dog starts coughing, especially upon waking up—and may even gag or gag—it’s possible he’s got kennel cough. This is highly contagious and a coughing dog should be kept away from other dogs until the coughing stops and he has recovered. This includes not taking a coughing dog to your vet’s waiting room. However, kennel cough cannot spread to other species of pets (like cats).

For most otherwise healthy pets, seasonal illnesses are mild and self-limiting. Most pets recover quickly – within days. But if you are concerned, if your pet is very young or old or suffers from other health problems, always ask your veterinarian for advice.

Keep animals healthy

There are many things you can do to reduce the likelihood of an animal getting sick.

First, keep their vaccinations up to date and ask your veterinarian if there are any local diseases that might be of concern. Although vaccinations won’t prevent everything, they will help support your pet’s health and reduce the risk of serious illness.

Keeping pets lean and at a healthy weight, feeding them a balanced diet, and ensuring they always have clean drinking water are simple and effective measures to support pet health. Keeping their sleeping area and food and water bowls clean can also further reduce the risk of illness.

We may share our homes, our lives, and sometimes our beds with our pets, but luckily we don’t have to worry about sharing our seasonal coughs and colds with them.

This article was originally published on The conversation by Jacqueline Boyd to Nottingham Trent University. Read the original article here.