A dog lying on a bed with an ice pack on its head and tissues next to its nose.

Do Pets Have a “Cold and Flu Season”?

Summer has given way to autumn, and cold and flu season is now beginning for us humans. If you’re a pet parent already experiencing common cold symptoms, it’s only natural to wonder if you can make your dog or cat sick. You’ll want to read on to learn the answer and more about “colds” and flu in our pets (the news is good!).

Different viruses, similar symptoms

Cats and dogs can suffer from upper respiratory infections, which can be similar to our colds. The good news is that your dog or cat can’t catch your cold. Although your pet’s symptoms may mimic yours, dog and cat “cold viruses” are different from the ones that infect people — they’re species specific, meaning they can infect only one species. That’s also good news considering that about 200 viruses can cause the common human cold!

An interior graphic detailing a list of symptoms for upper respiratory illnesses.

Veterinarians consider several of these signs and symptoms to be non-specific, meaning they can be seen with a number of different health issues. So if your pet has experienced any of these symptoms for more than two days, a trip to the veterinary clinic is needed to eliminate potentially serious problems. If your cat or dog is listless and hasn’t eaten in 36 hours, it will be especially important to consult your veterinarian as the underlying cause may be completely unrelated to an upper respiratory infection.

TLC for pets with upper respiratory symptoms

Supportive care is often the best medicine when our pets have upper respiratory infections. The first step is to make sure your four-legged friend is eating, drinking and breathing adequately. Cats in particular don’t eat well if their sense of smell is decreased. So if your pet is depressed, isn’t eating, or has a milky or colored discharge from his or her eyes or nose, then they should be examined by your veterinarian.

According to PreventiveVet.com, these simple steps can help cats and dogs with upper respiratory symptoms:

  • Humidify the air — Have your pet in a steamy bathroom while you shower or use a humidifier (or vaporizer) in the room where your pet spends most of their time. Just as with people, steam can help clear up nasal passages by ensuring good hydration and function of the respiratory system.
  • Increase water intake — Help ensure your pet is well hydrated by adding canned food to their diet or adding a small amount of water to their food. You can also flavor your pet’s drinking water with a splash of chicken broth or juice from water-packed tuna.
  • Keep noses and eyes clean — Use a warm, damp washcloth to gently clean your pet’s nose and around the eyes.
  • Help your pet’s appetite — Adding a small amount of canned food, warm water or warmed chicken broth to dry kibble can help encourage your pet to eat. You can also warm it gently in the microwave to help release aromas, which can be especially helpful in getting cats to eat. It may smell stinky to you, but it will help ensure your pet can smell the food, which is very important for their appetite.
  • Let your pet get plenty of rest — Offer plenty of clean, warm blankets for your pet to rest on. You’ll probably want to avoid long walks with your canine companion until the symptoms improve. And if possible, try to limit play time if your pooch is a very active dog.

Flu viruses are specific, but may be shared

You’ve most likely heard of flu outbreaks making people sick, as the human “flu season” runs from October through about April and varies in severity from year to year. You even may have heard of “dog flu” or canine influenza, which affected thousands of dogs especially in Midwestern, Southeastern and Northeastern states during the past 12 years. Human and canine flu viruses are both influenza A viruses, but they are very different. Dogs are susceptible to influenza A H3N8 and H3N2.

Unlike human influenza, canine influenza is not a “seasonal” flu — it’s present all year long, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Outbreaks are more commonly seen where groups of susceptible dogs are in close contact, such as kennels, grooming or boarding facilities, shelters and dog day care facilities. However, in early 2016, the H3N2 strain was found in a group of shelter cats in Northwest Indiana. Some dogs at the shelter had been infected with the virus, and experts believe the virus was then transmitted to the cats. So far, reports of dog flu infections in cats are rare.

RELATED POST: What You Should Know About Dog Flu When You Have a Social Dog

Signs of canine influenza A H3N2 in dogs and cats

Dogs infected with canine influenza virus often have symptoms similar to those seen with “kennel cough,” although infections with mild strains can resemble colds. The most common sign in dogs is a cough that lasts for 10 to 21 days despite treatment with antibiotics and cough suppressants. Discharge from the nose and/or eyes, sneezing, decreased activity and appetite loss also may be seen.

Some dogs also develop a pus-containing nasal discharge and fever. The most severely affected dogs can have pneumonia, a high fever and increased breathing rate and effort.

Cats infected with canine influenza A H3N2 have signs of upper respiratory infections, including nasal discharge, congestion, depression, lip smacking and excessive drooling.

If you suspect your pet may be experiencing symptoms related to an upper respiratory infection or flu, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. There are vaccines available to help protect your pets from common viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections and that can protect your dog against canine influenza. Be sure to ask your veterinarian which vaccines are most appropriate for your best friend.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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