When pets get the sniffles: Understanding cold symptoms in dogs and cats

January 15, 2024
When pets get the sniffles: Understanding cold symptoms in dogs and cats

It’s that time of year again – colds, sniffles and even the flu start taking over schools and offices. It seems like almost everyone is carrying tissues and spending a few days in bed. With such a prevalence of colds in humans during winter, it’s easy to wonder if and how such viruses pass to our pets. Can dogs and cats catch a cold?


What is a Cold?

A “cold” is a general term we use to describe a virus that causes certain symptoms, usually runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, coughing and/or scratchy throat. In humans, the cold virus is usually a rhinovirus, though there are a few other culprits. For a long time, it seemed like viruses were species-specific and contamination between humans and pets wasn't possible. New research, however, suggests that certain viruses can spread between people and animals. 

When we use the term “cold” to describe a dog or cat illness that has the same symptoms as a human cold, we are using the same generic term (a “cold”), but in many cases, it refers to different actual viruses.

  • In dogs, these viruses are usually canine respiratory coronavirus, canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, or Bordetella (also known as kennel cough).
  • In cats, the virus whose symptoms look most like a human cold is usually herpesvirus or calicivirus.

What are the symptoms of a dog or cat cold?

Dogs and cats do catch colds, and their symptoms are just like humans. Both may have discharge from their noses, “wet” or labored breathing from congestion, sneezing (especially wet sneezes), watery eyes and lethargy (napping more, showing low energy). The cold symptoms last between 5 and 10 days on average.

Do I need to take my pet with a cold to the vet?

As with humans, some pet colds can be cared for at home, while others will need a vet’s care. To care for your pets at home:

  • keep plenty of water available
  • wipe off discharge to keep your pets comfortable
  • let them rest as much as possible 
  • provide warm, humid air if they seem congested (you can let your pet into the bathroom while you shower, or put your pet in a room with a humidifier)
  • if possible: isolate sick pets from healthy ones, as colds can be very contagious

But if your cat or dog shows trouble breathing, stops eating or drinking, becomes overly lethargic, or seems to be in pain, go see your veterinarian right away. The symptoms of a cold can also look very similar to more serious diseases, so you’ll want a vet to do a full checkup.

Do not give your pets over-the-counter medications without first talking to your veterinarian.


The best way to prevent colds in your cats and dogs is for you and your pet to stay away from other sick animals and to stay up-to-date on vaccinations. Many vaccines we offer at Animal Clinic of Woodruff can help protect pets from upper respiratory diseases.

If you’re concerned that your pet is sick or might become sick, make an appointment today to discuss this with your vet.


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