Here’s How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Cold — and What to Do About It


The common cold is a fact of life, a nuisance that humans have to deal with. It’s a virus, but it’s rarely dangerous. It usually takes around a week to fully recover. But what about dogs? Do dogs get colds?

The answer is yes, dogs can catch a virus that causes similar symptoms to a human cold. (Where do you think the expression, sick as a dog, comes from?)

Human and dog colds share similarities. Each is caused by a variety of different viruses that bring on some of the same symptoms. But the viruses that cause colds are generally species specific. In humans, the most common virus that causes colds is the rhinovirus. In dogs, the most common viruses are canine adenovirus type 2, canine respiratory coronavirus, canine parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Related: Dogs Can Eat Vegetarian, But That Doesn’t Mean They Should

Think your dog has the cold? Here is what to know and what to do.

What Are the Symptoms of a Canine Cold?

English Bulldog dog canine pet on brown leather couch under blanket looking sad bored lonely sick tired exhausted

The symptoms should be familiar; they are very similar to human colds.

  • Sneezing
  • A blocked nose
  • A runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes
  • Decreased hunger
  • Decreased activity
  • Increased sleeping

There is a difference for dogs. While these symptoms do indicate a cold, they may also be attributed to more serious illnesses, including kennel cough, parasites, dog flu, canine parainfluenza virus, canine bronchitis, fungal infection or canine distemper.

In some breeds, even the common cold can be serious. Brachycephalic, or flat faced breeds, are more prone to breathing problems. In these dogs, symptoms of the common cold are more extreme and include:

  • Snorting
  • Wheezing
  • Increased snoring

Because of the different structure of the nose and nasal passages, these breeds become much more congested, and trapped mucus will more likely become a secondary infection like pneumonia.

Related: The Secrets to Raising a Happy and Balanced Dog

How Will You Know If It’s More Serious than a Cold?

The first thing to do if you think your dog has a cold is figure out how serious it is. It could be more serious than a cold if you observe any of these symptoms:

Kennel cough has a honking or hacking sound, which could be kennel cough, especially if your dog has been in boarding.

Canine flu may also cause additional symptoms like vomiting, fever, and discharge from the eyes and nose.

Parasites may also cause diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, changes in appetite and coat and constant coughing.

Canine influenza may cause fever, lethargy, hacking cough, discharge from nose and eyes and lack of appetite.

Bronchitis may cause coughing, difficulty breathing or wheezing for an extended period of time and vomiting or retching.

Fungal infection may cause fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, eye discharge, eye inflammation, difficulty breathing (coughing or wheezing) and skin lesions.

Canine distemper begins with a watery discharge from the eyes, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite and vomiting.

It’s always a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian if you suspect a respiratory infection. A doctor can rule out anything more serious. A cold can also become life-threatening in an old or very young dog as their immune systems are either compromised (in the case of elderly dog) or not yet fully formed (in the cases of puppies).

How to Treat Your Dog’s Cold

Treating a dog’s cold is very similar to treating a human cold (except dogs don’t have to drag themselves into work):

Dug and Bitch Paw and nose dog balm
  • Keep your dog warm and dry.
  • Limit exercise, especially during cold weather.
  • Give them healthy food that’s easy to digest, like boiled chicken and brown rice. You can also make bone broth yourself.
  • Use a warm mist humidifier near your dog’s bed.
  • Try to get your dog to drink more water.
  • Use a grooming cloth to wipe away nasal discharge.
  • Try some natural treatments to help their breathing like these nose drops for congestion, runny nose and sneezing or this one for coughing.
  • Use soothing balm if your dog’s nose is chapped. 
  • Add honey and coconut oil to your dog’s food for its infection-fighting qualities.
  • Let your dog rest as much as possible.
  • Give your dog a multivitamin.

Never give your dog human medication without checking with your vet first. Most over-the-counter pain pills, like aspirin, paracetamol and Ibuprofen, are toxic to dogs.

If your dog’s cold persists, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. It’s a good idea to always consult with your veterinarian if you think your dog is sick.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Home Cooked Food for Your Dog

By Jillian Blume

Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer whose feature articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and websites including the New York Observer, Marie Claire, Self, City Realty, the ASPCA,, Best Friends Animal Society, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, The Pet Gazette, and many others.

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