When the dreaded cold and flu season comes around, you’re on top of it: You’ve got the vitamin C, the aspirin, the chicken soup. When it seems everyone in your family is sniffling and taking a sick day, you might not even realize that the furriest members of your family — your cat and dog — could also be suffering from a cold.
“Dogs and cats can get colds,” Lisa Steinberg, DVM at Veterinarians.org, tells Scary Mommy. “Colds in dogs and cats generally result from different pathogens than in humans, although symptoms are similar to humans.”
According to Steinberg, more common viral infections that cause colds in dogs are influenza, distemper, corona, parainfluenza, adenovirus-2, and herpesvirus. Meanwhile, common viral infections involved with cold symptoms in cats are herpes and calicivirus. While there are less common pathogens involved with cold symptoms in pets, Steinberg says sometimes respiratory illness can have more than one infection at a time.
So, how do you know if your furry friend is suffering from a cold? And what should you do if they do have a case of the sniffles? Steinberg answers your questions below.
What are the general symptoms of colds in dogs and cats?
“Cold symptoms are similar in dogs and cats and can include coughing, sneezing, excessive eye discharge, nasal discharge, increased breathing sounds, decreased energy, and a decreased appetite,” Steinberg says. “Cats, in particular, can develop painful ulcers and sores on the tongues and gums. If a dog or cat has concurrent illness, their symptoms can vary.”
What should you do if you suspect your dog or cat has a cold?
If you suspect your cat or dog has a cold, Steinberg says, you can monitor them as long as they are eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, and acting normally otherwise.
If a pet has cold symptoms at home but is otherwise eating fine and acting fine, an owner can try steam,” she suggests. “For example, a cool mist humidifier or putting the cat or dog in the bathroom while one is showering can help clear nasal passages just as with humans. Additionally, cleaning any discharge from the nose or eyes by gently wiping those areas with a soft washcloth and lukewarm water as needed may help the cat or dog feel better.”
And just like humans, hydration, food, and lots of rest go a long way.
How can you prevent colds in your pets?
According to Steinberg, preventing colds in pets is similar to preventing colds in people, including annual examinations and recommended vaccinations.
“Additionally, avoid animal-to-animal contact with other animals that are showing cold symptoms and are not up to date on vaccines,” she says. “If a dog goes to the dog park, avoid other dogs coughing, sneezing, or just laying around. If a dog or cat is going to a boarding facility or groomer, speak with the staff to be sure there are no sick animals within the vicinity of where your pet will be. Overall, it’s most important for an owner to monitor their cat or dog for normal or abnormal behavior and appetite, and consult with a veterinarian if they have any concerns.”
What are the signs that something is more serious with your dog or cat?
Like humans, sometimes a cold isn’t just a cold but a more serious infection. “If a pet has trouble breathing, a decreased appetite and/or is vomiting, has less energy than normal, is squinting excessively in one or both eyes, or stops urinating or defecating, they should be taken to a veterinarian right away,” Steinberg advises.
“Trouble breathing can involve the upper airway from nasal and sinus congestion, but it can also involve the lower airway, which includes the trachea and the lungs, with illness such as pneumonia. If a cat or dog seems to be showing rapid breathing other than a normal pant, or seems to be showing an increase in abdominal effort with breathing, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.”
Steinberg says cats are especially concerning as they tend to compensate well with trouble breathing and often will not show signs of respiratory distress until their illness is advanced. Therefore, if you are concerned at all, she recommends erring on the side of caution and visiting your local veterinary hospital.