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Sick as a Dog: Can You Catch a Cold From Your Pet?

The simple answer to this question is yes, but it is extremely rare.

If you and your cat or dog are both sick at the same time, you may think you caught a cold from your pet, or vice versa. Some symptoms are certainly similar. An Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), usually referred to in humans as the common cold, is caused by any number of different viruses. However, the viruses that cause cold-like symptoms in humans, dogs, and cats rarely jump from one species to another.

What Is A Cold?

When people talk about “catching a cold”, they are actually referring to any number of different viruses or bacteria. They are all grouped together as “a cold” due to the similar symptoms they produce. In people, the most common cold virus is the rhinovirus, but there are many, many others that can cause us to feel sick.

In dogs and cats, symptoms of a cold are caused in a similar manner. There is not one specific virus, but rather a variety of viruses and bacteria that all cause cold symptoms in dogs and cats. Some of these are more serious than others, which is why you should treat your dog or cat’s URI with a bit more caution than you would your own cold.

Signs of A Cold in Dogs and Cats

Common cold symptoms in pets include:

  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Congestion
  • Clear or colored nasal discharge
  • Wheezing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever

These symptoms could be the signs of a cold, but could also be signs of a more serious condition.  If any of your pets are experiencing these symptoms, contact your veterinarian. While a mild cold is most likely not a cause for concern, it’s important to rule out any other underlying issues that may be at play.

Also noteworthy is that although your pets may recover just fine, URIs are generally extremely contagious. If your pet has any signs of being ill, it’s best to keep them home so they don’t infect other animals.

Can I Catch A Cold From My Pet?

To address the very rare instances when it’s possible to catch a cold or flu from your pet, we will look at a few instances.

In cats, most URI viral and bacterial agents are highly contagious only to other cats. But there are some strains that can also affect dogs and even some that are considered zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans). Bordetella bronchiseptica has been known to be transmitted between dogs and cats, and rarely, to humans.

The influenza virus gets headlines for crossing species lines, but in reality, this is very rare. An avian strain (H2N7) recently was noted to infect shelter cats in New York City, and was determined to infect one shelter veterinarian as well.

Conjunctivitis in cats can be caused by the chlamydia bacteria, resulting in severe inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye. There have been a few cases reported of the chlamydia bacteria being transmitted from cats to people, so good handwashing practices are in order if your cat has this disease.

Again, these instances are extremely rare. To date, there is no evidence of a contagious virus that causes upper respiratory infection that can cross species lines. However, viruses are constantly mutating and there may come a day when such a virus exists.

Zoonotic Diseases

Zoonotic diseases can be a concern, even if catching a cold from your pet is not. A few best practices are in order.

  • Keep hands clean
  • Wash and sanitize food and water bowls regularly
  • Remove pet stool promptly
  • Prevent pet parasites
  • Clean your pet’s bedding regularly
  • Use extra caution with children and farm animals, including at petting zoos and fairs

If you have concerns about your own health, please don’t hesitate to contact your physician. And if you have any questions about your pet’s health or well-being, we’re happy to answer them. Please call your team at West Park Animal Hospital or schedule an appointment today.

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