As daylight hours shrink and the bitter cold rears its ugly head, we don our jackets over countless layers, wrapping scarves around our heads and shoving ice-cold feet into boots. We tell ourselves it will prevent us from catching a cold in the chill, but really—we quietly admit to ourselves—it’s just a pretense to jump headfirst into sweater season.
Our dogs, sadly, do not get the same cozy satisfaction, and it’s not because a cup of hot chocolate is on the official do-not-fly list. Instead, wet, yucky days mean a higher risk of catching the canine version of the common cold.
That’s right, doggy colds are a thing, but they’re probably not as cut-and-dry as you think. Coughing, hacking, honking, and runny noses are symptoms you should look out for through the spring, but this “cold” usually manifests as a type of kennel cough.
Doctor Angie Runnalls-Briand, a veterinarian at the Cobequid Animal Hospital in Nova Scotia, Canada, helps explain the illness in layman’s terms:
Kennel cough is like an umbrella term. There’s a whole bunch of organisms that can cause it, and bordetella is one of them. It’s probably the most common one. But most of the time, it’s a combination of a couple of them.
The illness is extremely contagious among dogs via saliva. That means kisses, nose bumps, and sharing water bowls or toys will really help it spread.
Just like humans have different strains of the cold and flu, so do dogs. Dartmouth’s Metro Animal Emergency Clinic has reported seeing a high number of these sick pups lately, and pup parents should be aware that the virus could behave more strongly this time around, affecting even vaccinated dogs.
The influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, and tuberculosis also fall under the kennel cough umbrella and share similar symptoms, so it’s important that you get your dog examined to rule out any of these serious illnesses. And while cold weather alone isn’t likely to make a dog (or a human) sick, unfavorable temperatures and climate will create ideal conditions for bacteria and viruses to “latch” onto.
The cold viruses are not contagious between dogs and humans and treatment is similar for both, though you should NEVER give your dog human medications unless instructed by a vet. Lots of liquids, nutritious food, and warm, humid environments are great for congested heads (you might want to use a humidifier or just turn the shower on hot and let your pup hang out in the steamy bathroom for a bit). They’ll surely thank you for it.
So, as you get ready for the temps to drop and allot some extra time before walkies to put on your cold-weather armor, it’s always good to be conscious of your surroundings and the season—you may just help save your pup some sniffles and a trip to the vet.