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Do Dogs Get Colds and Flus? What We Need To Watch for This Winter 🐾 Little Dog Tips

Most of us will have at least one cold or flu this year.

For those of us that spend a lot of time indoors, in crowded spaces, especially around children, dealing with multiple bouts of (human) cold and flu can be inevitable.

While getting sick is uncomfortable and disruptive, at least we know what to expect, and can stock up on tissues, cold medicine, and soup.

It’s not as common for our dogs to contract upper respiratory infections. So much so that it’s not at top of mind in the winter, and it’s not something most of us watch out for.

But each year, it seems as though we hear about yet another new, unidentified strain of infection in dogs. Some of these cause mild illness that dogs can get over in a few weeks, while at other times, even healthy dogs have suffered more severe symptoms.

Maybe it’s time we get prepped for canine cold and flu season and get to know how contagious illnesses affect dogs – and what we should be doing to protect them.

Does Cold Weather Make Dogs Sick?

Upper respiratory infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses, not by cold temperatures. However, it is true that the cold weather makes all of us, including our dogs, more likely to get sick.

Pathogens travel more easily in cold, dry air. And the cold weather can also compromise our immune systems. These viruses still exist and affect dogs in warmer seasons, but they’re more prevalent when it’s cold out.

With that, in the winter our dogs may also be more likely to spend time indoors, even though they’re not as likely as we are to be in crowded spaces and social situations.

Vet’s offices, grooming salons, boarding kennels – those are all places that your dog might contract an infection. Dog parks, while they’re not indoors, can also be a place where your dog might be in close contact with others.

What’s Going On In The News?

You may have heard that dogs are getting sick in some regions, and that veterinarians are finding that they’re contracting new, unknown viruses. It’s possible that mutations of existing viruses.

Viruses continuously mutate to spread more easily, cause more severe infections, and bypass your dog’s immune system – that’s nothing new.

But while it’s typical for viruses to mutate, and it’s not unusual for dogs to get sick, especially in the winter, it seems like these mysterious illnesses are cropping up more and more.

There might be a few reasons for this:

  • More people have dogs and use pet care services, dog parks, and other spaces.
  • Dogs are part of the family, and it’s becoming more common to bring them when visiting friends and family, and include them in traditions like taking Santa photos.
  • Dog-friendly spaces like restaurant patios and breweries are becoming more popular and more crowded.
  • We’re paying more attention when our dogs get sick, and we’re more likely to bring them to the vet for care than dog owners of days past.
  • Fewer people are vaccinating their dogs against known illnesses, giving those viruses more opportunities to mutate.
  • Climate change means shifts in the way viruses survive in the environment and affect pets
  • Isolation during COVID times means dogs may not spend as much time at parks and in play groups and may not be developing natural immunity against disease.
  • More breaking news stories. These new viruses are not striking every region, but news stories can make them seem more widespread than they actually are.

It’s not as though we’re doing anything wrong by taking our dogs in public too much or too little. There’s factors we cannot change, like climate and lifestyle, living in cities, using daycare and boarding services.

What we can control is vaccinating our dogs as recommended by our veterinarians. Core vaccines that protect against parvovirus and distemper are essential and life-saving during puppyhood. And vaccines like bordetella (kennel cough), recommended for dogs that are boarded or in daycare, can help protect vulnerable dogs like puppies and seniors that cannot be vaccinated.

What’s more, many of the dogs in the news stories that are suffering from severe, sometimes fatal versions of these new viruses are suffering from multiple concurrent infections. Even though there’s not a vaccine for every virus your dog can contract, some protection is better than none, and might make a difference between a mild illness and a severe one.

How Do We Protect Our Dogs from Viruses?

It’s not necessary, or even possible to protect your dog from every virus they may encounter.

And when our dogs do get sick, chances are they’ll recover at home without further treatment.

We need to continue to care for our dogs and take notice when something’s not right. Coughing, sneezing, lack of energy, lack of appetite, eye discharge, changes in mood – these are all things that we’re great at paying attention to, and that we should see a vet about even if their symptoms seem mild.

Your vet can determine what’s making your dog sick, whether they need medication, and what else your dog might need to ensure they do not contract a secondary infection or complications like dehydration.

Isolation isn’t necessary unless your dog is especially vulnerable or if your region is experiencing an outbreak, but you may still want to avoid unnecessary contact with other dogs, especially in the winter.

Most vets will now let you wait in your car instead of the waiting room, until your dog is called in.

For vacations or long workdays, you can hire a dog walker or pet sitter who comes to your home, instead of boarding or using a doggy daycare.

You can try a mobile grooming service, or skip a grooming appointment or two in the winter, brushing diligently to prevent mats.

Our dogs depend on us to keep them safe, but we can only do our best. After the dawn of the pandemic, we’re all still wary, sick of the news, and reminiscing for normalcy. Luckily, we have our dogs to inspire us to keep moving forward.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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