How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Cold

To determine if your dog has a cold, take note of any changes in his health or behavior, such as a runny nose or lack of energy. Describing these symptoms to your veterinarian can help determine what is causing the problem and what can be done to relieve cold symptoms. Because the signs of a cold are similar to those of other diseases, such as parainfluenza, pneumonia, and canine distemper, your vet is likely to perform various tests to determine what is causing the cold-like symptoms. 

While a trip to the vet is not always necessary if your dog has a cold, dogs with weak or compromised immune systems, like puppies and older dogs, may need to be checked out by your veterinarian to prevent complications.

Symptoms of a Cold

The main symptoms of a cold include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge, sometimes containing blood or pus
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased body temperature

Often a cold can be treated at home and does not require a trip to the vet's office. If symptoms persist for more than ten days or worsen, your vet may need to perform tests to determine if the cold symptoms are caused by something else, such as a respiratory infection or a foreign body lodged in the nose. Call the vet's office if symptoms appear in puppies and older dogs that are more susceptible to disease and may not have the strength to fight off a cold.

Causes of Colds

Bacteria, fungi, and viruses cause infection or inflammation of the nose, also known as rhinitis. These germs can start as infections of the nasal passages but sometimes spread to the respiratory system, such as the trachea and bronchi, causing more severe symptoms. Colds are highly contagious and can be spread through the air or when dogs come into contact with other infected pets. 

Treatment for a Dog with a Cold     

For healthy dogs, home treatment may be sufficient when dealing with a cold. Steps that owners can take to help relieve the symptoms of a cold in dogs:

  • Prevent dehydration by providing plenty of water to your dog; directly administering water into the dog's mouth with a syringe may be necessary if the dog is not drinking
  • Use a vaporizer to keep nasal passages moist and help with breathing; 10 minutes in a steamed bathroom can also help
  • Make sure the dog gets plenty of rest
  • Ask your vet about over the counter cough suppressants
  • Isolate the dog from other pets to prevent the cold from spreading
  • Disinfect food and water bowls, sleeping areas, and play areas to prevent germs from infection other pets

If symptoms don't improve or become worse, bring your dog to the vet's office as soon as possible. Medications that your vet may prescribe for treatment include antibiotics and antihistamines, but this will depend on what is causing the cold symptoms in the first place. Antibiotics, for example, will be no help to colds caused by viral infections.