Dog Cold: How to Recognise, Treat and Prevent a Cold in Your Dog

07.10.2022 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Ein Hund ist in eine Decke eingewickelt

A runny nose, watery eyes and a lack of energy may be an indication that your four-legged friend has caught a cold. Dogs, like humans, can also catch colds – and display all the symptoms we ourselves are familiar with: sniffles, cough, hoarseness and increased body temperature. But not all signs are so obvious. Read here how to recognise, treat and prevent a cold in your dog!

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Colds in dogs – recognising symptoms

Runny noses, sneezing and fever in dogs are the signs of colds that are caused, among other things, by hypothermia and an alternation between warm indoor and cold outdoor air. This impairs the body’s own defences. Many pathogens can survive longer due to the cold and damp climate and the low exposure to sunlight. A dog’s mucous membranes can dry out quickly from central heating, especially if the dog’s bed is too close to the radiator, and this in turn can make them more susceptible to colds.

In other words, colds do not only affect humans. Dr Thomas Steidl, a small animal practitioner from Tübingen and Vice-Chairman of the Committee for Small Animals of the German Veterinary Association, explains: “Upper respiratory tract infections also occur in dogs. However, these are not so much seasonal, as brought on by stress of various kinds. Dogs can also easily catch infections from other dogs with illnesses. The risk of infection is particularly high in areas where many dogs come together, for example in exercise areas or dog training grounds.”

Look out for symptoms that, according to Dr Steidl, often occur when a dog has a cold.

These symptoms include:

  • A runny nose and watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Phlegm
  • Sensitive area of the throat
  • vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and fatigue
  • Accompanied by fever in the case of more severe infections

However, not all of these symptoms necessarily occur at the same time.

High temperature in animals? Measuring fever correctly in dogs

A digital clinical thermometer with a soft rubber tip is practical for taking the temperature of dogs. “The thermometer should be well greased with vaseline before use to make it as slippery as possible,” advises veterinary surgeon Sebastian Haag from Munich Animal Rescue. He explains the procedure as follows:

  • “Carefully hold your dog’s tail and pull it straight up so that you can see its anus.
  • Carefully insert the thermometer by 2-3 cm so that the silver metal tip is completely engulfed.
  • Then press the control button next to the digital display. Wait about ten seconds until you hear a beeping sound.

Pull out the thermometer. The digital display will indicate the measured body temperature. “
A healthy large breed of dog will have a body temperature of between 38-38.5°C. In small breeds the temperature can rise to 39°C and in puppies it may be as high as 39.5°C with no cause for concern. However, if your dog’s body temperature rises above 40°C, you are dealing with a fever, which can be life-threatening for your dog. In this case, please consult a vet immediately.

The correct way to care for a dog with a cold

When your dog has a cold, he feels similar to the way we feel when we have a similar infection.

If your dog has a cold, he will require:

  • warmth and rest – avoid stress at all costs.
  • Your dog should sleep in order to get better.
  • Only go for very short walks so that the dog can relieve himself.
  • Create warm retreats for your dog, by placing a heat lamp near his bed for instance (please observe a safe minimum distance).
  • Provide him with easily digestible food that is rich in vitamins. In addition, please make sure that he drinks enough fluids.
  • Do not give your dog any medication other than from a vet. Human medicine is completely unsuitable for dogs and can even lead to poisoning!

If your dog has a cold, cough or fever, a timely visit to the vet is essential. Dr Thomas Steidl of the German Veterinary Association explains why: “You should never try to treat the symptoms on your own, but always consult your vet. If necessary, he will administer mucolytics (agents to strengthen the body’s defences) or an antibiotic if there is a feverish bacterial infection.”

Dogs should also be offered sufficient fluids to keep the mucous membranes moist.

“It is important to ensure that a harmless inflammation of the upper airways does not develop into a serious illness of the lower airways, i.e. bronchitis or pneumonia,” warns Dr Steidl.

Warning: Keep muzzles away from the snow! Many dogs love to plough through the snow in winter with their muzzle open and eat it in the process. But be careful! The snow may contain pathogens and pollutants such as road salt and grit. In addition, the cold snow can irritate the dog’s stomach and throat. This can result in nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting or gastrointestinal infections.

Tip: Feed your dog a snack before a winter walk and take fresh drinking water with you, so he can quench his thirst with fresh water in between.

Prevention: How to prevent your dog from catching a cold:

  • Dogs with a single coat without an undercoat or only with a very short coat should wear a dog coat in winter.
  • Proper coat care: Never clip or bathe your dog in winter. Read more in the Coat Care Guide.
  • If your dog gets wet, dry him off immediately.
  • Paw care: Trim the claws and fur around your dog’s paws properly. Clean them after a winter walk and apply a paw protection ointment. Read more about this in the Paw Care Guide.
  • Do not let your dog eat snow or ice. It might be heavily contaminated or even poisonous as a result of road salt and grit.
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