Can My Pet Get A Cold Or The Flu?

Brown and white pitbull laying on couch sleeping under blanket

Just like humans, our pets can become sick with respiratory illnesses like a cold or the flu. However, pets don’t catch the same viruses that people do. If you are sick, you likely don’t have to worry about transmitting the virus to your pet. Most viruses that thrive in humans are not zoonotic, which means they are not transmissible to animals. It’s also improbable a pet could give you a virus.

Respiratory viruses can make your dogs or cats very sick. Make sure to watch for symptoms and, when they are ill, take them to the veterinarian to receive proper care.

How Pet Viruses Work

Viruses are most commonly transferred in social settings. Your pet can pick up a disease whenever they are around other pets or in a place frequented by other pets (e.g.: dog parks, doggie daycare, grooming facilities, pet hotels).

Luckily, many of the most dangerous pet viruses can be prevented. Vaccinations and parasite repellant/killing medications keep your pets safe from illnesses and help you avoid high veterinary bills. Vaccinations work by preparing your pet’s immune system to fight the disease if it is ever encountered.

Our pets are most susceptible to viruses when they are young, elderly, or have a preexisting medical issue. Keep these pets safe by reducing their exposure to high-risk settings. For example, young puppies should not visit a dog park until they are fully vaccinated.

Typically, viruses can only be transmitted to animals within the same species. In most cases, a dog can transmit a virus to another dog, but not to a cat. Rabies is the major exception: it can be transferred between most mammals. Because rabies is fatal, it is vital to keep your pets up to date on their vaccination.

Common Canine Viruses

Canine Influenza

Canine Influenza is the dog equivalent to the human flu with which it shares many similarities. It is highly contagious, can be spread through saliva, contaminated items, or airborne droplets from an infected pet. This disease can last for up to 48 hours on a contaminated surface.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • snotty nose
  • lethargy
  • decreased

Not every dog experiences the same symptoms or the same intensity of sickness. There is a vaccine available to help prevent this disease. Consult your veterinarian if you think this vaccination is right for your pet.

Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough (Bordetella) is a highly contagious sickness often spread when dogs are in tight quarters, such as in animal shelters or in a boarding facility. It can be caused by a virus and bacteria combination. It shares many of the symptoms of Canine Influenza; however, the cough associated with kennel cough is distinct and sounds like a dry honking noise. Fortunately, there is a vaccination that prevents kennel cough.

Canine Parvovirus

Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious and deadly disease spread through contact with contaminated objects or an infected individual. The virus is extremely hard to kill, sometimes living in contaminated soil for years. If a dog is infected, this virus attacks the intestinal system, causing fever, vomiting, and profuse (often bloody) diarrhea. This virus is deadly in most cases, especially for young puppies, which is why you should vaccinate your dog against it at a young age.

Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper spreads through airborne particles from an infected individual or from direct contact. Infection results in fever, runny nose, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, watery eyes, paralysis, and seizures. It is deadly for dogs of all ages, even with treatment, but it is completely preventable by administering the Distemper vaccine.

Common Feline Viruses

Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)

Our feline friends most commonly display flu-like symptoms when they have an upper respiratory infection. Much like Kennel Cough, these infections can be viral or bacterial, leading to runny eyes, a snotty nose, fever, and sneezing or coughing. Upper respiratory infections are treatable, so be sure to visit your veterinarian if your cat starts to show symptoms.

Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline Leukemia Virus is transmissible through cat-to-cat contact. The symptoms are unique. While showing few or no signs, the virus slowly weakens a cat’s immune system over time, making them more susceptible to other diseases. Even healthy-looking cats can carry FLV, so get your pet tested at your vet’s recommendation.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is another illness that attacks a cat’s immune system and can exist for years or even months before cats start showing signs. Some of these signs appear flu-like, such as runny eyes and fever, while others, like weight loss and anemia, hint at something worse. This disease is terminal, so a vaccine is generally recommended for high-risk cats.

Feline Panleukopenia

Feline Panleukopenia, also known as feline parvovirus, is most commonly transferred between cats. The virus, which is fatal in kittens, attacks the cat’s body at multiple points. Symptoms range from mild flu-like symptoms to debilitating and deadly illness. Feline Panleukopenia is a hard-to-kill virus, surviving up to a year in the environment. For these reasons, all cats should be vaccinated against it.

Virus Prevention and Management In Pets

Take your pet to see a veterinarian if they are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms. Most viral infections are best managed when treated immediately. Many diseases share symptoms, so it is best to get a professional opinion at onset.

Vaccinating your pet is the best way to prevent these deadly illnesses. Be sure to talk with your vet at your pet’s checkup to determine which vaccines are best suited to its needs and clarify how you can protect it from exposure.


Disease risks for dogs in social settings

Feline panleukopenia.

Common cat diseases