Your cat breaks into a sneezing fit or you come home to find your dog has puked on the living room floor. This might seem normal—perhaps your cat’s sneeze is just a sneeze and maybe your dog just ate a little too fast. But it could be something more.
Can your four-legged friend catch a cold or suffer from the flu? The answer is yes. And just as with the human diseases, there are different strains that can infect your beloved pet, but you can use vaccines to help ward off infection.
Fido and the flu
There are two strains of canine influenza: H3N8, which has been in the United States for about 15 years, and H3N2, a newer strain.
Symptoms of canine flu are similar to those humans get, including cough, runny nose and fever, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And like humans, most dogs will be fine with a few days of rest and plenty of fluids, says Dr. Colin Parrish, veterinarian and professor of virology at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dog owners should follow their instincts and visit the vet if they’re
concerned, but treatment is typically just to relieve symptoms. “Most of the time, antibiotics aren’t called for,” Parrish says.
Is it contagious?
The good news is that dogs and humans don’t catch each other’s illnesses, according to Parrish. “Dogs are very resistant to human flu,” he says.
An infected dog, however, can pass the flu on to another dog. Sick dogs should lay low until they feel better. Keep them out of social and play areas like doggie daycare, kennels and dog parks.
Once symptoms start, it’s possible a dog has already passed the virus along to another dog, so there’s little reason to keep two dogs in the same home separated, Parrish says.
As of now, you can only get your dog vaccinated for the H3N8 strain, he says. There is no vaccine for the H3N2 virus.
What about cats?
Cats are safe from the latest canine influenza strains. They can, however, suffer from upper respiratory infection, sometimes called “cat flu,” according to charity International Cat Care.
URIs typically infect kittens and elderly felines and cats kept in large groups, such as those in breeding facilities, rescue shelters or multi-cat households, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, fever, depression and conjunctivitis, a.k.a. pinkeye.
There are vaccines available to protect against the viruses that cause URIs. These vaccines will provide protection against, but not completely eliminate the possibility of, infection, says the ASPCA.
If your vet does diagnose your cat with an upper respiratory infection, he may prescribe medication, isolation, rest, and fluid and nutritional support.
Cats can also catch a common cold. Most symptoms—which include runny nose and cough—will go away in about a week, according to Kansas State University.