Of course they can! We refer to any number of viruses as "colds." Viruses, microscopic parasites that can't live for long outside of a host, can infect virtually all kinds of living creatures, dogs, cats, and humans included.
How Do Pets Get Colds?
The same way we do. Viruses are incredibly pervasive...they're in the air, can linger on hard and soft surfaces, and of course, are easily transmitted through bodily fluids. Pets usually get colds by being in close contact with other animals who already have them, such as at a dog park or a boarding facility. They very rarely contract colds from their humans, but it can happen with a small number of viruses such as influenza.
What Do Colds Do to Pets?
Colds in pets present a lot of the same symptoms as they do in humans. The most noticeable might include sneezing, runny nose, coughing, excessive sleeping, and watery eyes. Most general cold viruses run their course in a few days' time, and pets' symptoms usually go away on their own with plenty of rest and fluids. Unfortunately, particularly virulent viruses can become more serious if the lungs or respiratory system becomes affected. Some cold signs are to be expected; some could portend something more serious. If your pet seems lethargic, has marked changes in appetite or thirst, maintains a fever, has trouble breathing, or develops diarrhea, you may be looking at something worse than a cold.
Colds Are Nothing to Worry About, Right?
Most cold viruses are relatively harmless, lasting only a few days before your pet's body successfully fights them off. The most common cold viruses in humans by far is the common rhinovirus, which is also seen often in pets. Certain viruses like corona viruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, influenza, parvovirus, and parainfluenza can become serious. Remember that there is no way to treat a virus. It's only possible to treat the symptoms of the virus, such as mucus production or dehydration. It's important for you to contact your veterinarian if your pet has a cold that won't seem to go away, or one that's presenting with particularly disruptive symptoms. Not only will your vet help treat your pet's existing systems to make recovery more comfortable, they'll also monitor to ensure the cold doesn't morph into something less treatable, like pneumonia.
What Can You Do About Colds?
The absolute best way to keep your pet from contracting common but potentially serious viruses is to keep their vaccinations up to date, from kennel cough to FeLV. It's also important to keep your pet away from other animals who might be virus carriers. Even if a pet never showed symptoms or hasn't been sick in weeks, they can still be a carrier. If your pet is already showing the signs of a cold, watch them closely. Because animals can't articulate how they feel, it's easy to confuse the symptoms of a more serious disease with those of a common cold. Bacterial infections, parasites, and even heartworms can look like colds at first. If you have any reason to wonder whether or not your pet's cold is something more, reach out to your vet. It's better to be safe than sorry.