I recently had my mother-in-law ask me if dogs can get colds. She had just gotten back from a trip and picked her dog up from staying with its brothers and sisters at his previous foster home. He seemed to be a bit lethargic and under the weather. Well, the short answer I gave her is “yes”, dogs can get colds.
The most common cold that dogs get is Bordatella, named for the bacteria that causes it, and is commonly known as “kennel cough” or infectious tracheobronchitis. Our dog contracted it at the shelter we rescued her from and got over it within a week or so. It is a highly infectious form of bronchitis and symptoms include a dry hacking cough and watery nasal discharge. If the case of bordatella is mild, the dog may still eat and be fairly active. This was the case with our dog and my mother-in-law's dog. With more severe cases, the symptoms may progress to include loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, pneumonia, and even death. Most severe cases occur in dogs with compromised immune systems and puppies.
Dogs with mild cases of bordatella may not need treatment and may recover on their own. The treatment for bordatella often includes antibiotics, especially in more severe cases. The most common antibiotics given are doxycycline, which is what our dog received, and trimethoprim-sulfa. Bronchodilators are often used as well. Cough suppressants may be given to dogs with mild cases of bordatella, but are generally not given to more severe cases due to the possibility of the drugs suppressing the dog's immune system.
The best way to prevent kennel cough is to give your dog vaccinations against it. Vaccination is either done by injection or intranasally (squirted into the nostrils). Other ways to prevent infection are to limit your dog's exposure to other dogs. In homes with multiple dogs, good hygiene with respect to cleaning and disinfecting food and water dishes, cages, and kennels is a must. If you suspect your dog may have contracted kennel cough, get an opinion from the expert. Take it to the vet.