Like humans, dogs can develop a variety of different types of respiratory problems, many which become more pronounced over the winter months. This can be attributed to a variety of factors but often includes increased dust in the air and dryer air in the house, both factors caused by forced air and electric heating systems. In addition simply spending more time in the house rather than outside can cause dogs with airborne allergies to have more health issues, especially if the allergy is to something that is within the home.
A dog can get the equivalent of a cold; although the colds that dog's get cannot be transferred to humans under most conditions and neither can a dog get a cold from you. In most cases this is also true with other pets in the house, although there are some diseases that may appear to be a cold that can pass from species to species but rarely if ever through to humans. It is still important to take your dog or puppy into a vet if you suspect a cold to get a correct diagnosis and potentially prevent a much larger vet bill if it is something other than a cold.
Most dogs that get colds tend to already have some type of health condition, which may or may not be respiratory in nature, or they may be pregnant, younger puppies or senior dogs. Healthy, in shape adult dogs rarely get colds, but it can happen. Shorter haired or cold intolerant dogs that have been kept outdoors in cold weather, have been kept in wet or damp areas that are cold or that have shorter muzzles such as the Pugs may be more prone to developing colds than other breeds.
The symptoms of a cold in a dog are very similar to that in a human. Often the dog has a pronounced cough, sometimes dry or sometimes wet, combined with a wheezing sound when breathing, lack of energy and discharge from the nose and eyes. Sneezing may occur and the dog may also refuse to eat or drink, resulting in issues with dehydration and lack of nutrition.
After getting the dog to the vet, typically there are several things you can do to help your dog get through this condition. Always give any antibiotics prescribed according to the vet's prescription and report any side effects or unusual behavior after administering the medication. Keep your dog inside and warm, only allow outside for necessary trips and very short walks. Ideally avoid any type of exercise even indoors until the dog is feeling back to his or herself.
To encourage eating and drinking, chicken or beef stock, boiled boneless chicken meat and brown rice with small amounts of green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale can be given to the dog several times a day or poured over kibble to make it more appealing. Use low sodium or no salt added broth or make your own for the healthiest option. A vaporizer can be used to help add moisture to the air which can loosen up congestion and relax the airways, providing easier breathing. Wash the eyes and nose area with a slightly damp cloth to remove any material that collects.
Never give a dog human cough or cold medications unless under your vet's direction and supervision. Some of the human cough and cold medications on the market are potentially lethal to a dog, even in very small quantities. There are some that are safe for most dogs, but your vet needs to make that recommendation based on your dog's breed and current health status. If the coughing is significant talk to your vet, there may be options he or she can recommend to ease the problem in a safe way for the pet.
Dogs can also develop pneumonia and early diagnosis and treatment of common colds will help prevent this much more serious health condition from occurring. If your dog is prone to colds, talk to your vet about herbal treatments and food changes that may be used prior to the cold weather to boost your dog's natural immunity. Whole food diets such as the BARF diets will often result in a much healthier dog and a stronger natural immunity to colds, but you will still need to keep the dog in the proper environmental conditions to avoid risks.
Another condition that can often resemble a cold is kennel cough. This is usually a dry, hacking type of cough that occurs all through the day as well as into the night when the dog is normally resting. It is actually a bacterial infection known as Bordatella, which can be prevented with a nasal spray or vaccine. Kennel cough is highly contagious and is often found where large numbers of dogs group together, hence the descriptive name. Kennel cough will usually resolve itself in healthy adult dogs but you can use a vaporizer and vet prescribed anti-inflammatory medication to help with relieving the pressure on the airways during the illness.
Allergies to dust, mold and tiny amounts of chemicals in the air in your home that is more problematic in the dry conditions of the winter months can be a problem for your dog. Since allergies are not the same as colds, a different method of treatment is required. Installing HEPA quality air filters in furnaces and treating the dog with corticosteroids and antihistamines may be required if the allergic reaction is severe or ongoing.
Surprisingly some dogs can develop very serious coughs due to internal parasites such as roundworms or the much more serious heartworms. Worming your dogs on a regular basis and using a monthly heartworm treatment in areas where this is a problem is a simple way to prevent this from becoming a problem.
If your dog has a history of coughing or respiratory problems in the winter months, talk to your vet about preventative steps you can take. Ensuring your dog is fully vaccinated, wormed and treated for heartworms is essential, but you may also want to look at changing diet, exercise routines or even the environment to help your dog stay healthy over the cold season.