Colds and Flu


Not To Be Sneezed At … Colds & Flu In Pets?



Whilst reading this, many of you will be suffering from winter colds and flu symptoms such as runny noses, sore throats, congested sinuses, headaches, fever and coughs. Having the whole family in winter woes is bad enough – the last thing one needs is the family dog coughing all night or kitty sneezing continuously. When we take on the responsibility of looking after an animal, we should do all we can to keep it healthy and free from disease. Can our pets then indeed pick up colds and flu like ourselves and if so, what should we do about it and can we prevent it? Cats and dogs can most certainly get colds. During the cold winter months many household pets will be susceptible to viruses that can cause mild to severe respiratory disease, but fortunately, as with humans, a number of measures can be taken to increase their level of immunity and prevent disease. Flu viruses are highly species-specific which means that the same viruses are not spread between cats, dogs, horses and humans. Only rarely has the species barrier been crossed and has a specific virus mutated to infect another species e.g. a number of people have worldwide died of the avian influenza (“bird-flu”) strain H5N1.

Dogs And Kennel Cough

The most common disease in dogs with “flu-like” symptoms is Kennel Cough, also called Canine Cough, Bordetellosis and Infectious Tracheobronchitis. About 3 – 5 days after the initial infection, a coarse, hacking cough that is often triggered by any extra activity or exercise, is noticed. Many dogs that acquire this disease will cough every few minutes, all day (and night!) long. This is most annoying for the owners and certainly most uncomfortable for the pooch!

Which Bug Is Responsible For The Hacking?!

The micro-organisms usually associated with Kennel Cough in dogs are the bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and two viruses called Canine Parainfluenza virus and Canine Adenovirus Type 2. These organisms can be present in the expired air of an infected dog and can be spread in much the same way human “colds” are transmitted, via direct contact or through the air. We know that human colds are much more likely to occur in a populated, enclosed environment such as an elevator or office and the same applies to this viral disease. Wherever there are numbers of dogs confined together in an enclosed environment such as a boarding kennel, hospital or indoor dog show, infections are more likely to spread. All it takes for contagion to occur isa single source (infected dog), an enclosed environment and susceptible individuals in close proximity to the source of infection.


This is a self-limiting disease of 1 – 21 days, with a mean average of 9 days, thus some dogs will show only minor signs of coughing for a period of 7 to 10 days and may not require medication at all. These animals may continue to eat, sleep, play and act normally, except for the annoying, persistent, dry cough.


Treatment for Kennel Cough is generally limited to symptomatic relief of the coughing with cough suppressants and anti-inflammatory doses of corticosteroids. These dogs require a warm, stress-free environment. It is advisable, though, to have any coughing dog examined by your local veterinarian because a number of serious respiratory and even cardiac diseases might display similar sounding coughing. If the dog is running a fever or there is a risk of a secondary bacterial infection that will complicate the case and prolong recovery, the vet will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics.


A number of vaccines are available to stimulate a dog’s protective immunity to this disease. Some of the infectious agents such as Canine Parainfluenza and Canine Adenovirus Type 2 are part of the routine vaccinations given to dogs at six, nine and twelve weeks of age as well as the yearly booster. Injectable and intra nasal Bordetella bronchiseptica vaccines are also available. If an animal is going to be exposed to a show, boarding, or populations of other canines, it is advisable to vaccinate a few weeks prior to the potential exposure to allow full protective immunity to build up. All the agents that cause Kennel Cough are highly infective and will easily spread between dogs of the same household if proper preventative measures are not taken.

When Cats Get The Snuffles …

In cats, the most common “cold” is viral (herpes/calici virus) although they can also get a bacterial “cold” from the Bordetella, Mycoplasma andChlamydophila bacteria. The scientific name is Feline Rhinotracheitis and the symptoms are very similar to our human flu.


The hallmark of this disease is usually sneezing. Cats sneeze in rapid succession as opposed to the characteristic cough in dogs.  The cat’s nose is inflamed and its eyes and throat are usually affected too, causing a runny nose and eyes. The cat may have difficulty swallowing and breathing(open-mouth breathing). Small ulcers may occur in the mouth leading sometimes to salivation. The sense of smell is reduced and the cat will be reluctant to eat and drink. A fever is usually present for 7 – 10 days and these animals generally feel very miserable. Secondary bacterial infections often occur which may lead to conditions like pneumonia. The course of this disease varies from a few days to 4 weeks and some cats may become chronic carriers.


Veterinary attention is essential for cats that suffer from Snuffles. Antibiotics may be prescribed, and good nursing is of tantamount importance. These cats should not be stressed. The cat will need its nasal passages unblocked by steaming and daily removal of any discharges. Heated, highly palatable and strong-flavoured food must be provided since taste and sense of smell are marginal.


As for dogs prevention is better than cure. Young kittens should be vaccinated against this disease at the age of 8 and 12 weeks and yearly boosters should be administered. It is important to keep up a cat’s vaccination programme as they get older.

How To Stop The Disease From Spreading …

The spread of disease from infected to healthy animals can often be avoided by following a few simple basic hygiene rules.  In the event of a family pet contracting a viral, bacterial or fungal infection, the first and most obvious thing to do is to isolate the affected animal until the condition has cleared up by placing it in a different location or room together with its bedding, food and drink bowls, toys etc. It is seldom necessary to hospitalise animals suffering from colds and flu and the comfortable, warm home environment can be greatly beneficial to a quick recovery.  A daily routine of cleaning and disinfection of the area, bedding, food and drink bowls should be implemented and maintained until recovery is complete.

Always perform daily chores for the healthy animals before attending to the sick ones to minimise the likelihood of spreading the disease.  Care should be taken to wash hands thoroughly with a safe and effective antiseptic soap under running water before and after every contact with the affected animal. Bedding can be washed in the household washing machine provided that all the dirt has been removed from the bedding and that it has been soaked in an appropriate disinfectant for the required period of time as prescribed by the manufacturer.  If possible, wash at the maximum temperature setting and allow to sun-dry.

Food and drink bowls should be washed daily with warm water and a detergent (dishwashing soap) and not simply rinsed under the cold water tap.  If a safe, yet effective disinfectant such as F10SC is used, a dilution of 4 ml in 1 litre of water can be made up in a trigger spray bottle and the bowls and other utensils sprayed and simply left to dry – no need for rinsing. Litter boxes, toys and grooming equipment should be regularly cleaned and disinfected in the same way to prevent spread of the infectious diseases. It is important to choose products that will have a broad spectrum of killing without any drawbacks in terms of safety to the user or animals and that will not stain or be corrosive or irritant.  Your veterinarian and his/her staff will be able to advise you best on choosing products that are specifically registered under Act 36 by the Dept of Agriculture for being effective against animal diseases.


©Pet’s Health

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