Can cats and dogs catch a cold from you?

You may have noticed a sneeze or two coming from your pet. But are they sick with the same cold or flu as you? Read on to find out

By Lisa Hannam

Can cats and dogs catch a cold from you?

Can cats and dogs get colds and flu? Yes (but it’s not always the human kind). For cats and dogs, the symptoms can be sneezing, weakness, and nose and eye discharge. (These can also be signs of allergies and infections, as well as serious conditions like parasites, pneumonia and distemper.)

Can your pet catch a cold or flu from you? Dogs can’t: “There’s no concern with dog-to-human, or human-to-dog, transmission,” says Scott Weese, the Canada research chair in zoonotic diseases and an associate professor at the Ontario Veterinary College. Dogs get viruses from each other. But a cat can catch cold or flu from you. “The virus attaches to cells in the respiratory tract of felines similarly to how it does in humans,” says Weese. He points to reports of H1N1 found in cats in the United States. Cats also get cat-to-cat viruses that are similar to a cold, but humans can’t catch those.

If you have a pet, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands often, especially after contact. “Avoid exposure from the pet’s saliva to your mucous membranes, such as your nose and mouth, or broken skin,” says Weese. If a pet is ailing, keep him away from family members with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women and the elderly. Some experts say you should never let pets sleep in your bed—especially under the covers.

If your pet is sick, help him feel better by regularly cleaning his area (food and water bowls, and where he sleeps) and, in the case of cats, changing the litter box often. Allow him to rest and be sure he drinks plenty of water. If he’s stuffed up, humidified air may help him breathe easier, suggests the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. If you’re concerned, have your vet do a physical exam. He or she may suggest diagnostic tests, such as a culture or blood count.

And, says Weese, tell your doctor if your pet is sick and you become ill, even if the symptoms don’t seem related. It could help him or her diagnose and treat you.

This article was originally titled "Cat-choo!" in the May 2011 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience–and never miss an issue!

Best Health Magazine, May 2011

Average: 3 (33 votes)