Do dogs get colds?

15 November 2016

Question

Why don't dogs catch a cold? Bertie, our flat cost retriever, loves swimming even in icy ponds in winter but he never catches a chill and even though we re sneezing all over him. Why don't dogs catch colds?

Answer

Chris Smith put this to zoologist and naked scientist Georgia Mills...

Georgia - Hello Heath. Hello Bertie. So there's a few things there. How come dogs don't catch colds? Well, they can get something very similar to a cold with similar symptoms to us but they cannot catch our equivalent of a cold. So the virus that affects us is very specific and will only attack us, and we won't be able to transfer it dogs and vice versa, It won't come back the other way so you can't catch a cold off your dog.

And then so why does he get in these lakes and not get a cold. So swimming in an icy lake in itself will not give you a cold. You need to come into contact with a virus to actually come down with it. Swimming in icy lakes can harm your immune system, so it might make you more likely to catch the cold, but it won't give you one.

So why don't dogs seem to get ill that often? Well firstly, they can't tell us when they are ill and...

Chris - Do you know what they say if they do?

Georgia - Are they feeling "rough" Chris? I saw that one coming.

Chris - You know me too well!

Georgia - And the other thing is, if you think about how many people you bump into in a day on your commute at work, at home - so many people. Dogs do not have that level of interactions with other dogs. There's not enough of them for these diseases to proliferate that much. And, in fact, one of the diseases like a cold that a dog can get is kennel cough. So called because they often get it when they're in kennels where a lot of them are in the same place. So, the fact that Bertie isn't in a kennel, he's free to enjoy these icy lakes and probably will be fine.

Chris - We published an article on The Naked Scientists a few years back now. It was called "Can my Dog Give me Diarrhea." Because people are actually looking at the viruses that cause diarrhea in people. Noroviruses are very common causes of diarrhea; they cause millions of cases in humans, but dogs have their own forms of noro call calici viruses.

And there's some evidence that dogs, if you recover dog poos from your pet and analyse it, and people have done this study - very dedicated scientists - you can see that the same norovirus is in the person as in the dog, but there's no evidence that the dog was symptomatic with the infection. So it might be able to pick up it's owners infection but probably doesn't become symptomatic with it. But people are looking. They've doing a study to recover dog turds and compare them with owners with symptoms and see if there's any evidence linking the two.

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