Can Dogs & Cats Catch Human Colds or Viruses?

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Those earnest brown eyes and gleefully wagging tail sometimes conceal an illness a dog or cat can give its loving owner. But humans also can pass along colds, viruses and other illness to their furry friends. Called “reverse zoonosis,” this phenomena is not as well understood as the transfer of disease from animals to humans. However, experts such as those at Oregon State University warn that it’s something humans should be aware of the next time they seek comfort by snuggling up to a four-legged companion.

Suspected Cases

Several cases of animal-to-human transmission of potentially fatal diseases have made headlines in recent years, but Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine notes several likely cases of the potentially deadly H1N1 flu virus spreading from humans to animals. Several dogs and cats developed symptoms similar to those experienced by humans, with some dying. At least one, a cat, lived indoors and could not have been exposed anywhere other than its owner's home.

Other Illnesses

While cats and dogs can catch a cold and viruses, some of these are not the same type of illnesses contracted by humans. Even if Fido gets sick in the middle of cold or flu outbreak in your household, he might not have caught it from you. notes that ailing pups might be suffering from kennel cough or canine distemper, illnesses, which cause coughing and can resemble human ailments. Asthma and allergies are other common culprits of pet malaise. Your pooch also could be suffering from H3N8, or canine flu, discovered in 2004.

Protecting Your Pet

Every time your kitty purrs and rubs her face against yours, she could be at risk of contracting a virus or cold -- even if kitty herself never ventures outdoors. VCA Animal Hospitals notes that one study showed as many as 30 percent of cats in Ohio had contracted the seasonal flu, likely catching it from their owners. You can protect your dog or cat by getting a flu shot and being vigilant with personal hygiene. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough and be careful how you interact with your four-legged family members when you’re sick. You might even want to avoid contact with them until you recover. In addition, you can protect your pup from canine flu by having him vaccinated. The shot helps prevent but does not treat canine flu, so it only works if you get your pooch vaccinated before he gets sick.

Diagnosing Colds and Viruses

Your pet’s treatment will depend on whether he caught a cold or virus from you or if he contracted an illness specific to dogs or cats. Veterinarian Shari Brown recommends taking your dog or cat to the vet if symptoms persist for more than two days. Treatment typically consists of supportive care while your pet’s immune system kicks in and fights the illness. However, other conditions require medications designed specifically to keep symptoms under control. For example, if your pet has allergies or asthma, conditions that can mimic the common cold, he might need daily medication. That’s why it’s important to take Fluffy or Fido to the vet for a thorough exam instead of assuming he caught that nasty bug you brought him from a sick co-worker.