Girl with cat

Are Your Pets at Risk When You’re Home with the Cold or Flu?

Each year brings a seasonal increase in cold and flu infections, but have you ever worried about sharing your illness with your pets? Dogs and cats can be a great comfort while recovering when you’re ill and the latest advice says, if a little pet therapy is what you need, don’t be afraid to indulge in it.

“The pet is a comfort, not a hazard,” said Dr. Schaffner, M.D., professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Cold and flu are viral infections. You cannot catch these infections from your dog or cat, nor can you pass these viral infections to your pet. It is also highly unlikely that another person could catch either of these viral infections from your dog or cat following contact with you. 1

The common cold (rhinovirus) and flu (influenza virus) are both short-lived outside of their human host. These viruses are also easily killed with detergent. The main route of infection is through physical contact with an infected person, which means your pets are not to blame this time!

Can Dogs and Cats get Flu or Cold?

Dogs and cats can develop flu or cold-like illnesses, but these infections are species specific. For example, the recent 2015 outbreak of canine influenza in the US caused by the H3N2 influenza strain, cannot infect humans. The best advice is to ensure your pets are up to date with their vaccinations, and you are too!

You may have heard of cat flu however, although ‘Cat flu’ is a misnomer. Cat flu is not always caused by the influenza virus. ‘Cat flu’ describes upper respiratory tract infections caused by different viruses and bacteria. The two most common upper respiratory tract infections are feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Together these viruses account for more than 80% of all instances of cat flu.

H1N1: Human-to-Cat Transmission

So cats and dogs can catch a cold or the flu, but have these viruses ever been passed from animal to human? In extremely rare cases, it is possible for these viruses to jump species.

H1N1 was a strain of the flu virus that gathered infamy in 2009 when declared responsible for the ‘swine flu’ pandemic. By the time the pandemic was declared over, this flu virus had taken the lives of around 17,000.

This is one of the few flu strains observed to cause infection in domestic cats. In 2009, a domestic indoor cat from Oregon died as a result of a lethal respiratory disease caused by the H1N1 flu virus.  An 8-year-old female cat also died shortly after, from severe respiratory disease associated with the virus.

The influenza virus isolated from these cats was confirmed as the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus. In these 2 cases, the most likely source of infection were people with H1N1 influenza.

Zoonoses: Animal-to-Human Disease

Diseases and infections that can pass from an animal to a human are zoonotic diseases. The common cold and flu are not examples of zoonoses. Examples of zoonotic diseases include:

  • Toxocariasis (roundworm infection)
  • Toxoplasmosis (parasitic infection)
  • Giardiasis (parasitic infection)
  • Lyme disease (disease spread via ticks)
  • Ringworm (fungal skin infection)
  • Food poisoning (bacterial infection e.g. campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli, listeria)

More rare zoonotic diseases include:

  • Tapeworm infection
  • Tetanus (bacteria spread via animal bites)
  • Rabies (virus spread through animal bites – not found in the UK)

Cold and Flu Care: Dogs, Cats and Humans!

In most cases, cold and flu are not dangerous. Recovery requires rest and fluids, so make sure plenty of water is on hand and keep exercise to a minimum. To avoid the influenza virus, make sure that you and your pet are up to date on vaccinations. The flu vaccine tends to vary year-by-year to keep up with the virus, which mutates over time. Your doctor or veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

If you think your pet is sick, it is best to keep them away from other pets. Although the virus will not pass between species, it is highly infectious to members of the same species. Keep your cat indoors or your dog away from the park until they recover.

Recovery usually takes around 2-3 weeks. So whether it’s you that is suffering, or your pet, be sure to take it easy for a couple of weeks until you’re back up to full strength.

Featured Image: Anastasia R


  1. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Safe to cuddle with pets while home with a cold or flu.” ScienceDaily. (accessed February 3, 2016).

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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