Can Your Pet Catch Your Cold?

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Different animals get different diseases but sometimes these ailments can spread from species to species or even from a human to an animal. Zoonotic diseases are the types of diseases that can be spread from an animal to a human and should not be taken lightly. Whether or not the common cold is a zoonotic disease is important for pet owners to know in order to help keep their pets healthy.

What Is the Common Cold?

People "catch" the cold on a regular basis but what exactly are we catching? The cold is really a virus and it is usually the rhinovirus, coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, or parainfluenza virus. These viruses are not contracted from being out in the cold or getting wet, despite the popular misconception, rather they are contracted from someone else that has the virus. Because the cold is a viral infections, you will be more prone to catching it if your immune system is weakened because you are tired, stressed, or have allergies.

Can a Pet Catch Your Cold?

According to the Ontario Veterinary College, a cat may be able to catch your cold depending on what kind of virus it is. It may not be very common but it can happen. A dog, on the other hand, cannot catch your cold. Exotic cats such as Bengals are not excluded from being susceptible to contracting the cold but exotic canines including foxes and wolfdogs will not be affected by the cold viruses. Ferrets are another species that cannot catch the common cold but they can catch the flu from you if you have it. It is always advised to wash your hands before and after handling your pet to protect both you and your pet from disease transmission but it is unlikely that you'll pass your cold on to your pets.

What Diseases Can Your Pet Catch From You?

Since there are many diseases can be spread from animals to humans as well as from humans to animals, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) closely monitors these disease transmissions in order to keep people safe. Many exotic pets are susceptible to several different kinds of zoonotic diseases so it is vital to know what diseases both you and your pets may be at risk for transmitting to each other.

  • Influenza - Ferrets, as was mentioned before, are able to catch the influenza virus from humans causing similar symptoms that we experience when we are sick with the flu.
  • Herpes simplex virus - Rabbits are susceptible to the herpes simplex virus (the virus that causes cold sores in some people's mouths) but it is more commonly seen in laboratory rabbits than pet rabbits. Hedgehogs are suspected to be able to catch the herpes simplex virus but it has yet to be confirmed.
  • H1N1 - Exotic cats and domestic felines can catch some viruses from humans including H1N1 and some of the cold viruses.
  • Eye infections - Birds can get some eye infections from some bacteria and viruses from humans when we kiss them.
  • Ringworm - This fungal infection can be passed on to many different kinds of pets from their humans. Exotic cats, foxes, ferrets, guinea pigs, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, birds, mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, and other pets can all be infected with ringworm.

What if Your Exotic Pet is Coughing or Sneezing?

Just because the common cold can't be passed to your exotic pet (except perhaps to a cat) it doesn't mean that it can't cough and sneeze for other reasons. Similar symptoms of the cold that may show up in a pet might actually be influenza, bordatella, or another type of respiratory infection and these symptoms or diseases should not be ignored. Even though we may not always seek medical treatment for our sniffles, if an exotic pet starts to act like it has caught a cold, it should be kept warm and taken to an exotic pet veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible. Even simple diseases can manifest quickly in a small exotic pet and be life threatening. X-rays, bacterial cultures, cytologies, and other testing may be recommended by the veterinarian in addition to medications to treat the disease.