We know that humans get colds throughout the year, especially during the current winter season brrrrr! But you may be wondering whether dogs can get the sniffles too? Yes they do, although the cause is often very different from ours. This article will explain the common causes of sniffles in dogs and how to recognise them.

What causes canine sniffles?

Seeing your beloved dog with flu-like symptoms can be really worrying. Their symptoms can vary but may include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and they may seem generally under the weather and congested. There are many conditions that may cause your dog to have the ‘sniffles’ and below lists some of these common causes (this list is not exhaustive):

Respiratory tract infections 

Nasal discharge could indicate that your dog has a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. This is where it becomes essential taking notice of the type of nasal discharge. Yellow purulent (pus) discharge may be a characteristic sign of infection but deciding whether it is a primary or secondary infection may require further investigating. It is always vital to check whether your dog’s nasal discharge is unilateral (one nostril) or bilateral (both nostrils) because this may help your Vet to narrow down their differentials list.


Your dog may experience sniffles as a result of an underlying allergy. Allergies are extremely common in dogs and they can cause your dog’s nasal and respiratory passage to become inflamed. This can result in signs such as sneezing, coughing and nasal/ocular discharge and may be a recurring or long-term issue. While allergies in humans tend to be seasonal, many dogs suffer all year round.

Foreign bodies

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and sniffing behaviours can lead to things unfortunately getting stuck up their noses! It is not uncommon for Vets to find nasal foreign bodies such as grass blades or seeds. Nasal foreign bodies can result in sneezing, nosebleeds and nasal discharge which is often unilateral (from the nostril closest to the foreign object). Rarely do lung foreign bodies occur but when they do they can also cause additional symptoms such as sudden onset coughing.


Nasal tumours can occur in dogs but thankfully are quite rare, making up only 1-2% of all cancers. Growths within the nasal cavity can be irritable, causing your dog to sneeze and display flu-like symptoms. Depending on the length of time the growth has been present for, bulges on the nose and nose bleeds can occur. Tumours can be benign or malignant and will require biopsies and further investigations to make a diagnosis.

If you notice any of the clinical signs noted above or any change in your dog’s breathing pattern please seek advice from your Vet. 

They will take a thorough clinical history and perform a full physical examination. Depending on the findings, they may suggest further investigations and diagnostics which may include blood tests and imaging. 

What about kennel cough?

As mentioned earlier, viral infections can be a common cause of cold-like symptoms in dogs. Most pet owners have heard of ‘kennel cough’ and to many people’s disbelief this viral infection can be picked up from anywhere that dogs go, not just from boarding kennels! It does generally occur more in areas with higher populations of dogs such as parks and day care establishments. 

Kennel cough is also known as infectious bronchitis. Similar to the common cold and flu in humans, kennel cough is a complex disease caused by a number of bacteria and viruses. Kennel cough leads to a respiratory infection that varies in its duration, as a general rule fitter and healthier dogs may get rid of the infection quicker than very young or older immunocompromised patients. 

The most common clinical sign is coughing

Often it is described as a ‘hacking’ cough and many owners worry that their dog has something stuck in their throat. In most cases, your dog will recover without any complications and remain generally well in themselves. However, in more severe cases they may require medications such as anti-inflammatories. Antibiotics generally are not prescribed for milder cases and this is absolutely justified, especially given that many of the causes are viral and therefore poorly responsive to antimicrobials. Also, antimicrobial stewardship and resistance is hugely topical at the moment! But in severe cases where there are signs of pneumonia and systemic illness for example antibiotics are likely to be prescribed. Additionally, hospitalisation and further diagnostics may be required in severe cases.

Kennel cough is highly contagious between dogs

If your Vet has diagnosed your dog with kennel cough, it is important to isolate them from any other canine for at least one week after they become asymptomatic.

Good news! We can control and reduce the risk that our dogs contract the kennel cough disease by having them vaccinated with the intra-nasal or intra-oral vaccine. Contact your Vet for more information. It is important to be aware that your dog could still become infected with kennel cough despite being vaccinated, but as in humans the vaccine should allow their immune system to be better equipped to fight off the infection and recovery is likely to be quicker.


To conclude, dogs too can experience flu-like symptoms and there can be a variety of causes. I hope this article has summarised the more common causes and has raised awareness about kennel cough. Vaccination and isolation is key to controlling this disease, something which the covid pandemic has taught us so well!