Can Dogs Get Sick? How to Keep Your Dog Healthy

Most pet parents want to ensure their dogs, or other pets, live their best lives. Learn how to keep your dog healthy and happy according to the latest research.

By Anna Nordseth
Nov 29, 2023 8:30 PMMar 25, 2024 7:39 PM
Two healthy dogs running together
(Credit: otsphoto/Shuttterstock)


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Science has long accepted that people are affected by their social environment – a term researchers use to describe day-to-day surroundings, interactions, and stresses. For example, people with money, a robust social life and access to safe outdoor spaces are often going to have better long-term health outcomes than those without.

Our four-legged friends, whose lives in many ways mirror our own, are also thought to be influenced by their social environment, including their health. 

Can Dogs Get Sick?

Dogs, like all living creatures, are prone to various health issues. They can suffer from a wide range of illnesses just like humans.

Can Dogs Get Sick from Humans?

While it is not common, there are certain illnesses that dogs can contract from humans. The most notable examples include the H1N1 influenza virus and certain strains of the common cold. It’s essential for dog owners to practice good hygiene, especially if they are sick, to prevent the transmission of these illnesses to their pets.

Read More: How Does Your Dog Understand You?

What Factors Affect Your Dog's Health?

Brown mixed breed dog with a happy expression in the mountains (Credit: Lelusy/Shutterstock)

The specifics of what impacts a dog’s wellbeing have remained largely unexplored until a new study from the Dog Aging Project.

Using owner-reported survey data from over 21,000 dogs, Brianah McCoy, a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University, led a team to identify several key lifestyle factors that influence a dog’s wellbeing. Of these factors, social interactions, particularly with other dogs, appear to play the biggest role in the health of canine companions.

Digging through mountains of doggy data, the team found five broad categories that play key roles in a dog's wellbeing: home stability, income, kids, other pets, and owner age.

Boiled down, these factors point to the allocation of limited resources, McCoy explains – in a world of finite time, money, and energy, dog owners must make choices that will affect their pups in the long run.

  • Money Matters

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dogs who live in wealthier homes tend to be healthier overall. Yet curiously, these dogs also seemed to have more diseases. This doesn’t necessarily mean that dogs in high-income homes are sicker, the study clarifies, but rather these pups may be getting more medical care since their owners can afford regular vet visits and tests.

  • Owner Age

When looking at the effect of owner age on dog health, the data revealed that age matters a lot more for young dogs than old dogs. Young dogs with older owners appeared to have better health than young dogs with young owners – a finding that stumped McCoy and colleagues.

  • Human Children

According to the study, households with kids generally had less healthy dogs. This may not be because children are inherently bad for dogs, but rather, the presence of kids in a household often leads to a reallocation of resources away from the canine family members.

“Inevitably, you drop a ball, right?” says McCoy, “And, in a lot of the cases, when it comes to kids and dogs, dogs are the dropped ball.”

  • Canine Companionship

Overshadowing other aspects of a dog’s social environment, socialization proved paramount for healthy pups. According to the data, the effect of social support on a dog’s wellbeing was five times greater than that of household income, the next most important predictor.

This doesn't necessarily suggest a need to add more dogs to your household so your dog can live forever. However, quality time spent with both canine and human friends, accompanied by the activities and emotional support they provide, will likely keep your pup happier and healthier in the long run.

Read More: Dogs and Their Owners Share Similar Personality Traits

How To Tell if Your Dog Is Sick

Recognizing the signs of illness in dogs can be challenging as they often hide their discomfort. Key indicators include behavioral changes, loss of appetite, lethargy, coughing, or unusual discharge from the eyes or nose. Regular monitoring and routine veterinary check-ups can help detect these signs early on.

Read More: How Dogs Perceive Time

Common Dog Cold Symptoms

Even though dogs can catch colds, their symptoms might differ from humans. Common dog cold symptoms include:

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Runny or congested nose

  • Watery eyes

How to Keep Your Dog Healthy FAQ

Do Dogs Get Car Sick?

Yes, dogs can get car sick. Motion sickness is more common in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs, partly because the ear structure used for balance isn't fully developed in puppies. If you're planning a car trip, help your dog by limiting food before the journey, gradually getting them used to the car, and making sure they face forward during the drive.

Do Dogs Get Sick Often?

It's natural for dogs to occasionally be sick as a way to rid their system of substances that are hard to digest or potentially harmful. Frequent or persistent sickness in dogs could be a sign of various health concerns ranging from food allergies and infections to more severe conditions. If a dog is repeatedly getting sick, it’s important to consult a veterinarian to rule out any serious health problems.

How to Get a Sick Dog to Drink Water?

Encouraging a sick dog to drink water is crucial to avoid dehydration. Offer fresh water frequently, provide ice cubes to lick, or add water to their food to increase fluid intake. Sometimes, flavoring the water with a small amount of chicken broth can entice your dog to drink more. If your dog refuses to drink, contact your veterinarian immediately, as they may need to administer fluids.

What to Feed a Sick Dog with No Appetite?

When your dog is sick and has no appetite, it's important to encourage eating by offering easily digestible foods. Start with a bland diet consisting of boiled chicken, rice, or pumpkin. You can also try warming the food to enhance its smell and make it more appealing. Always consult your vet for advice tailored to your dog's specific condition.

Read More: Why Do Dogs Suddenly Get the Zoomies?

This article was originally published on Aug. 7, 2023 and has since been updated by the Discover staff.

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