I kiss my dog. A lot. I know, I know . . . “You shouldn’t do this!” is a refrain I’ve heard all my life – from my mother when I was little to my latest vet who says that, by now, I should know better. (Note: When asked: “How old are you?” I like to reply: “Old enough to know better and too young to care.) So . . . back to dog kisses.
Just about every dog professional I know, including the above-mentioned vet and my dog trainer, says that kissing your dog or letting him/her kiss you, is unhealthy. But what about the belief that a dog’s mouth is actually cleaner than a human’s or that a dog’s saliva can heal wounds? So, I decided to research the topic and . . . sorry all you dog lovers out there (including yours truly) but the evidence is in. It turns out that it’s not such a good idea to swap kissy-face with your beloved canine companion.
Let’s get through the obvious first: We know where dogs often stick their own faces to greet another dog – and it ain’t a howdy-do with a shaking paw. Okay. Now on to the interesting stuff.
A Surprising Fact
Here’s something I think most people don’t know: letting your dog kiss you may not be as harmful to you as it is to the dog! One of the most shocking things I learned was the increasing incidence of tuberculosis among dogs. Symptoms of TB may not immediately appear so people often don’t know they have it. Thus, a person with TB can transmit the disease to their dog through kisses, or by coughing into something the dog picks up and chews.
In contrast, however, a dog with TB does not seem able to transmit it to humans.
Fact or Myth?
One of the most prevalent claims, mentioned above, is that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. Actually, there is some merit to this. While a dog’s mouth does contain a great deal of bacteria, it is almost minor compared to the massive amount of bacteria that accumulates in a human’s. Perhaps, because of this, many people believe that having the dog lick a wound speeds healing. It doesn’t. In fact, you can get a serious infection from the bacteria in the dog’s mouth. This is especially true if the dog licks an open sore or if you are immune-deficient.
You may think, however, that it’s okay to have your dog lick you if you don‘t have an open sore or aren’t immune-deficient. But, hang on. There is an almost unbelievable illness a healthy person can catch from a dog licking your face: cat scratch disease! While dogs don’t become ill from cat scratch disease, they are carriers. A dog with this disease can easily transmit it to humans by licking them. This is a serious, potentially disabling disease that causes enlargement of the lymph glands, which can be misread as cancer.
A more common ailment people get from their dogs is strep throat. There has been a steady increase in reports of strep throat among families with dogs, especially among children who play kissy-face with their pets. Certain breeds of dogs, especially those who are brachycephalic–more commonly called “smushed-in face,” such as Pugs, Boston terriers, and Sharpeis–have extensive lip folds. These folds can more easily carry pseudomonas infections. In this case, the dog’s face will usually give off a strong smell, which can alert you to the problem..
Other problems for people are conjunctivitis (from the dog licking the person’s eyes) or Athlete’s foot (from, you guessed it, the dog licking the person’s feet). In turn, someone with Athlete’s foot can transmit the fungus to the dog’s face. (The poor dog!)
So, what’s a dog lover to do when Fido comes over to give you a kiss? Our dog trainer suggested that you blow into his face and firmly say “no” when he tries to lick you.
I tried this.
Now I’m trying to show my beloved dog how to do air-kisses Hollywood style. (He is rolling his eyes and shying away from me now. I wonder if he thinks I’ve finally gone off the deep end?)
x x x Dr. B