Every dog owner and enthusiast can attest that the best part of getting back home is the overly enthusiastic (and slobbery) greeting your canine friend gives you. Their excessively fervent reaction makes you feel like you’re a triumphant war hero returning home from battlefield—when in fact you’re really just coming from picking up more chips and guac at the grocery store.
Although you might welcome their wet tongue kisses after a long day, you might want to think twice before letting your dog slather affection on your face. Contrary to common belief, a dog’s mouth is not actually cleaner than a human’s. (Here are 13 other unbelievable facts you never knew about your pooch). And while it’s totally understandable to consider your dog as a part of the family, their genetic makeup and the bacteria they carry is very much different from yours.
John Oxford, emeritus professor of virology and bacteriology at the Queen Mary University in London, explained to the Hippocratic Post why he would never let his dog lick his face. Some of the bacteria carried in dogs’ saliva are zoonotic, meaning the animals can pass them to humans and cause disease—including ones that humans can’t handle.
“It is not just what is carried in saliva. Dogs spend half of their life with their noses in nasty corners or hovering over dog droppings so their muzzles are full of bacteria, viruses, and germs of all sorts,” noted Oxford.
Dr. Katy Nelson, an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre and the host of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy,” also votes against the practice. “There is a myth that dogs’ mouths are cleaner than human’s mouths, and this is blatantly untrue,” said Nelson. “The average American human brushes and flosses their teeth twice daily and I don’t know too many canines that live up to that. Also, most humans don’t eat out of the trash, lick the bums, or drink out of the toilet, at least the ones that I know.”
Common examples of zoonotic bacteria that riddle a dog’s mouth include terrible inflictions like clostridium, E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter. These nasty pathogens are easily transferred on through their feces, many of which will cause diarrhea and gastroenteritis. These are some of the most common causes of food poisoning, according to the Food Standards Agency. According to Oxford, it is estimated that just under half of dogs carry the campylobacteriosis infection, most without symptoms. Nevertheless, humans can easily contract the disease if they do not practice proper hygiene. (These are 9 other hygiene habits you should stop doing ASAP).
According to a letter in the Canadian Vet Journal in 1989 that The Guardian posted, there is quite a comprehensive set of risks for kissing your pooch. Most significantly, the thin mucous membrane lining our mouths, noses, and eyes is no match for canine bacteria. There have been cases of dogs spreading Haemophilus aphrophilus to humans, which in turn incites brain abscesses and inflammation of the heart. Children are most susceptible to these diseases, and infections like tapeworm can easily be acquired from children swallowing infected flea remnants from a dog’s mouth after being licked.
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As if that alone doesn’t have you utterly unhinged, a dog’s saliva is a safe haven for bacteria like capnocytophaga Canimorsus, which holds the power to cause fatal infections like sepsis that can lead to organ failure and even death.
And don’t think this rule applies exclusively to your mouth; we highly suggest just keeping all licks below the neck. Although it’s unlikely for a dog to transfer these diseases on your hand or leg, a dog’s saliva and pathogens can be absorbed more easily through open orifices on your face. And even though it may seem sweet in the movies, never let an animal lick a cut or open wound. A man developed meningitis due to a dog that frequently licked his ear, and four infants in France have passed away from meningitis contracted from a dog’s normal mouth bacteria.
As Dr. Nelson puts it, “If you’re dead set on smooching your pooch, my recommendation is biannual dental health exams by your veterinarian, yearly professional cleanings and daily brushings. The healthier the pooch, the healthier the smooch.”
In essence, don’t heed this as a message to cringe away from your dog whenever he trots over; feel free to get personal and affectionate with your pooch pal—just not too affectionate. Although you should share as much love as possible for your beloved friend, establish an air kissing routine as opposed to French kissing; we’re sure he’ll appreciate you just the same.