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11 Pets You Should Keep Away From Your Face

Diseases that can be transferred to humans are carried by almost any animal, so keep your pets—and your hands after touching your pets—away from your mouth!

petting a dog. other dog is jealous.Jobrestful/Getty Images

Kissing your pet: Muzzle that desire

All of them, probably, is my first answer. I’m sure your pet would probably prefer a treat or a scratch behind the ears than a kiss on the mouth. In addition to it being, uh, weird, there are plenty of health-related reasons you should refrain from planting one on your pet, or even letting them rub up on your cheek. Your puppy or bird probably doesn’t want to be up around your grill, either!

funny dog licks lips with Tongue OutTaya Ovod/Shutterstock

Dogs

A cuddle from man’s best friend can warm your heart. But a lick on the face can make you sick. That’s because a dog’s saliva can carry all sorts of pathogens: for example, fever-inducing Brucella canis; the bacteria Leptospira interrogans, which can lead to kidney and liver trouble; and the rare Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which a study in the journal Veterinary Microbiology found was present in 74 percent of dogs, though it’s rare in humans and usually only passed through bite or scratch. Be sure to avoid these 53 mistakes nearly every dog owner makes.

beautiful cute cat licking his paw on stylish bed with funny emotions on background of roomBogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock

Cats

Cat lovers boast that their cats are fastidious, but these pets may be carriers of bacteria that are responsible for a number of dangerous diseases. Most famous among them: Bartonella henselae, also known as cat scratch “fever”. According to the CDC, it’s most likely to be transmitted by a scratch from a kitten to a kid under the age of 15, and its most common symptoms include fever and swollen lymph nodes. Think twice before you smooch your feisty feline—which can give it a scratch-inducing scare! Most cats won’t even enjoy being squeezed and held against your face—or any of these other things we probably do that cats actually hate.

Bearded DragonRobert Asento/Shutterstock

Bearded dragons

These popular reptile pals are known to be docile—even friendly. But bearded dragon owners beware: These lizards can also carry two types of Salmonella bacteria, making these pets responsible for 166 human Salmonella cases across 36 states between 2012 and 2014, according to the CDC. That means no kissing your lizard! And it also means a thorough handwashing after handling.

small brazilian turtlestupaiterbang/Shutterstock

Small turtles

Love reptiles and think you can avoid illness by choosing some pocket-sized amphibious shell-dwellers? Sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but small turtles especially were linked to 166 Salmonella cases between 2012 and 2014. The biggest culprits were the smallest: turtles with shell lengths under 4 inches—which is why the FDA has banned their sale since 1975.

White Mouse eating bird seed on empty tableWilliam R Casey/Shutterstock

Mice

If heart and brain damage are conditions you’d prefer never to experience, then cuddling up to your wee mouse pet should be avoided at all costs. That’s because adorable as their whiskered faces are, they belie a significant danger: the possibility of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. The CDC’s Viral Special Pathogens Branch monitored an Indiana lab breeding mice after a quarter of its employees showed signs of current or past infection. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to have turned up in pet store mice.

tired and sleepy baby cute african pgmy hedgehog in indoorsBest dog photo/Shutterstock

Hedgehogs

Tragic but true: The cutest of all possible spiny mammals are scampering disease carries, susceptible to Salmonella typhimurium, which is easily transmitted to people and can cause diarrhea and stomach cramps for up to a week. First documented by the CDC in 2011, when it caused 26 cases resulting in eight hospitalizations in 12 states, a brand new outbreak hit Minnesota and seven other states in late 2018—leading the CDC to explicitly warn: “Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs.” Don’t miss these 10 scary facts about the world’s most adorable animals.

Curious guinea pig with rosettesStineMah/Shutterstock

Guinea pigs

Salmonella enteriditis is like other Salmonella strains in terms of the feverish, belly-traumatizing symptoms it induces—and also in its apparent preference for infecting small animals, particularly rodents. This one most recently showed up in guinea pigs starting in 2015, giving nine people a bad case of the runs. No nuzzling these little critters either, folks! Find out the 22 surprising animals that are more deadly than sharks.

little kid chick standing on wooden backgroundMaya Kruchankova/Shutterstock

Chicks and ducklings

What could be sweeter than a handful of baby fowl fluff? Almost nothing—which is why the fact that they can carry pathogens that make you sick seems downright unfair. Cute as they may be, chicks and ducklings were linked with at least 132 Salmonella cases over just six months in 2018.

African grey parrotNatalia Johnson/Shutterstock

Birds

Polly wanna a headache? About 100 varieties of bird buddies, including cockatoos and parrots, are susceptible to avian chlamydia and can pass it on to humans (who contract what’s called psittacosis from it). The pathogen lives in bird poop and nasal secretions, according to Popular Science, and can be picked up just by breathing in, leading to fevers, headaches, pneumonia, and even hepatitis. Needless to say, the farther from your face you keep your feathered roommates, the better your chance of staying healthy. You’re on your own for a bird trying to fly the coop, but here’s how to solve the most common pet behavioral problems.

Close up of White Pekingese puppy sitting in the cage at the animal hospital/veterinary Clinic waiting for recovery from treatment and find a good home.sommart sombutwanitkul/Shutterstock

Pet store puppies

It seems so cruel be told to keep your face away from the soft, slobbery tongues of smoochable puppies! But that was the advice of the CDC after 113 people got sick with Campylobacter infections from handling puppies at Petland across 17 states starting in 2016. Campylobacter bacteria can cause bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain, but in people with compromised immune systems it can spread to the bloodstream and turn potentially life-threatening. Here are the 14 things you need before you get a new puppy.

African Dwarf Frog. Hopping AroundCharlie Tyack/Shutterstock

African dwarf frogs

If you kiss a frog, not only will you not change it into a prince, but you also might pick up some Salmonella typhimurium for your trouble. At least 67 people turned up sick with varying degrees of symptoms between 2009 and 2011 after handling frogs. And although it’s not known whether they did, indeed, attempt to kiss their frogs, mouth-to-mouth isn’t the only way to catch germs—and it’s why experts recommend that you always wash your hands after playing with any pet or cleaning its habitat. Check out these 9 “pets” that turned out to be wild animals.

Lela Nargi
Lela Nargi is a veteran journalist covering science, sustainability, climate, and agriculture for Readers Digest, Washington Post, Sierra, NPR, The Counter, JSTOR Daily, and many other outlets. She also writes about science for kids. You can follow her on Twitter @LelaNargi.