Risky Kisses… Should We Let Our Dogs Lick Us?

If you asked me before I wrote this article, my answer to this question would have been an unequivocal yes. But my research has made me rethink this position because dog kisses may not be a good idea for everyone.

If you’re a dog owner, you’ve heard the myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s… and you’ve also heard this is absolutely false.

Let’s face it, we all know where our dogs stick their tongues. They eat junk in the street, dead animals in the yard, and sometimes their own poop. Even the most diligent dog owner cannot watch their dog 24/7.

Could their mouths be germ-free? I’m afraid not.

If you’re like me and you let your dog lick you, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of wound infection and stomach illness.

Capnocytophaga and Pasteurella are bacteria that live in the mouths of some dogs and cats. They can cause serious infection if they get into a wound or the bloodstream.

Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium are transmitted through stool and cause diarrhea.  So if your dog is a poop eater, or just likes to lick their butt, these parasites (and others) can be in their mouths.  And a lick can pass them to you.

Salmonella and Campylobacter, common causes of food-borne illness, may also live in the mouth of your dog. They can both pass from dog to human.

But here’s the thing, these bacteria and parasites rarely cause harm to healthy adults. So… I personally will continue to let my dogs lick me.

However, there are people who should not let their dogs lick them—kids under 5, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you are receiving chemo, pregnant, an organ recipient, or have diabetes or HIV/AIDS, you should not be letting your dog lick you.

And that means anywhere on your body, not just your face. If your dog gives you a slobbery kiss, be sure to wash with soap and water.

Knowing what I do I will be careful, as should you, to never let my dog’s saliva anywhere near open skin. I hadn’t given this thought before. But after researching this topic, I’m certain that’s a bad idea.

Even letting my dogs lick my teens’ faces when their acne is flaring is a risk. Pimples are openings in the skin and are susceptible to infection.

At the same time, we’re aware as dog owners that an open cut on our skin is a magnet for our dog’s tongue. They instinctively want to lick the blood from an open cut. This is a behavior that would protect an injured dog in the wild because the smell of blood attracts predators.

And so it can be a challenge to keep your dog away if you are bleeding. But you must. And if they get a lick in, wash it with soap and water.

You might be thinking as you’re reading this that a dog bite would make you susceptible to the same bacteria. And that is very true. If you are ever bitten, be sure to wash the bite and watch for infection.

Know too there is a connection between dog kisses and the risk of being bitten. Some dogs don’t like to give or get kisses. And some dogs don’t like your face in theirs. They feel threatened.

So if you or your kids are getting in your dog’s face for a kiss, and your dog doesn’t like it, they may bite.

66% of bites among children occur to the head and neck, according to the American Humane Association. There are many reasons for this.  I’m sure some of those bites occurred because the child was leaning in for a smooch.

Dogs that don’t want kisses may back away, look away, or lick their lips. Heed the warning and back off.

In addition, if you’re thinking you can avoid bacteria from your dog’s mouth by kissing them on the top of their head or somewhere else on their body… think again.  Dogs lick themselves all over which leaves bacteria on their fur. And bacteria from their ears or other body parts they scratch can end up on the top of their heads too.

As a matter of fact, if you play fetch with your dog or tug with them, the slobbery ball or tug toy is laden with the bacteria found in their kisses. You’re exposing yourself to the same nasty organisms.

If you don’t wash your hands after play and then eat your lunch, you’re no better off than if they licked your mouth.

So what is a dog-kiss loving human to do? Be a responsible pet owner.

Be sure your dog sees the vet at least annually and have them checked for worms and other parasites. Don’t let them eat through garbage. If your dog shows signs of illness, see the vet. And don’t let diarrhea go untreated.

For many, dog kisses are part of the joy of dog ownership. We dog owners presume those kisses are our dogs way of showing us love… even if they’re not.

For this reason, we’ll probably continue to let our dogs kiss us. But we’ll be a little wiser about the dangers, and better able to protect our vulnerable family members from serious health problems now that we understand the risks.

Have you ever contracted an illness or infection from your dog? Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.

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