Every dog owner knows the moment: you walk through the door, and there is your dog, leaping into your arms ready to give you a big slobbery lick. Many, if not most, pet owners gladly accept these pooch kisses. Some even give them a kiss of their own. But should we really be kissing our dogs. According to Dr. Jane Sykes, who is a professor of small animal internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, kissing your dog can have some unfortunate consequences.
Like humans, dogs often come in contact with germs from their everyday environments. Their saliva also carries bugs, and those germs can be spread quickly through the typically excited licking pet. Dr. Sykes says the most significant diseases derive from bugs that can cause gastrointestinal problems in humans. These scary-sounding bugs include campylobacter, a which is one of the common causes of food poisoning; giardia, which can present as diarrhea; and salmonella, an organism that affects the gut.
There are two other bugs that can give you a serious infection if they enter into open wounds and get access to your bloodstream. The bugs to beware of include Capnocytophaga canimorsus and Pasteurella multocida. Every once in a while, dogs can also unwittingly cause meningitis from slobbering over an open wound. Dr. Sykes said people who are vulnerable usually include kids under age 5 and people 65 and over. Healthy people between these two ages often fare much better, rarely contracting an illness from the dog. Those who have diabetes, cancer or another illness are also at greater risk of transmitting a disease from the family dog.
Of course Dr. Sykes recognizes that the benefits to have a pet far outweigh the risks of getting an illness. “As many as 60% of Americans have pets in the house, and the animals have been shown to provide good health, exercise and emotional care to their owners,” says Sykes.
Not to put a damper on this recommendation, Dr. Sykes notes that humans should also be careful when touching items the dog has slobbered on. Picking up a bone your dog has salivated on is just as risky as kissing him on the mouth. Sleeping with your dog can also be problematic, since fleas and ticks can easily migrated from her fur to yours in the middle of the night. If you like sleeping with your dog, it is recommended that the dogs be on flea and tick prevention medicine. As long as you aren’t ill, this should protect you fairly well.
The best way to combat dog-to-human transmission of illnesses is to keep your dog up to date on his vet visits:
- Your dog should go to the vet once a year
- Your dog should take over the counter flea and tick medicine every month
- Your dog should be regularly dewormed
For humans, the best practice is to wash your hands and face after the dog kisses or licks you. With these actions, you should have no problem kissing and staying healthy.