Everyone loves a kiss from their dog, but letting them do so may be putting your health at risk more than you think.
While a lick from your dog may feel like the ultimate display of affection, their mouths actually host ‘an enormous oral microbiome of bacteria, viruses and yeast,’ according to Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, an assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine.
He told the New York Times a dog’s saliva has proteins that may help cleanse or heal its own wounds, but he noted: “There are some organisms unique to dogs that we were simply not meant to tolerate or combat.”
Some bacteria in dogs’ mouths are zoonotic, meaning the animals can pass them to humans – and cause disease.
Some of that bacteria can include clostridium, E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which can cause severe gastrointestinal disease in humans, said Dr. Leni K. Kaplan, a lecturer of community practice service at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
In addition to these delightful diseases, dogs can also carry hookworms and roundworms from eating feces and licking other dogs.
So should you train your dog not to lick your face? Not necessarily.
“When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin,” Dr. Kaplan said.
But a dog’s saliva and pathogens can still be absorbed through the mucous membranes of a person’s nose, mouth and eyes. Though illnesses transmitted this way are rare, it’s probably best to avoid having your dog lick those parts of your face.
What about cats, you ask? Because cats don’t eat feces, humans are unlikely to become infected by parasites from them, according to petMD.
But be warned – cats’ mouths do harbor Pasteurella, which can lead to skin and lymph node infections, as well as Bartonella henselae, a bacterium which can also cause a severe skin and lymph node infection called cat scratch fever.
If you want to stay healthy, you may want to avoid letting your pets lick your face altogether.