Warning: the content that follows is not for the squeamish.
Humans and dogs have been companions for thousands of years and many people can’t imagine making a home without one. Having a dog relieves anxiety, stress, and depression—the benefits of being the object of unconditional love.
How you share your mutual affection for your pet, however, can be detrimental to your health.
Dogs often display affection by licking but be advised that the notion that dog saliva is healing is a myth—quite the contrary.
Dogs are attracted by yucky smells and stick their noses and mouths around and into all kinds of questionable places: garbage, other dogs’ waste, and their own bodies.
While they are mammals, too, their bodies’ composition and bacterial resistance are quite different from humans’. Bacteria in dogs’ saliva can transfer to us and cause severe infection because of these differences.
Direct mouth-to-mouth contact with your dog isn’t good for either of you.
Ringworm is a fungus known for its circular patches that erupt on the skin. It’s very commonly passed from your sweet doggie to you. Itchy and scaly, it will spread if not treated. You can get rid of it by applying garlic or coconut water directly to the skin.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a common bacterium found in the saliva of dogs and cats. When it gets inside a person, it can cause severe infection potentially leading to sepsis, meningitis, and gangrene. (1) Don’t let Rex lick the cut on your finger or you may have to have it amputated.
MRSA is an acronym for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. By its moniker, we see that this bacterium in the staph family can cause infection that is highly resistant to common antibiotics. This type of infection is most often contracted in hospital and community settings in which there is skin-to-skin contact. (2)
A study published by the American Society for Microbiology found that it can also be passed between dogs and humans (in both directions) via their friendly smooches. (3) Dogs’ immune systems are better equipped to handle this staph strain than ours and the consequences to us are severe illness accompanied by hot, painful, pus-filled sores.
Like MRSA, periodontal disease can be passed between dogs and humans. While the pathogens differ in the separate species, they can be shared between the two. (4) No one wants to kiss someone with periodontal disease.
Pasteurella is another bacterium found in companion animals, including dogs. It can be transferred by little Fifi licking an open wound and can cause you serious infection—sometimes spreading to joints, bones, and lymph nodes and manifesting in blood, urinary tract, and eye infections as well as meningitis.
Dogs’ saliva isn’t all “bad”.
Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine are conducting a study into using bacteria routinely found in dog saliva to prevent and treat allergies and asthma in humans vis à vis a probiotic effect of strengthening human antibodies from dogs’ against these antagonists.
These are all worst-case scenarios and rarely happen.
It seems common sense to keep an open wound free of outside contaminants of any kind and to wash off the residue of anyone’s saliva from your face and stinky smells from your hands.
Most dogs are affectionate by nature and want only to love and please you. Letting a healthy dog with good bacteria lick you isn’t likely to be harmful. Especially, if you have a healthy immune system.