Turns out it’s not quite true what they say about dogs’ mouths being cleaner than ours.
You love your dog, and there’s a good chance you love his kisses too. In fact, only a true dog-lover knows the joy those drool-covered kisses can bring. But some experts say it might be time to put an end to swapping slobber with your pooch.
We don’t mean you need to keep your distance. There’s nothing wrong with hugs and cuddles, but those kisses might just be a major risk to your health — especially when they land on your face. When licks from your dog come into contact with other intact parts of your skin, there’s very little chance of absorption when it comes to disease and bacteria. Having that saliva end up in your nose or mouth, however, is a whole different bag of worms (sometimes literally).
Here are six things you’re at risk for every time you pucker up to your pup.
1. Gum disease
There are lots of ways you can get gum disease, but you may not have known you can get it from kissing your dog too. One Japanese study published in the Archives of Oral Biology found that several types of bacteria were found in the mouths of both dogs and humans, meaning it’s entirely possible they can be transferred from dog to human. Since there’s a good chance your dog isn’t as strict about brushing as you are, it might be a good idea to refrain from locking lips if you want to keep your pearly whites, well, pearly.
2. Fecal contamination
Keep in mind that anywhere your dog licks, you’re basically licking too if you let him kiss you on the mouth. Since it’s no secret that dogs lick their own behinds — as well as the rear ends of other dogs — and enjoy the occasional “treat” from the back yard or litter box, it should be no surprise that your dog’s mouth may be contaminated with fecal matter.
This one might just make your skin crawl. Dogs can very easily get worms (roundworm and hookworm being the most common) — either through other infected animals or contact with infected feces, and they can just as easily pass it to you through your saliva.
Still not convinced? Tapeworms are a horror on a whole other level. These things can grow up to 30 feet long in your intestines, and can survive in there for up to 20 years. Dogs usually eat the eggs when they scavenge carcasses, and the tapeworms grow in their guts. They then shed more eggs in their feces, which they can transfer to you through saliva when they clean themselves and then lick your face. This may not be a big risk if your dog doesn’t get much chance to roam, but it can be an issue for dogs in country settings or that have frequent success at escaping.
To prevent this from happening, keep the dog-to-human mouth contact to a minimum and de-worm your dog as a pup. Ask your vet to test your dog for worms regularly and follow through with any meds your vet recommends.
You know you can get salmonella from tainted food, but what about from your dog? Dogs can develop salmonella either from eating tainted dog food or from picking infected food out of the trash. Once infected, they can transmit it to humans, either through fecal matter or saliva. In 2012, the CDC reported that 49 people in 20 states were infected with a strain of salmonella infantis, which was traced to an infected batch of dry dog food.
5. Food poisoning
Think about the things your dog eats — especially if he spends a fair amount of time outside off-leash. Dead animals? Sure. Animal droppings? Check. Trash? You bet. So it shouldn’t be a big shock that some of their saliva in your mouth has the power to give you the worst case of food poisoning you’ve ever experienced.
This one’s extremely rare, but it’s still a possibility so it needs to be mentioned. Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a bacterium commonly found in the mouths of dogs. It doesn’t typically transfer to humans when bites haven’t taken place, but it can to be transferred through a lick — though that happening is unlikely. The bacterium doesn’t typically affect humans unless they are very young or old or have compromised immune systems. In the cases where humans are infected, in can lead to a blood infection, or sepsis, which is very dangerous and can lead to death.
Keep in mind, these warnings are the same when you’re the one that’s planting the kisses. If you need to smooch your pup, do it on the top of his head or his back, not his snout — where all the grossness tends to reside.