What Are the Dangers of Pets Licking Humans?

by Naomi Millburn
    "I'm cute, but not 100 percent bacteria-free."

    "I'm cute, but not 100 percent bacteria-free."

    Apple Tree House/Lifesize/Getty Images

    Not many things are more heartwarming than a loving lick from the family dog, especially after a particularly rough and tiring work day. Although sloppy kisses from furry Max are indeed priceless, it's wise to be aware of the possible hazards of canine saliva -- his kisses aren't germ-free, unfortunately, although it's unlikely healthy adults will notice any adverse effects from those welcoming licks.

    Dogs are notorious for licking and putting their mouths on random things, especially when they're exploring the sights outdoors. If your pooch gets his mouth on something that includes hazardous bacteria, he could transmit that to you simply by giving your face a good, old-fashioned licking. This can be especially dangerous for people who are unable to produce normal immune system reactions, such as those undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. It also can be dangerous for individuals with wounds on their bodies. If your dog places his tongue on a discarded lunch bag on the street, he could be opening himself -- and you -- up to a host of germs and problems, including giardia, salmonella and toxocara.

    Dogs' mouths house bacteria they can offer to their favorite humans through nightly face-licking sessions. It might be tough to imagine, but a dog can actually be the culprit behind gum disease in an owner. Gum disease, in turn, can bring upon more serious periodontitis, which is characterized by an array of unpleasant symptoms including halitosis, swelling of the gums, sore gums and gum discoloration. Periodontitis sometimes results in necessary extraction of the teeth, so it should be taken seriously. See your dentist immediately if you notice any gum changes or pain.

    Being outside for extended periods can make dogs bigger licking hazards, especially if their licking activities aren't closely monitored. There are simply more potentially dangerous items your dog can investigate when outside unsupervised. Brushing his teeth diligently can do away with much of the pesky bacteria. If you use a doggie toothbrush and special doggie toothpaste to keep your pet's mouth squeaky clean, there's a good chance you'll cut out much of the potentially harmful germs. Although daily brushings are best, that's not always practical. Shoot for at least a couple of brushings per week for your pooch.

    Cats can also sometimes be licking hazards to humans. If a cat spends time outdoors and consumes some fecal matter from an animal that is carrying an infection, he could pick it up and give it directly to you. Cat scratch disease is just one example of an ailment a cat can give to a person by getting his tongue near an open wound. Although not all diseases can be exchanged between animals and people, many can.

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    About the Author

    Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.

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