While dog saliva was once thought to have healing abilities, scientific studies have shown that while it has slight antibacterial properties, it can carry a variety of germs that are potentially harmful to humans. The saliva of our canine companions contains bacteria and viruses, which may cause infections or illness, especially in immunocompromised people. To prevent issues, practice good hygiene around your pup and keep him up-to-date on his vaccinations.
A dog has at least 20 species of bacteria in his mouth, according to the December 2003 issue of the "Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand." These bacteria are natural inhabitants of your pup's mouth and don't mean that he's ill. A study published in the November 2005 issue of the "Journal of Microbiology" found that the most common bacteria found specifically in a dog's saliva were Actinomyces, Streptococcus and Granulicatella species. Most of the bacteria species in Fido's mouth are species specific and only affect fellow canines, but not all of them. An article published in the April 2011 issue of "Clinical Microbiology Reviews" found Bartonella species of bacteria in dog saliva, which may cause infections in humans.
Dogs infected with a virus can excrete it in their saliva, the most dangerous of which is rabies. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can pass from dogs to people, and is fatal in most cases, warns the Centers for Disease Control. The disease is shed in an infected dog's saliva and usually passed to humans or other animals through a bite. A dog can begin shedding the virus in his saliva as many as 13 days before any symptoms appear, according to "The Journal of Infectious Diseases." To prevent health issues for you and Fido, always keep him current on his vaccinations.
There are some cases of humans becoming ill after allowing a dog to lick an open wound because of the germs contained in his saliva. One such case was published in the March 2008 issue of the "Journal of Microbiology," in which a healthy woman was infected with Capnocytophaga canimorsus bacteria from her dog licking her wound. While she survived, a woman with a similar case in September 2012 didn't, reports CBS Atlanta. This type of bacteria is very dangerous and can lead to septic shock or even death in humans. Viruses found in the saliva of dogs also can cause fatal inflammatory reactions in some people, which was the case for a man bitten by his family dog, reports the Daily Mail.
Keep all open wounds clean, covered and away from your pooch. While a September 2008 study published in "Physiology & Behavior" found that canine saliva had very slight antibacterial properties against some species of bacteria, keep in mind that saliva contains bacteria of its own. It's definitely not worth the risk of acquiring other types of bacteria from your pooch by having him lick your wounds. Instead, stick to cuddling and playing with Fido and wash your hands and face after he gives you any doggie kisses, especially before handling or eating food. Always seek medical attention for any dog bites that puncture your skin.
- Journal of Microbiology: Cultivable Oral Microbiota of Domestic Dogs
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diseases from Dogs
- CBS Atlanta: Woman Who Contracted Bacterial Infection Caused By Dog’s Saliva Dies
- Harvard Medical School: Simple Steps for Avoiding Infections from Dogs and Cats
- Journal of Medical Microbiology: Capnocytophaga canimorsus: Infection, Septicaemia, Recovery and Reconstruction
- Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand: Oral Bacterial Flora of Dogs With and Without Rabies: A Preliminary Study in Thailand
- Clinical Microbiology Reviews: Microbiology of Animal Bite Wound Infections
- Antibacterial Properties of Saliva: Role in Maternal Periparturient Grooming and in Licking Wounds
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rabies Infection and Animals
- The Journal of Infectious Diseases: Excretion of Rabies Virus in the Saliva of Dogs
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.