Big, wet sloppy dog kisses are one of the best things about owning a dog — at least, according to some people. For others, their reaction to dog licking is more of a shriek of disgust. Whether you enjoy playing kissy-face with your dog or not, it's best to understand if you should be allowing these dog kisses or not.
Why Dogs Lick
Licking is a behavior that dogs learn from birth, says Animal Planet. As soon as puppies are born, their mother licks them in order to clean them and stimulate breathing, and the pups learn to lick their mother in return. This licking instinct never goes away. The process of licking releases endorphins that provide a sense of pleasure and help to relieve stress, which is why some dogs resort to obsessive licking behaviors when they get anxious. In dog packs, licking also serves as a sign of submission to more dominant members of the pack. When it comes to dogs licking humans, however, it's generally a sign of affection, although sometimes your dog might lick you simply because you taste good.
Is Dog Licking Safe?
While it was once believed that dogs' mouths were cleaner than those of humans and that dog saliva had healing properties, this myth has been thoroughly debunked. Considering that dogs are prone to nibbling on poop and licking their own unmentionables, it probably comes as no surprise that in reality, a dog's mouth is a pool of germs. However, while dog saliva can carry such dangerous bacteria as Salmonella and E. coli, as well as parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, these illnesses generally aren't carried in quantities large enough to pose a danger to most humans, and there is very little evidence that doggie kisses are a means of transmission.
When Dog Kisses Aren't Safe
Despite the low risk of the average person contracting an illness from dog licking, there are some people for whom the risk is too high to take a chance. Under no circumstances should your dog be allowed to lick anyone who falls into any of these categories, says Vetstreet:
- Pregnant women
- The elderly
- Anyone with pimples or open sores or scratches on their face
- Anyone with a compromised immune system, including someone undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS patients, diabetics, and anyone recovering from an illness
Lowering the Risk
You can lower the risk of contracting illnesses from dog kisses by simply being a responsible pet parent. Regular health checks that include fecal examinations, deworming and treatments to control fleas, ticks and other parasites can go a long way toward reducing the chances that your dog can pass an infection on to you. Properly disposing of your dog's deposits and thoroughly washing your hands afterward can also reduce the risk of spreading disease. Additionally, it's important that your pup's food should be cooked thoroughly — never give him anything raw that might be a source of bacterial infection, such as raw meat or a pig's ear to chew on. Choose a dog food that is balanced and formulated for your dog's health first and foremost. You should also brush your dog's teeth regularly to maintain his oral health, and kill bacteria that might be looming in his mouth.
Putting a Stop to Dog Licking
While it might be safe to allow your pooch to lick you on the face and mouth, if you'd prefer not to take the chance, the best thing to do is nip the behavior in the bud by teaching your dog not to lick your face. Pet trainer Victoria Stillwell, speaking to Animal Planet, suggests that the best way to do so is to get up and walk away from your dog when he starts to lick, ignoring the behavior completely. Doing so will deprive your dog of any reward he receives from licking, and eventually he'll stop trying altogether.
If you love swapping kisses with your dog, it's probably safe to keep doing so, as long as your immune system is up to par. But if the thought of your dog licking you on the mouth sends you running for the antibacterial soap, there exists enough of a risk to justify your aversion. Ultimately, allowing your dog to lick your face comes down to the state of your health and your level of risk tolerance. Either way, there are plenty of other ways to share affection with your dog, so don't feel bad if licking isn't one of them.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.