Anyone who has a pup knows that dog kisses are a reality of life. While some pet parents love smooches from their pups, others find the habit a little bit unhygienic. Until now, though, there has been extensive argument over whether or not pet kisses are truly unhealthy. Fortunately, there's some new information that can help solve the debate once and for all.
The Pros and Cons of Pet Kissing
It's not uncommon for parents to warn their children away from allowing the family pet to lick their faces. Parents cite the bacteria and parasites present in pet saliva and claim that dog kisses are truly a health hazard. As it turns out, however, science doesn't fully support the claim. According to new research, pets' oral bacteria may aid in everything from wound healing to protecting children from asthma. With that in mind, are pet kisses a lucky treat or a health hazard to be avoided? The answer is complicated.
On one hand, Mom was right. The mouths of pets can harbor bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to and cause illness in humans. One of the most common bacteria is called Pasteurella, which occurs naturally in the mouths of dogs and cats and can cause lymph node and skin infections in humans. Pets may also harbor Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridia, and Campylobacter bacteria that can make humans sick. There have indeed been cases of people being infected with such bacteria after being licked by their dog. Additionally, pets often host a variety of parasites in their gut that can be transmitted to humans. These parasites can cause skin problems, blindness, and even brain disorders. It bears mentioning, however, that risks are greater from contaminated dog stools rather than saliva and in cases aside from Giardia and Cryptosporidium, pets are unlikely to pass parasitic infections along to their human companions.
For all its potential dangers, pet saliva appears to have some distinct benefits, as well. For example, scientists in the Netherlands have discovered that saliva contains chemicals called histatins, which promote rapid healing in wounds by encouraging the spread of new skin cells. Additionally, clinical pharmacologist Dr. Nigel Benjamin from the London School of Medicine has discovered that saliva creates nitric oxide when it makes contact with human skin. This nitric oxide prevents bacterial growth and may actually prevent wounds from becoming infected. Finally, a study from the University of Florida into rat saliva found that it contains proteins that cut the wound healing time in half. This suggests that saliva plays an important role in wound healing.
With that in mind, it's clear that while there are distinct infection risks inherent in pet saliva, there is also a variety of proven medical benefits.
Precautions with Pet Kisses
While it's up to you to make your own decisions about the benefits or dangers of pet kisses, it's clear that people should take some precautions with pet saliva. First of all, pets should never be allowed to kiss very young or old people, or those with compromised immune systems, as these individuals are more susceptible to infection. Additionally, pets should be dewormed regularly and treated with anti-flea and -tick medication. Pet feces should be cleaned up immediately to avoid contamination and pets should always be fed cooked, canned, or dry pet food. With these precautions, you're free to enjoy pet smooches – or not – as you please.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.