The Reason You Really Should Stop Letting Your Dog Lick You in the Face

October 27th 2016

As any dog owner can attest, there are few things more comforting than cuddling up with your pooch at the end of a long day. And hey, some of us even let our furry friends lick our faces, taking the concept of "man's best friend" to the next level.

However, a report from The New York Times may cause you to reconsider this kind of intimacy with your dog.

Researchers say that letting a dog lick your face could actually put your health at risk. Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, an assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine told the Times that most animals have an "enormous" amount of viruses, bacteria, and yeast, in their mouths. There are also other organisms in canine mouths that are healthy for their bodies, but could damage human health.

“There are some organisms unique to dogs that we were simply not meant to tolerate or combat," said Nandi to the Times. Although contracting an illness from a dog isn't common, when it happens the results can be serious.

Plus, in addition to bacteria and viruses, dogs can carry hookworms and roundworms from eating feces and licking other dogs, according to the Times.

Tests done by microbiologist Julie Torruellas-Garcia from Nova Southeastern University in Florida in 2014 also confirmed that potential health risk of letting your dog lick your face.

Torruellas-Garcia told Miami CBS affiliate WFOR-TV that samples taken from dogs in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach parks revealed that their mouths were filled with bacteria.

“One plate had so many bacteria mixed together that it was difficult to test,” said Torruellas-Garcia to WFOR-TV. Some dogs in study were even found to have bacteria linked to sexually transmitted diseases and pneumonia in their mouths.

Not all dog licking is bad.

For healthy people, having a dog lick you in places besides the face is generally harmless. The problem with a dog licking your face specifically, is that your eyes, mouth, and nose are easier entry ways for germs and parasites, according to the Times.

“When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin,” Dr. Kaplan told the Times.

However, anyone with a weaker immune system should be careful about accepting dog licks of any kind.

Groups with traditionally weaker immune systems like infants and the elderly should be wary of dog licks.

In June, a study chillingly titled "The Lick of Death" was published in the online medical journal BMJ Case Reports. It details the story of an unnamed 70 year old British woman who nearly died from a rare type of bacterial infection that was transmitted to her by her Italian Greyhound.

The woman was speaking on the phone when her speech started to slur and then she became unresponsive, according to CBS News. She spent four days in the hospital and suffered organ failure before doctors eventually discovered that she was infected with the bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus.

As Dr. Bruce Farber, the chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News in June, "This is an organism carried in the mouths of dog and it causes a very bad sepsis infection, but it's usually in people who are immuno-compromised and usually follows a dog bite. But this is unusual because it was a lick."

Similarly, letting a dog lick a baby is probably a bad idea, as their immune systems are not developed yet.

"Dogs shouldn't be licking newborn babies," said Farber to CBS News. "At about after two to three months, then everything's fine."

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