dog licking owner's face

Everyone expresses affection for their pets differently. Some people like to simply pat their dog on the head when they walk through the door, while others wrestle around with them and nuzzle nose-to-nose. However, one of the more controversial methods of expression is the question of kissing. Many dog owners let their pups lick their faces, including their open mouths!  While this might sound distasteful and nauseating to some, for others this is perfectly normal. The argument of whether or not kissing your dog is hygienic, has been debated for years, and many people still are uncertain of what to conclude. Let’s unpack some of the research together, to form our own opinions on the matter.

There has long been an assumption that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than that of a human, but many scientists and doctors disagree.

A 2011 study conducted in Japan revealed that the plaque on both human and canine teeth possesses bacteria which can be passed through kissing.  The primary kinds of bacteria included Porphyromonas gulae, Tannerella forsythia, and Campylobacter rectus.  These were found more commonly in the sample of dogs being observed rather than the people, and have been known to increase chances of severe gum disease.  Therefore, dogs possessing this bacteria can pass the same particles to humans, thereby increasing their chances of periodontal disease.  Such gum diseases can lead to kidney and heart disease if left untreated. While this may not occur often, the possibility still exists.

Further to this study, logic supports the concept that swapping saliva with a dog is not a hygienic practice. Humans witness canines eating rotten scraps off the street, sniffing (and at times licking) animal feces, as well as cleaning unmentionable places on their own bodies. Subjecting our own mouths to this exposure to germs cannot be advisable.

However, many doctors and vets find the practice of kissing dogs to be harmless.  For example, Dr. Paul Maza of Cornell University’s College of Medicine, claims that dogs and humans have similar enough bacteria for serious diseases to not be a genuine concern. He argues that even the fecal bacteria that pets ingest from cleaning themselves are often swallowed before they can grow or fester in the mouth. Dr. Maza believes that pet owners who actively engage in their responsibility to brush their dog’s teeth and attend their oral hygiene, make them actually less-germ infested than the mouths of many humans! Even for the bacteria that remains, it is a common belief that the immune systems of children are strengthened when they are around the bacteria that dogs introduce through puppy kisses.   Science suggests that while there may be diseases transferable by kissing a dog, that the majority of “worst case scenarios” do not happen, and that simple common sense ought to be employed.

Moral of the story?  Keep up with your oral hygiene regime, and disinfect/clean your dog’s teeth regularly. If you do so, there will be less of a cause for concern when he comes up to give you a slobbery kiss on the mouth!