Dog mouths are cleaner than human mouths. At least, that's a belief long-held by some segments of the public. Another section of the population has witnessed dogs eating their doo-doo and begs to differ. So, what's the tea on doggy dribble? Is it clean, verging on healing, or riddled with germs? And where do all these ideas come from?
The myth that dog spit can heal may originate from watching dogs lick their wounds. Neither human nor canine saliva is antiseptic but keeping an injury clean reduces the chance of infection. By licking their wounds, dogs clear them of debris. Human saliva has some antibacterial properties, but the medical fraternity advises against licking a cut on your finger, especially not when you've got sterile water, a superior cleaning agent, available. You can get septicemia from letting your dog lick your wound.
There's another theory about why people believe dogs have cleaner mouths. Have you ever heard that a human bite is more likely to become infected than a dog bite? Yes, human bites on hands are a risky business, but this myth did the rounds in old medical journals, and modern journals have since quashed it.
Canine oral bacteria is different from the bacteria in human mouths. For starters, dogs explore the world with their mouths and can consume things, chiefly poo, that make humans ill. Some bacteria species in dogs' mouths are zoonotic. They're disease-causing and can pass from pooches to humans. In a dog's regular oral microbiome, you'll find E.coli, salmonella, Pasteurella, and Bartonella. Cue the Jimmy Fallon ew sound!
Dog bites can result in bacterial and viral infections such as rabies. And when your dog licks another dog's behind, infections such as hookworms and roundworms may enter the picture. While rare, you can get an intestinal parasite through licking. However, it's much more likely that your dog's droppings find their way into your herb and veggie garden soil.
Skin doesn't absorb saliva, so it shouldn't be a problem when your dog slobbers all over you unless you have a laceration or burn. But unfortunately, a few unlucky folks are allergic to dog drool and can develop itchy rashes. Saint Bernards and bulldogs are famous droolers, so you might want to give these breeds a wide berth if you're adopting.
A few groups are particularly susceptible to infection from dog saliva. Children under five fall firmly in this category, as do older adults, pregnant individuals, and people with a weak immune system. Dog noses can also be dodgy, so it's best to avoid snouts, period, and be extra careful with visitors to your home.
Stray dogs end up with a lot of dental health issues. On the other hand, domestic dogs have owners who buy pet-safe toothpaste and try to brush their teeth a few times a week. Without brushing, your dog's mouth won't be winning any fresh and clean contests any time soon. Unless it's a puppy, its breath can smell unpleasant even if all is well and noxious if it's developed decay.
As ever, training can make all the difference, as tricky as it may be. Your dog thrives on your attention and will try to get it by licking you. If you don't want its spit all over you, you'll have to demonstrate that the behavior pushes you away rather than engages you. Walk away or ignore your dog any time it licks you, and it will learn to stop. You can still show it affection through petting. If relevant, keep your wounds covered to limit the possibility of infection.
Deworm new dogs, stay up to date with lil' buddy's vaccines, keep it away from animal feces as far as you can, and wash your hands thoroughly after interactions. You can kiss the top of your fur baby's head if you feel so inclined—a quick peck in this area should be safe. Be sure to wash your pet's toys and bedding frequently too.
Dog mouths don't win the cleanliness contest; paws down. Your dog uses its tongue to wipe away evidence of its potty sessions, so ask yourself whether you're okay with kiss greetings from the same mouth. Humans are not made to tolerate some of the organisms in dog saliva, so the experts suggest you stick to petting or keep drool away from the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information