As dog owners, do you crave the feeling of your cherished canine companions’ kisses? Have you ever wondered why dogs lick faces? Should you worry about it or even stop it?
Did you know that human face licking evolved from wolf puppies’ instinctual habit of licking the mouths of adult dogs to prompt them to regurgitate partially digested food? This is the way they transitioned from suckling their mothers’ milk to eating partially digested food to eventually eating more solid food.
According to animal experts, one dog licking another dog’s face or a person’s face is deemed normal social behavior that serves a variety of purposes. It can be an appeasing gesture that signals one dog’s deference to another or a signal to solicit more “social” information, and, where humans are concerned, it can be a sign of affection or an effort to elicit attention.
When a dog licks his doggy housemate’s face or other spots on his body, it’s usually part of their grooming ritual. If a dog’s unable to reach his owner’s face, he may, instead, lick their hand, arm or leg as a form of endearment. A dog may try to lick a stranger’s face as a way of appeasing them and ensuring that they won’t threaten or harm him. And when a dog licks a child’s face, it can be a sign of affection or simply a way of wiping off some residual food.
For most healthy children and adults, the saliva from dog licks poses no risk to intact skin. For those with compromised immune systems, however, it can pose a risk of infection by allowing bacteria to enter their skin through an opened and untreated wound such as a bite or a cut.
The five most concerning forms of bacteria from dog kisses are:
1. Capnocytophaga Canimorsus: this organism is carried in a dog’s mouth and causes a serious sepsis infection in people.
2. Staphylococcus Aureu: when transferred to people, this staph infection can have life-threatening consequences.
3. Ringworm or hookworm: both can cause painful and itchy infections or inflammation and even intestinal bleeding depending on the point of entry.
4. E. coli: potentially fatal, symptoms range from diarrhea and cramping to nausea and, at its worst, intestinal bleeding.
5. Salmonella: painful and unpleasant, it can cause nausea and vomiting, intestinal cramping and diarrhea.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s kisses, don’t let him lick your mouth and ensure that any minor cuts and/or open wounds on your skin are properly covered. Overly cautious? Offer him the underside of your chin instead, then promptly wash your face or apply an antibacterial sanitizing spray or gel to your chin. If you prefer to have him lick your hands, wash your hands later and use that same spray or gel on them.
Ultimately, though, whether or not you allow your precious pup to lick you depends on the state of your health and your level of risk tolerance. Whatever your decision, there are countless ways to express your mutual affection – even if kissing isn’t one of them.