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Is a Dog's Mouth Cleaner Than a Human's Mouth?

Updated on November 17, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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Facts And Trivia About Dog Spit

A lot of people believe that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s because it contains stuff that kills germs. You may have even heard that it’s good for a dog to lick a human wound to kill germs and prevent infection.

While dog saliva contains antibacterial chemicals and can kill some germs on superficial wounds, those benefits only apply to dogs, not people. A dog licks a wound for cleansing purposes, or because it temporarily alleviates the pain.

When you bang your finger with a hammer, you immediately put it in your mouth, don’t you? Why? Any antibacterial benefit provided by the canine saliva is an added bonus for the dog.

As stated earlier, the antibacterial agents in canine saliva can kill some germs on superficial wounds. The key word is “superficial.” If your dog suffers a deep cut or a bite wound, his saliva won’t equal the benefits of a veterinarian prescribed antibiotic.

While dog saliva can bestow some antibacterial benefits upon the dog, it can actually transmit germs, such as E. coli, salmonella, clostridium and campylobacter, to people.

It's What Helps The Food Go Down

A lot of us tend to think of canine saliva as a toxic soup made up of enzymes that begin immediately digesting a mouthful of raw meat. The fact is canine saliva contains no digestive enzymes. Its purpose is strictly that of a lubricant.

In the wild they would rip large chunks of meat from a kill and, since their jaws only move up and down, they cannot grind their food. That, plus competing vigorously for a share of a kill, dogs will swallow meat almost without chewing it. Therefore it is lavishly lubricated by copious amounts of saliva. The food then passes easily through the esophagus and into the stomach.

By contrast, human saliva does contain digestive enzymes that start breaking the food down before it enters the esophagus. Have you ever noticed that the piece of food you swallow has less to it than it did when it went into your mouth?

In another curious twist, canine saliva is slightly more alkaline than human saliva. It’s believed to be the reason why dogs suffer far fewer cavities than humans. The acidic effect of certain bacteria can cause dental enamel to erode, but the alkalinity of canine saliva offsets that.

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The Eewww Factor

That doggie kiss can also, depending upon where the dog’s tongue has been recently, transmit parasites such as roundworms. One study I read about concluded that a puppy can carry from 20 million to 30 million roundworm eggs in its intestinal tract.

I further read about a veterinarian in North Carolina who said that a child of one of his clients almost lost an eye from a roundworm infection. While instances such as that are undoubtedly rare, stuff happens.

Because dogs lick the places on their bodies that they lick, it’s quite common for dogs to have traces of fecal matter in their mouth. Then they want to give you a big, wet kiss.

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Medical Issues Associated With Licking

Licking can sometimes become excessive and lead to lick granulomas. Also known as acral lick dermatitis, these self-inflicted wounds can become a nightmare.

In severe cases where the dog’s licking increases the depth of the sore, the skin is affected so deeply that it can result in lesions from microscope pockets of bacteria, broken hair follicles, damaged oil glands and damaged capillaries.

Those lesions can be removed surgically but, unless you can prevent him from licking the surgical site, the dog will likely lick that as well, creating a new granuloma.

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Licking Can Lead To Canine Mental Health Issues

Dogs can experience psychological issues that result in obsessive licking. Similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder, boredom or anxiety can manifest itself in licking, or sometimes scratching and chewing behaviors.

The problem is, if the dog opens up a wound, it doesn’t stop him from continuing those self destructive behaviors, which can cause serious medical conditions.

Human Allergies To Dog And Cat Hair

And how many of you are allergic to dog and cat hair or dander? The correct answer is: none of you. You’re allergic to 12 proteins in the dog’s or cat’s saliva. The hair and dander (shed skin cells) are merely the carriers.

It’s not just the wet saliva that you react to, either. When the saliva dries, those allergenic proteins can become airborne. You can have that allergic reaction even if you don’t come in contact with hair, dander, or a wet tongue.

The Bottom Line

OK, so let’s do a reality check. Millions of sloppy dog kisses are administered to dog lovers every day. I’ll bet that if you could find statistics on the kiss-to-problem ratio, you’d probably discover that the chances of a problem are minimal. But on the other hand, it’s likely that veterinarians and physicians can cite instances of problems they discovered in their own practices.

And I wonder about the number of dog owners who come down with a case of salmonellosis they caught from their dog, but blame it on something they ate or their carelessness with handling raw meat. While some experts acknowledge, but wave off, the dangers of dog kisses, most will frown upon face kisses.

Resources

  • PetMD: Krystle Vermes: Dog Saliva: Five Fast Fact You Should Know
  • Pennsylvania State University, SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy: Does Dog Saliva Have Healing Powers
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Pets Healthy People: Salmonella Infection

© 2017 Bob Bamberg

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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 weeks ago from Mississauga, ON

      I agree with you, Bob!

      Regards,

      Suhail

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Suhail, nice to see you again. I agree with you on all counts. But, while saliva can carry some bad stuff, we have to acknowledge that most dog owners regularly come into contact with dog saliva and don't suffer any ill effects.

      It's like thawing meat on the counter. The health experts tell us not to because it can cause salmonella, yet we all do it and are OK...until the day we aren't. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 weeks ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi,

      Thank you for posting a very informative article.

      From my religion's point of view, dog's saliva is considered unclean, but the dog is not.

      While it is not possible to avoid contact with dog's saliva, licking and deliberately getting into contact with it needs to be avoided.

      Btw, it is just not dog's saliva. Saliva in general, may carry harmful bacteria and even virus.

      Regards,

      Suhail

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Nice to see you, Heidi...hope this finds your little guy healing nicely. When they get at the stitches, there's always the threat of infection or of reopening the wound. Hopefully it will fully heal without problems. I see a lot of people encourage kisses, but I'm with you. Thanks for stopping by.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Knowing what our crazy goldens have gotten into, I never, ever thought their nasty mouths were cleaner. I'm not going to freak out like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons ("I've been kissed by a dog!") if our current little buddy tries to kiss me. But I ain't encouraging it either.

      Plus, our little guy has a lot of skin issues and is recovering from surgery. So keeping him from licking his sutures (he already managed to wiggle out of his cone and pull out a couple of stitches) is quite a issue right now.

      Thanks for sharing the myth and the truth! Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Coconut oil has become popular for both pets and people here. Some reliable sources see it as trendy, others see it as beneficial. It's getting harder to judge who to believe anymore.

      Good thing you have that friend to keep you supplied. I did a search on Amazon.com under cow throats and chicken backs and, to my utter shock, nothing came up!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Not sure about the saliva, but the little beasts dig underneath the skin of the feet in humans and other animals, and the itching they cause is intense. I can wake up, dig the animal out, treat the wound with iodine and coconut oil. Ajej, unfortunately, suffers. The WHO did a study recently and found that coconut oil is one of the best remedies, so I am trying it on her every day and will see if it works.

      Thanks for asking about the raw diet parts. No butchers out here but a friend visits every week or so and she has been bringing me the supplies I am no longer able to purchase. She would be lost without them.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Pat, nice to see you. This is a new hub, but contains some of the same information I used in other hubs, which is probably why you think you read it before. You have a good memory. I'm entering into a challenge now, so I especially appreciate the Hugs and Angels. The same coming right back at you and your family. Let Heston Wayne know that I sent a "Hey, Buddy, keep up the good fight" shout-out to him. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Doc, does the saliva of the sand flea cause allergic reactions similar to those caused by the dog and cat flea? I feel bad for Ajej. There probably isn't much you can apply to the pads that she won't lick or walk off.

      I'm also wondering, like you did at the beach, if you have a source for cow throats, chicken backs and the other goodies your dogs enjoyed?

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 weeks ago from sunny Florida

      I think I read this before Bob but had to come back. Just to tell you that I am reading Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul. I thought of you and think you would enjoy it. It is filled with wonderful stories about pets enlarging our lives.

      Hugs and Angels on the way to you and yours... ps

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Actually you left off sand fleas (Tunga penetrans). My Fila hangs around the house but Ajej likes to follow me around all of the time and the sand fleas burrowed into the feet itch so badly that she chews her pads until they start bleeding.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 weeks ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Yeah, you're right, Doc, it would be an effort in futility. Plus I believe the number of illnesses caused by dog kisses, when compared to the number of dog kisses dispensed daily, are minimal.

      I do wonder, though, about the number of people who blame raw meat or room temperature potato salad for their stomach cramps when it could have been dog spit.

      It was an interesting article to research, though, and fun to write. I sort of expect to get hammered by dog people.

      Given the neighborhood you live in, I think Ajej drool is the least of your worries. I should think a greater concern would be malaria, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, Chagas disease, and dengue. I Googled that :)

      Thanks for stopping by...it's always good to read your comments.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 weeks ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Leaning down and letting my puppies lick my face puts me in that "top dog" status. Am I going to get a Toxocara infection? Not at my age. (This would not be a good idea for a very young or immune challenged child.) Do I need to wash my face later. Of course. We both know where those dog mouths have been.

      Great article! Now you just have to convince all of those people who kiss their dogs with open mouths to stop that. Good luck with that!!!!