It’s a question that has been nagging you for a while: Is it safe to let your dog lick your face?
This is what you wonder every evening when you return home. It has been a difficult day – as most days tend to be. Your Instagram feed is an endless stream of vapid selfies and Twitter has been overrun by an Orange Man. It’s too much to take in. But one thing keeps you going: Waiting for you back home, almost unable to contain itself, is unconditional love.
You rush back, the door opens, and right there, as if he has been waiting for you all day – which, let’s face it, he probably has – is your precious, adorable dog. With his watery eyes, and uncontrollable yelps, he has the power to exorcise the worst, most terrifying demons. You pick him up, squeeze him like there’s no tomorrow (who knows, really), but as the frenzy in his eyes reaches a fever pitch, and as his tongue inches closer to your face, you freeze.
It’s the germs, you see. You can’t let the germs kill you – not now, not after surviving that horrible, horrible day.
You’ve read the studies. They have ominous things to say. A 2012 paper published in Oral Biology warns that a transfer of periodontopathic species (bacteria that cause periodontal disease) is entirely possible between dogs and their owners.
“Some common zoonotic bacteria include clostridium, E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which can cause severe gastrointestinal disease in humans,” reports the New York Times. Zoonotic bacteria is found (in some cases) in dogs. Basically, it’s the sort of bacteria that is only found in animals, and is not supposed to be transferred to humans.
And you’ve seen your dog; he’ll stick his nose down anything. Of course, he’s going to have dozens of viruses and bacteria around his face.
But Noida-based vet Dr Anoop Pandey immediately dismisses these concerns and begins a passionate sermon that you sense he has delivered on several previous occasions.
“Dogs aren’t born with rabies,” he says. “They aren’t born with viruses.”
“If your dog is properly vaccinated and dewormed, there is nothing to worry about. It doesn’t matter which breed it is, there is no harm to letting your dog lick you!”
“Even street dogs,” he continues. “The rabies virus doesn’t survive externally,” he explains.
“As long as proper precautions have been taken, like vaccinations and deworming, there is not problem.”
But, perhaps sensing that he has been a tad overenthusiastic, he says, “Rabies should be your only worry. If the virus penetrates you through fluid transfer, or if you let your dog lick an open wound (assuming the dog is ill) then it could be a problem.”
“The rest depends on an individual’s hygiene,” he says. “Otherwise, there is no risk.”
The husband-wife vet duo who run Triguna Dog Clinic in Delhi agree with Dr Pandey. The Trigunas say that the chances of your dog transmitting diseases to you are slim, and there’s nothing to worry about if the dog is healthy and cared for.
“If dogs’ saliva were dangerous, we’d be long dead!” Dr Triguna laughed, surrounded by dozens of yapping canines.
Obviously, you wouldn’t let an infected animal transfer saliva directly into your body, and every responsible dog owner would take all the necessary precautions. So perhaps the one lesson here is to treat dogs as you would other human beings, and not as walking bags of bacteria.
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