4 December 2023
Many believe that dog mouths are cleaner than human mouths. This notion has been around for quite a while, but is there any validity to it?
Is Your Dog’s Mouth Cleaner Than Yours?
Regrettably, the answer is no. A dog’s and a human’s mouth harbor billions of bacteria from around 700 species.
While we share bacteria in our mouths, a dog’s oral microbiota predominantly consists of distinct species better suited for a canine host. Fortunately, these microbes are not harmful to humans.
However, some parallels exist between the oral environments of dogs and humans. For instance, both canines and humans are susceptible to periodontal disease caused by a bacterial family known as Porphyromonas.
Periodontal disease, beginning with gingivitis (gum inflammation), results from bacteria forming dental plaque on teeth. Eventually, this bacteria buildup results in bad breath, receding gums, abscesses around the roots, and bone loss.
In dogs and humans, at-home dental care can control the early stages of periodontal disease, but professional cleanings are essential for long-term dental health.
Can You Contract Infections and Diseases From Dog Saliva?
Dogs can potentially transmit bacterial and viral infections through their saliva. Nevertheless, the risk of pathogens passing from a dog’s saliva to a person is quite low.
Transmission can occur through the skin if a dog bites, and if a dog’s saliva contacts your nose, mouth, or eyes, it can potentially introduce pathogens to these areas.
The most common bacterium found in a dog’s mouth is Pasteurella canis, the most frequent culprit in dog bite-related skin infections in humans. Additionally, dogs can transmit Capnocytophaga canimorsus through bites, potentially leading to severe bacterial infections in people. The severity of such infections depends on factors like the wound’s location and the individual’s immune status.
If bitten by a dog, it’s crucial to thoroughly cleanse the wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention, regardless of the wound’s apparent seriousness.
Moreover, if your dog consumes contaminated food, such as Salmonella or E. coli-tainted raw diets, and their saliva comes into contact with your mouth, these pathogens may be transmitted to you.
Rabies (Viral Infection)
Rabies is the most severe infection dogs can transmit through their saliva, typically via a bite. Rabies infects the nervous system, leading to various symptoms, starting with anxiety and nervousness in dogs. If a dog or wild animal displays these signs, contact your local animal control or authorities and avoid contact with the animal. Rabies is nearly always fatal once symptoms develop.
Is Dog Saliva Harmful to Your Skin?
The risk of infection when a dog licks your skin (unless they lick an open wound) is minimal, as the skin doesn’t effectively absorb saliva. However, some individuals might be allergic to specific dog saliva proteins, leading to hives, rashes, or itching. This allergy tends to be breed-specific.
Is Dog Saliva Harmful to Babies?
While the risk of infection from dog saliva is low, the most vulnerable individuals include children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women, those without a functional spleen, and immunocompromised individuals. If you fall into any of these categories, minimizing contact with dog saliva is advisable.
For parents with young children, never leave them unsupervised with your dog. If your dog tends to lick your child, pick them up to create distance. Offering a toy, letting your dog outside, or keeping them in a separate room when necessary can divert their attention.