Published March 11, 2011
We’ve all done it, or at least know someone who has. Animal lovers who kiss their pets — mouth to mouth. “Kisses” from mans’ best friend or a feline companion may seem loving and irresistible, but is it safe?
There are many myths surrounding pet smooches. Some believe a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human mouth, others think their dog or cat’s mouth is a disinfectant and has no germs at all — which, considering how pets clean themselves, can probably be considered untrue right off the back.
We asked Dr. Paul Maza, co-director of the health center at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, how close is too close when it comes to your pet?
“Many of the different types of bacteria in dogs and cats are the same type of bacteria as in humans. At any given point in time they are probably not any dirtier than ours,” Maza said.
In fact, Maza said if owners practice oral hygiene on their pets, like with brushing their teeth, a pet’s mouth can actually be even cleaner than a human mouth.
“Because most of the bacteria and viruses in a dog’s mouth are the same as in a person’s mouth, it is safe to kiss a dog, just like a person. You can probably catch more from kissing a human than a dog or cat,” he said.
According to the Humane Society, there are approximately 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States and 93.6 million owned cats.
Although very unlikely, there are rare instances in which zoonotic diseases, or diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans, can occur.
Maza said disease transmission is very rare in cats and even more rare in dogs.
“Cats may have bartonella, or cat scratch fever, that can cause disease in people. Taxolpasmosis, or certain parasites that have eggs in fecal matter — the transmission of parasites can cause disease in people. But again, it doesn’t happen very often, it is unlikely,” he said.
But we had to ask — what about fecal matter in a pet’s mouth? That is their way of taking a shower, after all.
Maza said that although the grooming technique of pets can cause fecal bacteria in the mouth, it is often swallowed and out of the mouth quickly.
“Fecal matter could be considered comparable to any other normal bacteria,” he said.
For many people, kissing a dog or cat may be less of a safety issue and more of a mysophobia issue, or fear of germs.
“A dog licking a baby on the head or hand is probably safe, but some like to avoid germs at all costs. Others say there are germs everywhere and it is too hard to avoid them all the time,” he said.
Those who should think about avoiding a kiss from Fido include anyone with a compromised immune system like those with HIV or other diseases, as well as the elderly.
There are debates that a kiss from a dog or cat may be beneficial for the immune system of young children.
“Babies that are ill shouldn’t be around too many germs, but others say it is good for children—it stimulates the immune system and establishes early immunity,” Maza said.
As far as preventing any possible illness from kissing a pet, Maza recommends “common sense hygiene.”
“Many people will use gloves to clean litter boxes and pick up dog poop, and you can even wash hands after petting. If you want to prevent bacteria of the mouth, you can brush pets mouths and use rinses just like people do,” he said. “Don’t allow pets on kitchen counters and if it can’t be avoided then wipe them of before preparing food.”
Overall, Maza said the mental health benefits of kissing your pet far outweigh the risks of getting sick.
“I kiss my dog all the time, “ he said.