When I come home from work, both my wife, Susan, and our dog, Lilly, position themselves to greet me.
However enticed I may be by Lilly’s longing looks to stoop down and offer my lips for her to slather, I always kiss Susan FIRST.
I unfailingly follow this order for two major reasons: 1) my wife is, naturally, first among human equals in our social hierarchy (she is the one who keeps ALL our bellies full and happy) and, 2) I defer to Susan’s concern for contracting some form of floral funk via Lilly’s saliva (never mind that she rarely refuses Lilly’s licks on her OWN lips!).
However inviting some people may be of a companion animal’s company, many will recoil and avert their lips when a dog rushes earnestly toward the face. A responsible pet owner will have trained (or be in the process of training) their dog to kiss company only on command.
Good manners aside, is there reason to fear the floral funk? Some research suggests that the benefits of a pet's kisses far outweigh the risks.
Even the arguments against free-lick lovin’ have a slippery side. While it is theoretically possible to contract bacterial infections affecting the skin and lymph nodes from dog and cat licks, a study by the Center for Disease Control shows no substantial evidence to suggest that licks are a major means of transmission. It appears that the majority of these cases occur through bites and scratches.
Moreover, the intestinal bacterium E. coli and salmonella appear to be more robustly transmitted by hand-to-mouth contact after handling feces. Revolting as the idea of kissing a dog that just licked its butt may be, there is, again, little evidence to suggest that interspecies kissing is an expressway to infection. Though it may also be possible to contract parasites in this manner, most parasite eggs require anywhere from one day to three weeks to mature and, therefore, be harmful. So, unless you have the sanitary habits of medieval Europeans, you’re probably safe.
Populations most vulnerable to infection/infestation include infants, the elderly and the immune-suppressed. Ensuring the good health of your pet – fecal exams, de-worming, flea and tick repellants – and regular trips to the sink for hand washing will greatly reduce your risks.
Now, pucker up for the good stuff! An article in petMD cites three studies suggesting big benefits from pet saliva. Research from the Netherlands has identified chemicals called “histatins” in pet saliva that can accelerate cell regeneration to promote wound healing. An English study has shown that the contact of pet saliva with human skin generates nitric oxide, a natural anti-bacterial agent. University of Florida research has isolated a protein in saliva called Nerve Growth Factor which halves wound-healing time.
Did the ancient Sumerians know something we don’t? Band-Aids and Neosporin were not around in 2200 B.C.E.
An upcoming study by the University of Arizona will pair a sample of 50-60 year old humans with canine companions for 12 weeks to explore the theory that the probiotic properties of dog saliva boosts the human immune system.
Hum . . . no more Greek yogurt?
Personally, my own immune health over the past three years has never been better. Though I have made some dietary and lifestyle changes that could, in part, account for this, I wonder if it is no accident that this period of time corresponds exactly to the length of time we’ve had dogs in our home.
As pet rescuers, we give our pets sanctuary. In return, they may be giving us the salve of salvation.