In your mind, allowing your dog, cat, or other pet to kiss—OK, lick—you on themouth may seem like a natural expression of affection. Your furry baby fillsyour life with love and joy; what’s a little slobber? Or maybe you’reabsolutely repulsed by the thought but have a determined pet who always lungesfor your mouth, ready to lick to their heart’s content. Either way, should yoube concerned for your health if your pet is basically always trying to makeout with you?
We were curious about where science stood on this behavior, so we consultedexperts in both human and animal health to find out how bad it really is tolet your pet kiss you on the mouth. Throughout this piece, we’ll generallykeep the conversation to cats and dogs, since they’re the typical pets thatcome to mind in this scenario. But even if you have a pet of the more exoticvariety (go you), a lot of the takeaways here will still be pretty applicableto life with your bud.
The germ factor
“On just an overall level of cleanliness, [kissing your pet’s mouth is] notgood,” Omai Garner, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of pathology andlaboratory medicine and associate director of clinical microbiology in theUCLA Health System, tells SELF.
Let’s start with the uncomfortable but obvious truth: Your pet’s mouth isfilthy. Cats and dogs use their mouths for a lot of less-than-sterileactivities, like mopping up that spill on the kitchen floor, checking out deadbirds on the sidewalk, and, of course, licking excess poop from their butts.As a result, your pet’s mouth is coated in all sorts of unsavory specimensthat it’s kind of gross to imagine squirming around in your mouth. But canthese germs actually harm you? Let’s take a look.
Your oral health
There is some concern among human and veterinary dentists that pet kissescould compromise humans’ oral health, although the likelihood of this isn’tsuper clear. What experts do know is that the oral microbiomes of cats, dogs,and humans, look very similar in some ways and different in others, LeninArturo Villamizar-Martinez, D.V.M., Ph.D., assistant professor in dentistryand oral surgery at the North Carolina State University College of VeterinaryMedicine, tells SELF.
Research demonstrates that cats, dogs, and humans share some of the same typesof bacteria that cause periodontal (gum) disease. However, there is noscientifically sound evidence showing that contact with pets transmits thisbacteria in a way that actually leads to periodontal disease in pet-owners,Dr. Villamizar-Martinez says. It seems like humans may have some defensesagainst this happening, both built in and not.
For instance, a tiny 2015 PLOS One study that did DNA sequencing on the oralmicrobiome of four dogs and their owners (along with two people who didn’thave dogs) pointed out that canine oral bacteria may not survive in the lower-pH, more acidic human mouth. Cats appear to have a similar oral pH as dogs,for what it’s worth.
The PLOS One study also suggested that frequent tooth brushing would likelyremove most pet bacteria that got transferred into human mouths anyway. Butlet’s say some stubborn germs stuck around. Could they make you sick?Unfortunately, it’s not impossible.
The risk of infection
Zoonotic diseases are here to rain on your pet-kissing parade. These illnessescan be transmitted through viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that passbetween animals and humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (CDC). One of the major modes of transmission is coming intocontact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal, which in some casescould be a dog or cat. Lovely.
Many headline-making zoonotic diseases, like avian flu, are transmittedthrough animals that humans are less likely to keep as pets (although ifyou’re lucky enough to have a coop of chickens, we’re intrigued). However,cats and dogs, including ones that appear perfectly healthy, can also carrygerms that may spread to people and make them sick.
This is generally rare, according to the CDC, partly because when you touchyour pet, it’s usually with intact skin such as the palm of your hand. Most ofthe germs found in our pets’ mouths are unlikely to cause any problems thisway, Leni K. Kaplan, D.V.M., a professor at the Cornell University College ofVeterinary Medicine, tells SELF.
Contact with your mouth, nose, and eyes is of greater concern. The permeablemucous membranes in these areas are more vulnerable to absorbing germs fromyour pet, Mia L. Geisinger, D.D.S., associate professor and director of theAdvanced Education Program in Periodontology at the University of Alabama atBirmingham School of Dentistry, tells SELF.
This type of contact can happen indirectly, like if your sweet dog licks poopoff its butt then licks your hand, and you use that hand to rub your eye.Hence why the CDC advises thorough handwashing after coming into contact withcats and dogs, as well as their bodily fluids like their saliva and poop.
This kind of contact can also happen directly, like when you kiss your cat ordog on the mouth because come on, look at that face! “Outside of being alittle bit gross, you can definitely see disease transmission,” Garner says.
What you could (theoretically) catch
There is a wide variety of illnesses you could possibly get from kissing acat or dog on the mouth. But if you were to catch anything—which, again, israre—it would probably be an unpleasant (but usually not too severe)gastrointestinal illness, Garner says.
For instance, the CDC notes that campylobacteriosis is one of the most commoninfections humans can get from cats and dogs. The offending bacteria,Campylobacter, can be transmitted via the stool of an infected animal whomay or may not appear sick. (And, as we discussed, cats and dogs are quitedevoted to licking their own butts, so they tend to have feces particles intheir saliva.) Campylobacteriosis can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and feverin humans, the CDC says.
Another possible GI infection you can catch from a pet happens due togiardia, a microscopic intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea, stomachpain, nausea, gas, and vomiting in cats, dogs, and humans, according to theCDC. It is spread by swallowing fecal particles containing the parasite.Again, the risk of infection if you have a cat or dog is low. Humans usuallyget a different type of giardia than cats and dogs, the CDC explains.However, the CDC notes, other types of pets, such as rodents, are more likelyto carry strains of the parasite that infect humans.
There are also non-GI illnesses you could theoretically get from your pet,like cat-scratch disease. This happens when a cat infected with the bacteriaBartonella bites or scratches you hard enough to cut your skin—or wheninfected cat saliva touches mucous membranes like the ones in your mouth,according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Cats with this bacteriaoften don’t show signs. In humans, this bacteria can lead to flu-like symptomssuch as a fever, headache, decreased appetite, and fatigue, according to theCDC. If you get cat-scratch fever through an actual scrape, the cut could alsobecome swollen, warm, painful, and possibly weep fluids.
Even if you get one of these illnesses from your pet, it typically won’t beserious. The major exception to this rule is people with weak immune systems,like the young, elderly, and those who are immunocompromised due to healthconditions. People in these groups may be at higher risk of getting theseillnesses (and of resulting complications), according to the CDC.
Pregnant people, in particular, should be especially aware of toxoplasmosis,an illness caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis canspread through coming into contact with cat poop, and it can cause birthdefects even if a pregnant person shows no symptoms. (It’s rare for mostpeople to show signs of toxoplasmosis, but when they do, it can present as amild case of the flu, the CDC says.) Here are the CDC’s tips on how pregnantcat-owners can avoid toxoplasmosis.
The pet-kissing verdict
At the end of the day, it’s unlikely that you’ll get really sick fromsmooching your pet. But if you want to take those slim odds down a fewnotches, all the experts we spoke to agree that it’s probably better to showyour affection in other ways. As Dr. Villamizar-Martinez puts it, “We love ourpets, but we need to have some limits.”
Source:Carolyn L. Todd Health
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