As Lucy from the Peanuts can attest, it’s not always nice to be S.M.A.C.K’ed and French kissed by a pooch. Just because I’m a veterinarian doesn’t mean that I like to be open-mouth kissed by dogs. While I let my dog kiss my face, I don’t exchange tongue. Gross. Some people don’t mind, but hey, it’s all about personal preference!
Can you catch anything from your pet? Unless you are young, immunosuppressed, or elderly, it’s unlikely (but still possible) to catch anything infectious from dog saliva aside from a whiff of bad doggy breath. Dogs don’t transmit AIDS, HIV, hepatitis or any of the more common high-risk human diseases. However, because of the doggy fecal-oral connection (i.e., the I-lick-my-balls-and-butt-and then-lick-my-owner’s-face route), there are certain diseases that can be transmitted, and that you should be careful of. Children are especially more at risk, as they are more likely to play in the dirt or put their fingers in their mouths (or their dog’s mouths).
Roundworms can be transmitted by the fecal-oral route, and while rare, can result in blindness in children when the worm migrates through inappropriate parts of the body. This is one of the key reasons why your veterinarian hounds you for a fecal sample – to make sure Frenching Fransis is appropriately dewormed. Rarely, other diseases like leptospirosis could potentially be transmitted this way; this is a bacteria shed in rat or deer urine that dogs might ingest when drinking out of stagnant water and then transmit in urine or bodily fluid exchange. Finally, other diseases such as toxoplasmosis, giardiasis (i.e., beaver fever), cryptosporidiosis, and leishmaniasis85 are all diseases that can be transmitted by your child’s hand in the dog’s mouth; again, these are very rare.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) is a group of veterinarians, physicians, legal advisors, and parasitologists who are working together to provide more information on public education and public health at www.petsandparasites.com; you can also go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People website at www.cdc.gov/healthypets, where you can find helpful information on what your own risk is of getting a disease (i.e., pregnancy, HIV). As a pet owner, take simple steps to prevent the risks of disease transmission. First, consult your veterinarian on using lifetime, year-round deworming programs or performing aggressive fecal monitoring (it’s just as exciting as it sounds!). Consider using seasonal or year-round flea and tick preventative and environmental controls, depending on where you live. Also, consider the risks associated with what type of diet you are feeding Frenching Fransis; if you are feeding a raw diet, there is a much higher likelihood of salmonellosis or bacterial transmission. Make sure you are doing daily clean up of fecal material at home and in public parks each time Fransis defecates outside. If you see someone not picking up their dog’s feces, kindly offer them a doggy bag with an overly friendly “Oh, do you need a baggy for your dog?”. (While I grew up on the East coast and used to say “Dude, pick up your dog’s crap!”, I found that the Minnesota-nice is generally much better received…). Finally, teach your children (and yourself) to thoroughly wash their hands after gardening, playing on the ground, petting animals, or playing in the sandbox (although what you’re doing in the sand box, I don’t want to know). Finally, when in doubt, practice safe kissing with Frenching Fransis, and close your mouth! You never know, your friends and family might even start inviting you back to holidays.
Material from It's a Dog's Life... but It's Your Carpet. Copyright Justine Lee Veterinary Consulting, LLC. 2008. Available at Amazon.com
Biography: Dr. Justine Lee is a veterinary emergency critical care specialist and the author of It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet: Everything you ever wanted to know about your four-legged friend and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It: Everything you ever wanted to know about your furry feline.