Smooching Your Pet

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Is Smooching Your Pet Unsafe?

Getting wet licks from your dog, cat, or another pet on your mouth is often considered a healthy expression of love and concern. Wanting and showing affection is not surprising as your shaggy bundle of love and delight intends to be an intimate part of your life. Even if you loathe the idea of getting slobbered, you may still not avoid the dogged lunges of your pet for your mouth and face. However, should you be worried about possible health concerns for yourself from pets kissing your face?

Both animal and human health experts have offered their views on pet kissing for your health based on years of research. To know how unsanitary it is to get kissed on the mouth by a pet, we will stick to dogs and cats: the choice of many pet owners. However, in case you have other kinds of pets, medical advice may be more or less applicable. So, let’s get started.

Impact Of Germs

First, let’s face an unpleasant fact: your pet will get its mouth dirty. Dogs and cats tend to indulge much non-sterile activity such as licking residual poop from their anus, exploring dead birds, and licking spills on floors. Consequently, your pet’s mouth gets coated with all types of offensive  material that you would not want near your mouth. The question is, are these germs harmful?

According to Dr. Omai Garner, an assistant clinical professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and associate director of clinical microbiology at the UCLA Health System, “On just an overall level of cleanliness, [kissing your pet’s mouth is] not good,” reported the wellness website SELF.

Impact On Oral Health

It’s a matter of apprehension among veterinary and human dentists that pet kisses may affect human oral health. While the chances of this happening are not yet clear, experts know that the oral microbiomes of dogs, cats, and humans are similar in some ways, says Dr. Lenin Arturo Villamizar-Martinez, an assistant professor in dentistry and oral surgery, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Research shows that dogs, cats, and humans share some of the same kind of bacteria that lead to gum or periodontal disease. However, there is no evidence linking contact with pets and transmission of the bacteria leading to periodontal disease in owners of pets, says Dr. Villamizar-Martinez: probably due to humans having defenses against it.

In support of there being no link, a small PLOS One study in 2015 showed that DNA sequencing carried out on the oral microbiome of four dogs and their owners (and two persons who didn’t have dogs) indicated that canine oral bacteria might not survive in the more acidic, lower-pH human mouth. Moreover, cats are supposed to have the same oral pH as dogs.

The PLOS One study stated a vital observation: frequent tooth brushing tends to remove most pet bacteria that may have gotten into a human mouth. However, if some germs remain, the possibility of getting sick can be discounted.

Danger Of Infection

Pet owners should watch out for zoonotic diseases: illnesses that can be passed on through bacteria, viruses, fungi, and, parasites that pass between animals and humans, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A primary mode of transmission is in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal. In some cases, this could be a cat or a dog.

Avian flu, a zoonotic disease, that’s often in the media, is transmitted through animals that are usually not pets such as chickens. But be careful as dogs and cats, healthy or otherwise, can also carry germs that can spread to humans and induce illness.

Though contracting a zoonotic disease is usually rare, as per the CDC, partly because pet owners touch their pets with intact skin like the palm of their hand, and most germs in a pet’s mouth are unlikely to lead to such disease, says Dr. Leni K. Kaplan, professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, reported SELF.

A matter of more significant worry for pet owners is their contact with nose, mouth, and eyes because the permeable mucous membranes in such areas are more susceptible to absorbing germs from your loved pet, says Dr. Mia L. Geisinger, director, Advanced Education Program in Periodontology, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry.

Such contact can take place indirectly: for example, your dog may lick poop off its butt, lick your hand, which you may use to rub your eye. Therefore, the CDC recommends hand-washing after contact with dogs and cats or their bodily fluids like their poop and saliva.

There may also be direct contact like when you kiss your dog or cat on the mouth while showering your love on your pet. However, this may lead to disease transmission.

What Kind Of Illness Can Pet Contact Cause?

Kissing a dog or a cat on the mouth can lead to many types of potential illnesses, the probability of which is rare. However, if you do, it’s likely to be discomforting gastrointestinal illness, says Garner.

According to the CDC, campylobacteriosis is a common infection passed on from dogs and cats to humans and can trigger stomach pain, fever, and diarrhea in humans. Campylobacter, the offending bacteria, transfers through the stool of an infected, sick, or healthy-appearing animal.

Giardia, a microscopic intestinal parasite, can also cause GI infection due to contact with a pet after swallowing fecal particles with the parasite. It can lead to stomach pain, cause diarrhea, gas, vomiting, and nausea in dogs, cats, and humans, as per the CDC. However, the chance of infection is low if you have a dog or a cat as usually, humans get a different variant of giardia compared to dogs and cats, according to the CDC, though other varieties of pets such as rodents may carry strains of the human-infecting parasite.

Theoretically, you may also get non-GI illnesses such as cat-scratch disease from your pet when an infected cat with the bacteria Bartonella scratches or bites you hard, resulting in cut skin. Alternatively, when infected cat saliva comes in contact with mucous membranes like in your mouth, as per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. A cat, often, may not show signs of the bacteria. However, in humans, the bacteria can cause flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, and decreased appetite, as per the CDC. A cat-scratch fever through scraped skin can cause the cut to get painful, swollen, warm, and leak fluids.

However, none of the above-discussed illnesses from your pet are usually life-threatening: except people with weak immune systems like the elderly, young, and those with disease-related compromised immune systems. Such people are at a higher risk of contracting these illnesses and resultant complications.

Moreover, pregnant women should be especially aware of toxoplasmosis: a medical condition caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The illness can spread following contact with cat poop and can lead to birth defects even if the person exhibits no symptoms. Usually, humans don’t show signs of toxoplasmosis. However, an infected person can have a mild case of the flu, says the CDC.

The Verdict On Pet Kissing

The call on the subject is summarized by Dr. Villamizar-Martinez, who says, “We love our pets, but we need to have some limits.” The unlikelihood of falling ill due to kissing your pet should not make you careless or love them less. To lower the chances of infection, experts recommend that you find other ways to shower your affection and attachment.




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