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Is it really okay to let a pet give kisses?

A dog's mouth is NOT cleaner than a human's.
Amelia Moreno

Many owners take it for granted that their dog will give them doggy-kisses in greeting or when excited. But is it as harmless as it seems? According to a study done in Japan in 2011, it would be better to limit the wet kisses in favor of more hygienic displays of affection.

Scientists in Japan collected dental plaque from 66 dogs and 81 people visiting dog training schools or animal clinics in Okayama. They found that dogs’ mouths contain more bacteria than their human counterparts and these bacteria are easily transferred to the owners, some of which, like ‘peridontopathic’ bacteria, can cause gum disease called periodontis.

The myth that ‘a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s’ is fully debunked. If anything, the human and dogs’ mouths are equally unclean. An as any owner of a scavenger dog−a dog that will eat anything it finds on the floor or on walks, including feces−there may be a higher risk of the dog transferring germs and bacteria such as salmonella, giardia, hookworm, and tapeworm to their human counterparts. This is also true of animals fed a raw diet.

But why do dogs−especially puppies−lick faces in the first place? It is a throwback to their wolf ancestry in which the puppies of the pack would lick the faces of the adult dogs after they came home from a hunt in order to get them to regurgitate some of their meal. Now, however, it is more an act of submission and appeasement to the adult dog and signifies that this puppy is not a threat. A dog may also do this to their human counterpart to appease and please. A pet can also begin licking their humans for the simple reason that something on your skin tastes good. Sweat and tears are salty, and lotions can smell sweet, all of which will appeal to a pet.

Another licking ritual can be connected to grooming. Dogs that are close to each other will lick at each others’ fur and ears to groom them which creates a closer bond−sort of like when an owner pets their animal. It strengthens the bond between human and animal and just happens to feel really good.

Licking, however, is not always attention seeking behavior. Sometimes it is to get to know the new scents and tastes on a stranger. The dog may lick but may not want affection, or to even be touched. Licking can also be a sign of anxiety or a compulsive behavior. At these times, it is best to distract the dog by asking hu to do something else like lay down, or by initiating playtime.

Either way, it is up to the owner to know when licking becomes too much. It is best to use a distraction instead of punishment to get the animal to stop each time the kisses get to be too much, or if an owner would like to stop facial kissing all together. As always it is important to remain calm and not turn this exercise into a negative experience. This could confuse the dog and lead to anxiety−and even more obsessive licking!

It is ultimately up to the owner what kind of kisses and how many are acceptable. A few kisses on the cheeks here and there are not going to be the end, but it is advisable to keep the face kisses to a minimum. There are a variety of ways to show affection for a pet: doggie massage, pets, walks, playtime, snuggle time, giving the dog a kiss on the head or neck. All of these methods, combined with good dental hygiene for both human and animal will lower the risks of periodontal disease or other diseases.