As the clock strikes midnight couples everywhere pucker up for a kiss and ring in the new year with their lips locked. But for pet owners who also want to share the love with their four-legged friend, giving their animals a kiss, and letting them lick your face in return, has been cautioned by veterinarians who warn of numerous parasites and bacteria present in animal saliva. However, a recent study has shown that properties of pet slobber could actually aid in the healing of wounds.
The belief in the curative power of a dog’s lick actually dates back to ancient Egypt and has persisted through time, a recent article explains. In modern France, for example, a medical saying translates to “a dog’s tongue is a doctor’s tongue.”
Recent research from the Netherlands has identified a chemical in pet saliva called histatins. Histatins speed wound healing by promoting the spread and migration of new skin cells. Dr. Nigel Benjamin of the London School of medicine has shown that when saliva contacts skin it creates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide inhibits bacterial growth and protects wounds from infection.
In addition, researchers at the University of Florida isolated a protein in animal saliva called nerve growth factor that halves the time for wound healing.
So, is pet saliva a health hazard or benefit? The article states the answer is probably both. However, routine veterinary care and simple sanitary practices can reduce fears that your pet’s lick is a family health risk.
Why are pets health hazards?
The mouth and the intestines of pets can harbor bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to humans. They can cause an assortment of medical conditions in humans. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called “zoonotic.”
Pasteurella is a normal inhabitant of the mouth in cats and dogs that can cause skin, lymph node and, sometimes, more severe infections. In addition, Bartonella henselae, is a bacterium that is transmitted to cats from infected fleas via their feces and can cause of a severe skin and lymph node infection called cat-scratch-fever. The Center for Disease Control reports that most Pasteurella and Bartonella infections are the result scratches, however, and little data is available to substantiate that being licked by a pet is a major means of infection.
Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridia and Campylobacter are intestinal bacteria of pets that can cause severe intestinal disease in humans. Pets can be free of symptoms yet pass these bacteria in their feces. Most human infection is generally due to oral contact of hands contaminated by the pet’s feces or fecal residue. Because pets clean themselves through licking, these bacteria can also be present in the mouth and facial or lip licking is a potential route of infection from pet to human.
Pets are hosts for many parasitic worms and single-celled parasites. Human infection from these parasites can result in intestinal disease, skin problems, blindness, and brain disorders. Pets may live with these parasites in their intestines with no signs of illness but the article explains that eggs passed in the pet’s feces can infect humans.
With the exception of two single-celled parasites, Giardia and Cryptosporidia, this type of infection is not likely as the parasite’s eggs first must undergo a period of maturation in the feces or contaminated environment in order to infect humans. However, Giardia and Cryptosporidia are immediately infective, so potentially could be transmitted by a lick.
For more information and a video explaining more, click here.