Kissing is a way of expressing love and affection. Dogs are very lovable creatures, so the urge to kiss your dog on the mouth is completely natural, but it does have health and personal safety risks.
The risk of catching an infection is quite low, so you needn’t stop kissing your dog. There are safer ways you can express affection towards your dog.
Table of Contents:
- Risks of Kissing a Dog on the Mouth
- Does My Dog Like to Be Kissed on the Mouth?
- Can You Get Sick If You Kiss your Dog?
- Which Diseases Can Spread Between Dogs and Humans?
- Should I Kiss My Dog on the Head Instead?
- Minimize the Risk of Infection from a Dog
- Why Do Dogs Lick Their Owners?
Risks of Kissing a Dog on the Mouth
Kissing a dog doesn’t usually result in harm. Even so, there are two main risks to consider:
- You may contract a disease – There are bacteria in your dog’s saliva. Kissing your dog on the mouth leaves you open to infection.
- Your dog may not like it – Although licking is a natural dog behavior, we cannot assume it is like kissing. Some dogs may become anxious or even aggressive when kissed.
If you don’t want to stop kissing your dog, you can manage the above risks. But, it might be better to show your affection in other ways.
Why You Get the Urge to Kiss Your Dog
The act of kissing releases endorphins in your brain, and these endorphins help you to feel good. These chemicals also help you to bond with the person or animal you are kissing. Because you are rewarded with this hit of endorphins, the act of kissing becomes addictive.
Since you feel love and affection towards your dog, it’s no surprise you want to kiss them. If you kiss your dog once, the rush of endorphins will no doubt reinforce this behavior and make you want to kiss your dog again.
Does My Dog Like to Be Kissed on the Mouth?
Kissing is not a natural behavior for dogs. Licking might be similar to the act of kissing, but we cannot be sure.
Research shows that dogs are capable of interpreting human emotions. So, although kissing is not a natural dog behavior, many dogs can interpret kissing as an act of affection.
If you see things from the dog’s point of view, you will understand why.
Owners kiss their dogs when they are in a happy and positive mood. They may also decide to give their dog a treat at the same time. Dogs tend to associate kisses with a happy, attentive owner.
Wondering why your dog is kissing you on the lips? Perhaps they are asking for some attention.
Can Dogs React Badly to Being Kissed?
Some dogs do not appreciate kisses, especially on the mouth. If your dog flinches or runs away, this is a sign they do not want to be kissed.
If your dog melts down the ground and bows their head when you try to kiss them, this suggests they may feel intimidated.
Some dogs may also become aggressive if you come too close to their face. Little children should not be allowed to kiss a dog on the lips because a dog’s behavior can quickly change if the child becomes too boisterous.
You are best placed to interpret your dog’s behavior and decide whether or not they enjoy being kissed. It goes without saying that you should never try to kiss another person’s dog as you won’t know anything about the dog’s temperament.
Can You Get Sick If You Kiss your Dog?
This depends on several factors. If your dog is domesticated, up to date with their vaccinations, and fit and healthy, the risk of infection is low. If you are a fit and healthy adult, this minimizes the risk even further.
According to the CDC, the following factors increase the likelihood of becoming sick from a dog:
- Child under 5 (due to an underdeveloped immune system)
- Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- People who drink alcohol to excess
- Any other immunosuppressive disease
- People without a spleen
Anyone who falls into the above category should not kiss a dog. They should also wash their hands thoroughly after touching an animal.
In some cases, it may not be possible for someone with a weak immune system to keep a dog because the risk of infection is considered too high.
How Do Infections Spread Between Dogs and Humans?
One of the ways that disease can spread is through the dog’s saliva. This is why kissing a dog on the mouth (or allowing a dog to lick you) can be risky.
However, according to NCBI, bacteria are more commonly spread through feces and urine. If you don’t get rid of poop from the house/yard immediately, this increases your risk of infection. Also, picking up poop and not washing your hands can leave you open to infection.
Bacteria can also spread through the air (i.e., coughing and breathing) and bodily contact. For example, children contract ringworm by stroking the dog’s fur (or touching the dog’s feces).
We shouldn’t demonize dog saliva because it’s not the only way infections are spread. Also, if your dog is kept in good health and you practice good hygiene, the risk or urine, fecal, airborne, petting, or saliva-induced infections is low.
Which Diseases Can Spread Between Dogs and Humans?
A zoonotic disease is a disease that can spread between animals and humans. Dogs are hosts for many zoonotic diseases.
It is relatively uncommon for a human to contract an illness from their dog. However, if you regularly kiss your dog on the lips, you should be aware of the following zoonotic diseases.
The Campylobacter jejuni bacteria can be found in the intestinal tract of dogs. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, so you might not know your pet has it. This bacterium usually spreads through feces, but some scientists believe it may spread through saliva, too.
According to VCA hospitals, a dog with Campylobacter infection should not be allowed to lick people’s faces – especially young children’s faces. Similarly, kissing an infected dog could lead to infection.
This infection is severe, but rare. Many dogs and cats have Capnocytophaga in their saliva, but it does not usually cause a problem for humans. In rare cases, the bacteria can enter a human’s bloodstream and cause severe illness.
You might well remember a case from last year where a man had to have several limbs amputated after being licked by a dog infected with Capnocytophaga.
This infection is so rare that the CDC doesn’t track data on it. Having said that, those with a weakened immune system and people without a spleen are at risk of this infection, so they should never kiss their dog.
Evidence is quite weak, but it seems that kennel cough (Bordetella bronchiseptica) may be contagious to humans. Bordetella bacteria are most commonly transmitted through the air (i.e., through coughing) but they may also be transmitted through saliva.
It’s worth noting that kennel cough has an incubation period of 2-14 days. As such, you might end up kissing your dog before they show any symptoms.
Should I Kiss My Dog on the Head Instead?
If dog saliva contains harmful bacteria, perhaps it would be better to kiss a dog on the head. This may slightly reduce the risk of infection, but there could still be bacteria in the dog’s fur.
Also, some research suggests that kissing a dog on their head could cause the dog to feel anxious. If your dog sinks into the ground and lowers their head when you kiss them, this suggests they may be feeling intimidated.
Diseases can be spread through bodily contact as well as saliva, so kissing on the head still has its risks.
Dogs Are Not Bad for our Health
Given the risk of infection, you might be wondering if it’s safe to keep a dog at all.
Although pets can be carriers of disease, the health benefits associated with being a dog owner far outweigh the small risk of contracting an infection. Multiple studies show that dog owners enjoy the following benefits:
- Have lower levels of stress and depression
- Have higher self-esteem
- Are more physically active and have fewer cardiovascular illnesses
- Have a lowered heart rate immediately after petting their dog
Pet owners also tend to show more compassion towards others (both humans and animals).
Kissing your dog on the mouth is not particularly good for your health, but owning a dog certainly is. Added to which, there are other (safer) ways you can show affection towards your pet.
Minimize the Risk of Infection from a Dog
To protect yourself and your family from infection, consider the following tips:
- Clean up feces and urine immediately. Use a disinfectant spray when cleaning inside the home. Take a pocket hand sanitizer with you on long walks so you can clean your hands after handling dog poop.
- Wash your pet’s bedding often, even if it looks clean.
- Make sure your dog stays up to date with routine vaccinations. If your dog spends lots of time with other animals, they may require additional vaccinations.
- Aerate the house regularly.
- Wash your hands after handling your dog.
- Don’t kiss a sick dog. If you have a weakened immune system, avoid kissing any dog. The last thing you want is to get an illness, such as a stomach virus from your dog.
Other Ways to Show your Dog Affection
You want to show your dog how much you love them. So, what’s the best way to do this? Dogs have unique personalities and tend to enjoy different types of affection. Having said that, most dogs will enjoy the following three things.
Regular Walks and Play Time
To promote good health, dogs must be walked twice a day. Some breeds benefit from very long walks or even runs. If you meet this basic need, this shows you love and care for your dog.
When walking your pooch, try to incorporate some play sessions; most dogs love chasing a ball or a stick. Also, vary the location of their walks or consider taking them to the local dog park.
Many dogs enjoy swimming. This does expose them to more bacteria, so it’s a good idea to bath them (with dog-friendly soap) if they’ve been swimming in open water.
When we gaze at an animal (or human) we love, we get a rush of oxytocin to the brain. This chemical makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Research shows that dogs have a similar release of oxytocin when looking into their owner’s eyes.
Wolves (dogs’ ancestors) don’t release oxytocin when looking at humans. This suggests eye-gazing is a behavior dogs have developed since becoming domesticated.
Over centuries, humans have spent time gazing into dogs’ eyes (and vice versa). The mutual release of oxytocin in both species’ brains has enabled dogs and humans to bond.
So, “puppy dog eyes” are an adaptation that enables dogs to live comfortably alongside humans!
What does this mean for you and your dog? Well, gazing into your pooch’s eyes will help both of you feel good. It may also strengthen your bond.
Belly, Leg, and Ear Scratches
Many dogs appreciate being rubbed on their tummy or scratched on the tops of their legs.
Puppies play fight with their brothers and sisters, so rolling around on the ground and having their belly rubbed may remind them of being a puppy.
Also, dogs often become itchy behind the ears, so they’ll enjoy having their ears scratched. Washing your hands after handling your dog will prevent the spread of infection.
Why Do Dogs Lick Their Owners?
If your dog regularly slobbers on your face, you might be wondering if they are trying to kiss you. According to Pedigree, licking has all sorts of functions:
- Mothers lick their puppies to stimulate eating/pooping
- Puppies lick their mothers when they are hungry
- Adult dogs lick a dominant dog to show their respect
In a domestic setting, licking might have a completely different meaning. For example, in a home environment, it might be a way of asking for attention.
No one knows for sure why dogs lick their owners. We do know there is a risk of infection from this behavior, but it’s also quite a joy to see dogs behaving in this way.
If you choose to kiss your dog, you should be mindful of the risks. The two dangers are disease and discomfort on your dog’s part.
To manage the risks, you should keep your dog healthy, practice good hygiene, and check your dog’s reactions.
If you enjoy kissing your dog, you needn’t stop. Having said that, there are safer ways to show your affection. Make regular eye contact, pet your pooch, and take them on regular and interesting walks.