Is It Really A Bad Idea To Let Dogs Lick Our Faces?

By Allegra Ringo

2017 has already seen a lot of controversies, but none so fraught as the debate about whether it's a good idea to let a dog lick your face. A recent video suggests that it isn't, but dog enthusiasts everywhere insist that it is.

Is It Really A Bad Idea To Let Dogs Lick Our Faces?
credit: Adobe Stock

Let's go through the pros and cons of letting a dog lick you in the face.

PROS

Affection: When your dog licks you, it's likely done for reasons of affection. Trainer Victoria Stilwell believes that dogs also like the salty taste of humans' skin. You may have accidentally trained your dog that licking earns her affection from you, but who among us isn't guilty of that? It is human nature. Next question.

A photo posted by Izzy Jane (@isabel.pearce) on

It's cute: A similar reason to the one above, but come on, how cute is it when a puppy licks you or, better yet, an unsuspecting stranger? A well-timed puppy lick has the power to end wars.

CONS

Bacteria: It's not all sunshine and roses with dog licks. Sometimes, it's sunshine and bacteria. Veterinarian Dr. Leni K. Kaplan explains that for humans with a healthy immune system, contact between dog saliva and human skin isn't likely to cause problems. But before you celebrate by sticking your face in your dog's, here's the kicker: Mucus membranes, which exist in our eyes, mouth and nose, are much thinner than skin, and more easily absorb bacteria from our dogs' mouths. That means contact between dog saliva and these mucus membranes poses a risk of infection.

But how risky are these infections? It all depends. Dogs' mouths can contain zoonotic bacteria, meaning bacteria animals pass to humans that can cause disease. These bacteria can include things like E. coli and Salmonella, which, as you probably know, can cause gastrointestinal problems and lead to a truly terrible time.

Ok, here's the really gross part: this bacteria comes largely from feces. If you're a medical practitioner or you simply like gross things, you may have heard of the fecal-oral route, the most disgusting of all the routes. Contracting a disease via the fecal-oral route means that you unwittingly transmitted bacteria from feces into your mouth. So if your dog's mouth has come into contact with feces recently (which, let's face it, isn't unlikely) and he then licks your mouth, congratulations, you're in Fecal-Oral Town.

How seriously you should take the threat of zoonotic bacteria depends on your age and immune system. As is the case with many illnesses, you're more at risk if you're under 5 years old, over 65 years old, pregnant, or immunocompromised.

Fecal bacteria is pretty gross, but dog kisses are pretty great. As disgusting as it is, this dog owner will probably continue to risk it - at least until I'm 65.