What Is in a Cat's Saliva?

Cats often show pleasure and affection by licking their loved-one's hand. However, when this happens, you may wonder how safe it is to have cat saliva on your skin. Like human saliva, cat saliva comprises several elements, some of which are innocuous and others that could be harmful, especially to those who are allergic.

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Cat saliva is generally harmless.

Proteins

Portrait of cat
This is known as a "tuxedo cat."
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People who are allergic to cats are sometimes under the mistaken belief that allergies originate in the cat's fur. It is, in fact, a reaction to a protein found in feline saliva. Pets Boulevard, a website that provides information and education resources for companion animal owners, estimates that 2/3 of allergies stem from this protein, which is then passed on to the cat's fur when the cat cleans herself. This protein gets transferred from the saliva to the dander and fur, particularly around the cat's face and bottom.

Bacteria

Studio portrait of Siamese cat
Siamese cats are sometimes better tolerated by those who are allergic to cats.
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Cats, especially those who spend large amounts of time outdoors, have bacteria in their saliva. Humans also have bacteria in their mouths, but cats can pass on particular forms of bacteria -- including one that causes "Cat-Scratch Disease," an infection that generally does not cause serious symptoms in healthy adults. To be on the safe side, always wash thoroughly after being bitten or scratched by a cat (saliva transfers to the cat's paws when it cleans itself.)

Enzymes

Golden retriever dog with ginger tabby cat resting on sofa (focus on foreground)
A whopping 80 percent of cat bites become infected if left untreated, compared to only 3 to 18 percent of dog bites.
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Jennifer Viegas, managing editor of The Daily Cat, reports that cat saliva may contain enzymes thought to work as natural antibiotics, which may explain why cats lick their wounds. These enzymes prevent infection and promote healing. Furthermore, they act as a barrier against odors which may attract predators, assist in cooling the body in warm weather, distribute oils throughout the coat to keep it supple and healthy, and stimulate blood flow.

Environmental Traces

Because cats lick their fur so often, traces of household cleaning products often show up in their saliva after accidental exposure to the fur. If your cat begins to drool excessively or foam at the mouth, this may be the explanation. In this case, take your cat to see the veterinarian to determine the root cause of the problem, and make sure to use animal-friendly cleaning products in your home.

Extreme Caution

Those who have been bitten by a cat know that it is one of the most serious events that can happen. The curvature of the cat's tooth causes the bite to incise the skin in such a way that makes healing difficult. The result is the wound heals over, leaving an abscess below. According to Pet MD, "Cats’ teeth are thin and sharp, so the wounds they cause are more likely to be puncture wounds. These wounds can reach into joints and bones and introduce bacteria deeply into the tissue. Puncture wounds are very difficult to clean, so a lot of bacteria may be left in the wound. Also, most cat bites are to the hand, which makes infection more likely."