Why You May Want To Stop Letting Your Dog Lick Your Face (We're Not Happy Either)

For parents of fur babies — particularly of the canine variety — one of the biggest joys is coming home after a long day and receiving endless loving licks. We all love a good puppy kiss, and some of us even let them get that slobber all over our faces. However, knowing how much bacteria resides in your pal's mouth might make you think twice before you let them take another lick at your mouth.

The American Kennel Club notes that dogs have about "600 different types of bacteria in their mouths," which is almost as much as humans. That being said, many people assume that coming into contact with whatever is in their dog's mouth can't be that bad, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has data that negates this widespread belief. Unfortunately, your furry best friend has the potential to transfer bacteria to you, which can ultimately make you ill. Some of these include bacterial diseases and staph infections, and while the transmission is rare, it is still possible. This can be especially hazardous for people with weakened immune systems.

Dogs are also known for being able to transmit parasites and their eggs to humans. This can result in tapeworms and hookworms, which require medical treatment. All of this being said (and we're not thrilled about it either), you may want to stop letting your dog lick your face — but there are also ways you can ensure that both you and your dog stay healthy while sharing the love.

To kiss or not to kiss

People who have compromised immune systems, elderly adults, and children should be more cautious when coming into contact with pets, including dogs. However, everyone has a heightened health risk if they allow their dog (or their saliva) to come into contact with their eyes, nose, and mouth. These areas of your body have "permeable mucous membranes," which are more likely to absorb germs, as Dr. Mia L. Geisinger described to SELF. 

When it comes to nailing down a definitive answer as to whether we should be allowing our dogs to lick our faces, some experts don't think it's worth the risk — and saliva isn't the only reason. "It is not just what is carried in saliva," John Oxford, microbiology expert and professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London, tells The New York Times. "Dogs spend half of their life with their noses in nasty corners or hovering over dog droppings, so their muzzles are full of bacteria, viruses, and germs of all sorts."

But this topic tends to be debated between professionals, with some saying the risk is low. Family medicine physician Dr. Laura Purdy told Well + Good, "The fact that dogs eat poop is a concern for many people, but this doesn't necessarily pose a significant risk to humans. While eating poop can introduce harmful bacteria into a dog's mouth, the risk of transmission to humans from a dog's lick is still relatively low." 

How to show your dog some love while staying healthy

One of the easiest ways you can reduce negative health risks after coming into contact with your dog (aside from avoiding face kisses) is by washing your hands. This is because even the cleanest-looking dogs come into contact with a wide array of bacteria — germs from toys, treats, other animal saliva, and fecal matter can all travel with your pet. If you can't wash your hands with soap and water after making contact with your fur baby, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that consists of at least 60% alcohol.

While the risks associated with puppy licks might make you want to stop letting your fur baby kiss you on the face, allowing it every now and then probably wouldn't hurt — but a talk with your vet may answer any lingering questions and give you a definitive answer. "Every time I come home, [my dog] Dottie gets super excited and crazily licks my face while wagging her tail — and I let her," said veterinarian Heather Berst while speaking to Well + Good. "That being said, I think you need to talk to your physician and your veterinarian if your dog licks your face regularly, as there can be some risks."