Should You Let Your Dog Lick Your Face? Probably Not

Your pooch is your pride and joy. No one is more loyal to you than your precious pup, and your pet probably shows you love by licking your face whenever you walk in the door. But despite the widely-accepted theory that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s, it isn’t. And you probably shouldn’t let your pup’s tongue get anywhere near your face. Here’s why.

dog in the water

Dogs are our best friends — but it doesn’t mean we should let them lick us. | Rommma/iStock/Getty Images

Your dog licks far more gross things than you realize

It isn’t socially acceptable for a human to lick trash. And it’s also not socially acceptable to put your face anywhere near a stranger’s butt. But for dogs, both of those things are completely normal. When you think about what a dog’s mouth touches day to day, it’s actually pretty disgusting.

Marty Becker, a veterinarian and author, spoke to ABC News about how the rumor of dogs’ mouths being cleaner than humans’ got started. He blamed it on the idea that dogs lick their wounds to heal them. “They’ll be licking that wound and you’ll notice the wound heals very fast,” he told ABC. This is because licking the wound is what gets rid of the dead tissue. No, the tongue being clean is not what helps the wound — because a dog’s mouth isn’t clean.

Dogs also carry dangerous bacteria

Dogs and cats alike carry very dangerous bacteria. Capnocytophaga, found in most dogs’ and cats’ saliva, are a type of bacteria that can lead to extremely dangerous illness if someone is infected. The bacteria can cause a rare blood disorder that can end up leaving you ill for a very long time — and you may be hospitalized. Dogs have different types of bacteria in their mouths than humans have, so getting a lick on the mouth from a dog is not the same as kissing a human.

A dog lick led one man to lose his arms and legs

For one Wisconsin man, the unthinkable happened. A dog licked Greg Manteufel’s face, and within a short amount, he’d had parts of both arms and legs amputated, which required several surgeries. He was infected with a rare blood disorder caused by the capnocytophaga bacteria. It led his body to go into overdrive to fight off the infection, and his body stopped circulating blood to its own extremities. As a result, he lost parts of all four major limbs.

Dogs are not generally harmful, but you should be cautious

While dogs are mostly unharmful, they are still animals, and they still need to be treated as such. It’s rare that an infection as serious as Manteufel’s would happen, but it’s a reminder that as much as we love our animals, we need to keep our distance to some extent. It doesn’t mean you should panic every time an animal licks you; again, it’s rare that an infection could occur. But with all the bacteria in their mouths and the potential for danger, it isn’t worth the risk. It’s still perfectly fine to cuddle with your pup, and there is definitely no need to rethink getting a dog in the first place. But maybe keep your dog’s tongue away from your face.

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