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Dogs licking humans' faces poses health risks, can be fatal


Dog owners often relish the enthusiastic face licks they receive from their furry companions, considering it an expression of love and affection. However, the act may pose health risks, and in some cases, even be fatal.

While many owners overlook hygiene concerns, it's essential to consider what dogs lick throughout the day, ranging from their paws and toys to their own genitals.

Licking is a natural behavior for dogs, indicating various emotions, including stress or fear. It serves as a communication tool for them, especially when combined with other signs like ears back and a tense expression. Dogs also use lip-licking as a response to human emotions, showcasing their empathetic nature. However, letting dogs lick faces can expose owners to potential health hazards.

Canine saliva carries microorganisms that are typically low-risk for humans. Still, in rare cases, zoonotic infections (diseases transmitted between species) can occur through bites, licks, or scratches. Some bacteria found in dogs' mouths, such as Capnocytophaga canimorsus and Pasteurella multocida, have caused severe illnesses, including life-threatening sepsis and meningitis.

Individuals at high risk, such as the immunocompromised, young children, older adults, and pregnant women, should avoid dog licks due to the potential for zoonotic infections. Moreover, dog saliva may contain bacteria carrying antibiotic-resistant genes, contributing to antibiotic resistance, although the likelihood is low.

While animal saliva has been historically used for wound healing, allowing dogs to lick open wounds is not recommended, as it could increase the risk of infection. Despite potential health risks, the bond between humans and dogs offers various healing benefits, contributing to increased physical activity, social connections, and improved mental health.

While occasional dog licks are likely safe for most people with proper management, healthcare, and hygiene, it's advisable to enforce safety measures, such as avoiding licks on the mouth, to mitigate potential risks.

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