Fábregas: Should there be a limit to affection from man's best friend?
Every day when I come home from work, my dog greets me at the door, his tongue going a mile a minute.
Sammy loves to lick my face.
Sometimes I let him because, let's be honest, there's no better therapy than the unconditional love of a dog — sloppy kisses and all. Why go to a psychotherapist when I have a dog to comfort me?
“I love kisses from dogs,” Mary Kennedy Withrow, senior manager of behavior and human investigations at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, told me. “It's an expression of affection for you. It's in their nature. It's love, and it's a way for them to have an increased bond with you.”
Sometimes, however, I cringe.
I've seen Sammy stick his nose — and tongue — in bird poop, garbage and used tissue. He loves to sniff patches of grass where other animals have deposited their urine or feces. The grosser the item, the more attractive it seems to him. And I won't even mention how many times I've seen Sammy licking his private parts.
But will that stop dog lovers from getting a little love and affection from their pooch?
Dogs, after all, are simply showing how much they like us by slurping our faces. They like the salty taste, and it might remind them of how their mothers used to lick them when they were newborns. The more they lick, the more relaxed they feel.
Who cares if their tongues are laden with bacteria and parasitic worms, right?
I asked infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja to help me understand if humans can get sick from all those germs dancing and partying in a dog's mouth.
Mind you, he noted that the human mouth is not sterile and naturally teems with bacteria of all types — the human body has more bacterial cells within and on it than human cells.
“These bacteria make up our microbiome and are crucial to normal physiologic functioning as well as crowding potentially dangerous bacteria,” he said. “Though certain mouth bacteria can cause problems such as cavities, on the whole they serve a beneficial role.”
Dogs' mouths are another story. They have strep and staph bacteria, which can cause skin infections, Adalja told me. Some infections caused by drug-resistant MRSA have been linked to a pet dog carrying the organism, he said. Pasteurella, another type of bacteria carried by dogs, can cause serious infections in humans.
But here's the kicker: The danger comes if the dog licks a wound or an area of the skin that has been abraded or damaged, Adalja said.
“In most circumstances, dog licks are entirely harmless, but people should avoid having dogs lick areas of damaged skin,” he said.
That's right, harmless.
Even so, I'm not so sure I like the idea of giving pets full-blown kisses. There should be no touching of the tongues, in my opinion. I've seen many pet owners engage in way too much slurping with their dogs. Same goes for those who let dogs sleep on their beds, opening the door to even more germs that reside on their fur.
As much as I love Sammy, I'll stick to my own germs.
Luis Fábregas is editor of the Tribune-Review's Pittsburgh edition. Reach him at 412-320-7998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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