While we all love a good kiss from our pups, there are lots of germs and bacteria in dog saliva that can make us quite sick. So while that kiss might be funny in the moment, you could regret it afterward.
“When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin,” says Sonia Batra, MD, dermatologist and co-host on the show The Doctors. “However, a dog’s saliva and whatever might be in it can be absorbed more easily through the mucous membranes of a person’s nose, mouth, and eyes, as well as any cuts or wounds,” she explains.
The good news is, it’s not super common for that wet pooch kiss to cause health problems. “It is rare to get sick this way, but it does happen,” she says. “This is more likely in people whose immune systems are suppressed.” (Here are 7 ways you’re making your immune system weaker.)
Still, after being licked by a dog, it is important to always wash your hands and any licked areas with soap and water, Batra says, just to keep yourself safe. Here’s what can happen:
#1. You could get a parasite.
“Hookworm and roundworm is transmitted from dog to dog when they ingest one another’s stool or lick each other’s anuses,” says Batra—and let’s be honest, we’ve absolutely seen that happen.
Dogs can transmit these parasites to you when they lick you. Again, it’s rare, but it can happen! If you have either of these parasites, you might notice skin rashes and itchiness, weight loss or decrease in appetite, wheezing and coughing, stomach pain and diarrhea, fatigue, and maybe even fever.
#2. You could get an upset stomach.
“Dogs spend their days with their noses in places they shouldn’t be, such as animal waste or contaminated water, and pick up all kinds of bacteria,” says Batra. “Some of the bacteria is zoonotic, meaning the animals can pass them to humans and cause disease.” Some common bacteria spread by dogs can lead to stomach upset, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting. These types of bacterial infections include Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Clostridium, E. coli, Salmonella, Pasteurella, Leptospira, and Campylobacter. A smooch from your pup isn’t worth the sickness.
#3. You could get a rash.
“Dogs can also pass on ringworm, a fungal infection which creates a rash on the skin,” Batra says. (Psst! You should definitely get these 7 weird skin issues checked out.)
Here’s how to know you might have an infection: “If a dog licks your face and the skin there becomes red and inflamed within minutes, that’s a good indication that you have an allergy,” she explains. “Dog saliva contains glycoprotein, a substance that triggers the body’s defense mechanism in some people. It’s present in higher quantities in dander, but it is still present in saliva.”
You can treat your infection with antifungal creams and ointments, as well as oral medications, but it’s easier to think twice before letting your dog lick your face in the first place.