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DOG SALIVA: Health Hazard or Health Benefit?

Veterinarians always advice their clients to avoid letting your pets lick the faces. There are numerous parasites and bacteria possibly present in pet saliva that may adversely affect human health. The mouth and the intestines of pets harbour bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to humans and cause a range of medical conditions. But, new research suggests that dog intestinal bacteria may have a protective role against asthma in children. So, the question arises: Is pet saliva a health hazard or benefit? The answer is probably both.

Affection between humans and their pets is not uncommon. However, what is common is the lack of education surrounding animal saliva, its bacteria, and it impact on both humans and pets. Routine veterinary care and simple sanitary practices can reduce fears that your pet’s lick is a family health risk.

The benefits of pet saliva

Recent research has identified products in saliva that indeed aid in healing.

  • Researchers in the Netherlands identified a chemical in pet saliva called histatins which speed wound healing by promoting the spread and migration of new skin cells.
  • Dr. Nigel Benjamin of the London School of Medicine has shown that when saliva contacts skin it creates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide inhibits bacterial growth and protects wounds from infection.
  • Researchers at the University of Florida isolated a protein in saliva called Nerve Growth Factor that halves the time for wound healing.

Dog saliva helps prevent canine cavities

The saliva found in the mouth of dogs is better suited to prevent cavities in comparison to human saliva. The saliva of dogs and carnivores in general is slightly alkaline, around 7.5 to 8. The significance of that is that dogs do not get dental cavities nearly as frequently as humans. The slightly alkaline nature of dog saliva buffers the acids that are produced by some bacteria that are the cause of enamel of the tooth being eroded.

Saliva helps dogs with digestion

There are no digestive enzymes (amylase) present in the saliva of dogs. It is purely designed to get the food down into the stomach so the digestive process can start. In fact unlike people, dogs don’t have to chew their food to mix in the saliva and start the digestive process. A dog’s stomach and intestines can do all the necessary work. The pure, simple function of dog saliva is to move food down the esophagus.

Dog saliva is antibacterial

Dog saliva does contain chemicals. You often see dogs licking wounds and that is a cleansing action and an antibacterial action to promote the healing of a superficial wound. Of course licking won’t cure all superficial infections in dogs, so veterinary visits are still necessary.

Dog kisses may transfer bacteria to humans

Just because dog saliva has antibacterial properties does not mean that dog kisses are clean. It’s possible for bacteria to be transferred from pets to humans. One study published in Oral Biology in 2012 found that there can be a transmission of periodontopathic species of bacteria between dogs and their owners.

Dog saliva may produce allergies in humans

While many people believe that pet fur is the culprit of allergic reactions to dogs, many of these allergies actually stem from proteins found in dog saliva. According to a study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, dog saliva contains at least 12 different allergy causing protein bands. When dogs lick their fur, the saliva dries, and these proteins become airborne.

In conclusion, should you worry about your dog’s saliva? In general no, although very young children and those who are immune-compromised should best avoid contact. We share our lives with our pets, so the next time your dog licks your face, instead of worrying about infections, you may want to think about what your dog licked last. So maintain hygiene when you come in contact with dog saliva by washing up, and also keep your pet’s mouth healthy!