Millions of households in just about every country around the world own a pet, and, for a large number of people, these pets are considered to be a part of the family. While dogs, and sometimes cats, may show their affection towards you by licking your face each day, it is important that you understand the consequences that this can bring.

Zoonotic Bacteria
While some of the bacteria that is contained in the mouths of dogs and cats is not harmful to human health, there are others, known as zoonotic bacteria, that can be transmitted to humans. Four strains of bacteria to be aware of in particular include salmonella, E.coli, clostridia and campylobacter. These are usually passed through the faecal matter of your pets, but when they are cleaning themselves, this can often end up in their mouths. While this may be the case, there is actually little proof of humans contracting these bacterial strains from being licked by their pet.

Just like with bacteria, there are certain parasites that can be transferred to humans after a pet has licked themselves. From worms to single cell parasites, these can cause a range of health problems in humans, including skin problems and intestinal diseases, but, again, the chances of infection for humans are extremely low.

The Benefits of Pets Licking Your Face
Since ancient Egypt, humans have believed that pet saliva can hold curative powers, and modern science is finally able to back that up to quite an extent. Researchers in London and Florida have discovered that when pet saliva comes into contact with human skin, nitric oxide is created, which not only inhibits the growth of bacteria on the skin, but also speeds up the rate at which wounds heal, while protecting them from infection. Researchers in the Netherlands have experienced the same results, and also attribute this to a chemical contained in pet saliva called histatins. There is also plenty of research on the subject still ongoing, such as scientists in Arizona carrying out a study on whether the bacteria in a dog’s mouth can actually boost the immune system and reduce the symptoms of severe allergies.

Should Your Pet Lick Your Face?
With evidence both for and against, the debate is still ongoing as to whether or not it is safe for pets to lick the face of humans. For those that have healthy immune systems, contracting infections or diseases from your pet’s saliva is extremely uncommon, but those that have a compromised immune system, such as young children or those undergoing chemotherapy, would be best to avoid this. There are also precautions that you can take with your pet, such as ensuring that you dispose of any waste on a daily basis, and always washing your hands after doing so.

If you are still worried about contracting an infection from your pet, you can opt to have a stool sample from your pet analysed twice a year, as this will make you aware of any parasites, which you can then go on to treat. With the right precautions taken, and basic hygiene practiced, you will not need to worry about any harmful consequences the next time your dog or cat decides to show you some affection.