Of all the strange behaviors our dogs exhibit, licking could hardly be considered bizarre. For most pet parents, puppy kisses are an unavoidable and often enjoyable result of dog ownership. If a dog is licking you, the assumption is that they are either being affectionate or that you’ve got some crumbs of sauce somewhere on your person. But what does it really mean when a dog licks you, and why might it be cause for concern?
What does it mean when a dog licks you?
According to Reader's Digest, dogs lick each other — and us — for various reasons, and you’ll be happy to know that most of them are good. Licking can be a sign of submission or affection. It can help cement the bond between mother and puppies. And if you happen to have sweat or delicious tasting morsel on you, your dog may be licking to get a taste of something.
One of the most common licking places (and one that many pet parents don’t appreciate getting licked) is the face. In the past, this behavior was only ever used on other dogs, but since most domesticated canines see us as their pack mates, we tend to be the new recipients of these kisses.
Puppies sometimes lick their mother’s mouth to get them to regurgitate food to eat. When a dog licks your face, they are just following their instincts and hoping that they can get you to throw up a little something for them to nosh on. It’s gross, but it's not really their fault.
Are dog licks harmful to humans?
Not everyone is grossed out by puppy kisses. Some people view it as the ultimate display of affection and in many ways, it is just that. However, according to Dr. Neilanjan Nandi, an assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, it could be bad for your health.
The New York Times interviewed Dr. Nandi, who explained that while some dogs’ saliva contains helpful proteins for healing their own wounds, they don’t always work the same way when crossing the species line. Animal mouths are host to a high concentration of zoonotic bacteria, yeast, viruses, and other microorganisms that humans can neither tolerate nor combat.
Examples of this bacteria include such popular culprits as clostridium, E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter, many of which can cause severe gastrointestinal disease in humans. Hookworms and roundworms can also be transferred by licks, and those are not the type of things you want on your skin, let alone your face.
Should I let my dog lick me?
If you want to, by all means, let your dog lick you. A healthy person should have very little to worry about when it comes to puppy kisses. Obviously, avoid letting your dog lick any open wound or around your mouth, nose, or eyes. Our mucus membranes are thinnest in these spots, making the absorption of anything harmful that much more likely. Bacteria or not, your dog is licking you because they love and trust you, so it’s up to you if you decide to accept that love in that way.