Unlike your dog, you've probably never had the urge to lick someone to show you care. Pets not only demonstrate affection by licking but may also pass along bacteria that can trigger serious infections in humans. Although the infections aren't common, they can be severe and life-threatening in some people.
What Types of Infections Can I Get from My Dog?
Your dog can pass along the bacteria responsible for E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter infections. These infections affect your gastrointestinal system and cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and fever. Although a bout of E. coli can be very serious, particularly in older or younger people or those with compromised immune systems, it may not be as severe as a capnocytophaga canimorsus infection.
The blood infection initially causes headaches, muscle pain, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. As the infection worsens, vomiting, abdominal pain, and confusion can occur. A capnocytophaga infection can be life-threatening. Thirty percent of people sickened by the bacteria eventually die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you have a capnocytophaga infection, you may be at increased risk of developing:
- Cellulitis: This bacterial skin infection causes swelling, pain, and redness in any part of the body and often affects the lower legs.
- Low Blood Pressure: Your blood pressure may drop to dangerous levels during your illness. If your blood pressure is too low, blood flow to your arms and legs may slow or stop, leading to death of the limbs and amputation.
- Sepsis: The life-threatening condition occurs when inflammation triggered by your body's immune system damages your organs.
- Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation: Clots in your small blood vessels may lead to organ damage and dangerous internal and external bleeding.
Who Is at Risk for Capnocytophaga?
Your skin serves as a protective barrier, preventing bacteria from entering your body. If you're healthy, a lick on your hand is unlikely to cause a capnocytophaga infection. The mucous membranes of your eye, nose, and mouth don't offer the same protection as your skin. In fact, they provide convenient pathways for bacteria to enter your body. Still, most people who receive the occasional lick on the face from their dogs never become sick.
A capnocytophaga infection is more likely to occur if you already have a condition or problem that affects your health, such as:
- Loss of your spleen due to an accident or illness
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Excessive alcohol use
- Grave's Disease
An immune system disorder, like HIV/AIDs, or chemotherapy treatment can also increase your risk. If you have these conditions, a lick or bite, even it's minor, can lead to a capnocytophaga infection.
How can I avoid blood infections?
It's very unlikely that you'll ever develop a capnocytophaga infection if you're in good health. No matter what your health status, don't let your dog lick your skin if you have a cut, scratch, broken blister or open wound. Should your dog bite you or break your skin with its teeth, let your doctor know.
Bites, whether they're from a human or animal, may need medical attention. In fact, 1/3 of all hand infections are caused by human bites, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery. Your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot and a course of antibiotics after a bite.
You may want to reconsider letting your dog lick your face, particularly if your pet enjoys sniffing feces, dead animals, or garbage while you're out for your daily walks. Although you still probably won't get sick if your dog bathes your face in saliva, avoiding this is the simplest way to prevent infections.
Licking, whether it occurs on the hand, face or another part of the body, should be avoided if you have a risk factor for capnocytophaga infections. Every time your dog tries to lick you, distract him or her with a toy, or follow Dogster's advice and stand up and turn away for a few seconds. Eventually, your pet will understand that licking prompts you to withdraw your attention.
Do you have questions about your dog's health? Contact us and let us know how we can help.
New York Post: Man Has All Limbs Amputated After Dog's Lick Leads to Infection, 7/31/18
Emerging Infectious Diseases: Diagnosing Capnocytophaga Canimorsus Infections, 2/06
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Do People Get Infected with Capnocytophaga? 10/16/18
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevention of Capnocytophaga Infection, 10/16/18
The New York Times: Should You Let Your Dog Lick Your Face? 10/21/16
Dogster: Ask a Trainer: How Can I Get My Dog to Stop Licking Me? 10/6/15