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Dogs and dog owners share germs

January 29, 2009 | 10:58 am

Dog1There are two kinds of people: those who allow dogs to lick their faces and those who are repulsed by that. But if you allow Fido to lick your face or sleep in your bed, you're no more likely to harbor disgusting germs than pet owners who practice stricter human-pet hygiene practices.

Research by Kansas State University veterinarian Kate Stenske looked at dog owners, their dogs and the incidence of E. coli bacteria, a common bug found in the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs and humans. Stenske found that more than half of the owners allowed their dogs to sleep in their bed and lick them on the face.

"There is such a strong bond between dogs and their owners. If you look at one study, 84% of people say their dog is like a child to them," Stenske said in a news release. "We also know diseases can be shared between dogs and people. About 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic, meaning they are transferable between humans and other animals."

E. coli can cause serious health problems when it acquires genes that make it resistant to antibiotics. Stenske found that 10% of the dog-human pairs shared the same E. coli strains and that the strains had more antibiotic resistance than was expected. The owners had more multiple-drug resistant strains than their pets, which means it's more likely owners spread such strains to their pets than pets spread to their owners. While bed-sharing and face-licking didn't increase the prevalence of E. coli, owners who didn't wash their hands after petting their dogs or before cooking meals did have more antibiotic-resistant E. coli. The study is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

Future studies should explore the same relationship between cats and their owners, she suggested. "We have a lot to learn. In the meantime, we should continue to own and love our pets because they provide a source of companionship. We also need to make sure we are washing our hands often."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Kansas State University

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Comments (8)

I would be more worried about the dustmites and asthma-inducing allergens from the carpet this baby is sleeping on rather than germs passed from that beautiful German Shepherd Dog.

Two important points that got a bit buried or missed completely are 1) humans pass germs to dogs and 2) people who live super clean lives are at risk from more auto immune diseases like asthma. A few germs are good if you want to keep your immune system in good working order. I wouldn't encourage anyone to be too lax on hand washing and basic cleanliness but let's remember that humans evolved living in conditions much germier than most of us ever experience.

Dogs are the best kind of people.

Finally, a study that appears to confirm what many GOOD and RESPONSIBLE dog owners already know.....

Althought this is a very interesting article it's the picture of the dog and the baby that captured my attention. Thank you for the combination of the two. I enjoyed reading it.

Who in their right mine would allow a baby to sleep with their face on carpet that has been walked on by the bottoms of shoes from who knows where OUTSIDE.

Some people just don't seem to have the basic skills of raising a baby.

CLEAN, SAFE, all it takes. Would you lick the bottom of a shoe?

Thought not!

I'm FAR more worried about the 2-legged vermin, than pooches, cats, and the amoebic-type! The 2-legged kind can't be trained!! My dog will sit, speak, fetch, roll over! But those danged humans????

from a recent article in the BBC:

Professor Rook described an experiment carried out by a veterinary company on dogs suffering from eczema.
The dogs had been forced to eat human food and drink bottled water by their owners.
A bacterium found in the mud surrounding cowsheds was given to them and the eczema disappeared.

He said instead of focusing on the hygiene hypothesis scientists would be better advised to examine this more recent theory - the "old friends" hypothesis.


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