There 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