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Want to avoid sharing germs with your dog? Wash your hands (but it's OK to let him sleep in your bed)

Research shows that dog owners who allow their dogs to lick their faces and sleep in their beds are no more likely to harbor bacteria like E. coli Touchy-feely dog owners -- those who share food with their pets and allow them to sleep in their beds and lick their faces -- can rest easy knowing the findings of a recent study by Kansas State University veterinarian Kate Stenske.

Stenske looked at the incidence of the E. coli bacteria in both dogs and their owners.  Studies show that more than half of dog owners fell into the face-licking camp, she says -- and, fortunately for them, they were no more likely to harbor the bacteria than those who employed, as our colleague Shari Roan at the Booster Shots blog put it, "stricter human-pet hygiene practices."  From Roan's story:

"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.

So far, Stenske's research has been limited to the human-dog bond, but she says future research might focus on the relationship between cat ownership and shared E. coli. 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

 
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