Off the Leash Off the Leash

Is it OK to kiss your pet?

Pucker up for controversy.

By Vetstreet Mar 1, 2013 5:19PM

By Dr. Marty Becker

There’s a controversy in veterinary medicine that divides the profession, and it’s over something that many pet owners never give a second thought: kissing your pets. As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on this topic. Because, yes, I kiss my pets, and yes, I know I probably shouldn’t.

Photo: Should you kiss your pets? /iStockTo kiss or not to kiss

Not long ago, Dr. Christina Winn came out in favor of pet kissing in a Veterinary Economics cover piece. Dr. Winn was looking at ways to develop better communications with pet owners so pets will be more likely to get the care they need. The antikissing contingent blew her a raspberry soon after, with a letter signed by a handful of veterinarians, including my good friend Dr. Tony Johnson, a clinical assistant professor of critical care at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. Their point: It is indeed possible to catch something from such close contact with a pet.

I’ve taken this issue on, in very public ways, and I have to admit that I can see both sides. I still remember doing a segment on Good Morning America about zoonotic diseases, or those that are transmissible from animals to humans.

Looking right into the camera and pointing to my mouth for emphasis, I said, “It’s really not a good idea to let your pets kiss or lick you on the mouth.”

Upward of 4 million people heard my recommendation, and probably 3.9 million pet owners, including me, ignored my good advice. In fact, the evening after that show, I pulled into the garage at our Almost Heaven Ranch and opened the door of the pickup to Quixote, our 16-pound canine cocktail.

“Ah, you want to give daddy some sugars?” I said. And he did.

Can't help myself

Despite recent studies about the transmission of bacteria between pets and people causing dental disease, I continue to let my pets give me kisses. And I do so knowing where those mouths have been. And while I know that my pets are in the very best of health — with regular brushings and dental cleanings under anesthesia when necessary — I don’t draw the line there. I kiss my patients when I’m practicing too. Within reason, of course: Sick, scared or aggressive pets get a pass.

Kissing pets is popular, sensible or not. While disease transmission does happen now and then, it’s usually more of an annoyance (such as ringworm) than a threat. A few months ago my wife and I tapped into the furnomenon by running a kissing booth at a local dog fair to raise money for our local animal shelter. Teresa and our two 16-pound doorbells, Quixote and Quora, worked the booth for two hours, raising more than $50 in that time. That was a slurp every two-and-a-half minutes. Teresa even got a kiss from a Jack Russell terrier who rode by on his own horse. (No, I’m not making that up.)

Kiss away ... with caution

But back to the risks. Shortly after the study about the transfer of oral bacteria from pets to people came out, I talked with Dr. Richard E. Besser, a pediatrician and the former acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the current ABC News chief health and medical editor.

“What do you think about this, Dr. Becker?” he asked me, to which I replied, “When’s the last time you ever heard or read of a veterinarian dying of a zoonotic disease or having no teeth from dental disease?” 

“Exactly,” replied Dr. Besser. “I’m still kissing my dogs!”

And so am I.

More from Vetstreet:
5 popular dog breeds this veterinarian wants to see less of
5 once-popular breeds that are disappearing
Pictures: 11 unforgettable animal smiles
My dog has a gay tail. What does that mean?
A veterinarian’s surprise confession

Photo: Should you kiss your pets? /iStock

May 13, 2013 6:42PM
The highlight of my day is getting home from work and having my two little dogs jump up to kiss me on the lips. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Mar 8, 2013 12:03AM
AND, what pet owner has never shared their ice cream cone with their "fur"ever child?  Or let them lick something off a spoon and then continue to use that spoon?  Yep, ice cream and cereal milk are their favorites and I don't think twice about doing it.  But I wouldn't use someone else's toothbrush (that's just gross).  We all have our standards!
Mar 7, 2013 11:54PM

Everyone who lets their dog lick their faces should remember that dogs also lick their butts!


Mar 7, 2013 11:33PM
What's wrong with a little peck on the forehead? There's nothing there that could hurt you. I think it's kind of automatic to want to kiss your pet(s). After all they're like family right? We all kiss our family, but no tongues. 
Mar 7, 2013 6:28PM
thats gross! no its not ok!! thats exactly why I dont eat after people! kissing on animals that carry all types of feces diseases and parasites! ugh!
Mar 6, 2013 6:09AM
I'll never forget the time my best friend and room mate Mickey's black Belgaum male german sheppard named panther was licking his girlfriends private part when I walked in on him while returning home from work as a waiter in the kosher hotels of Miami Beach Fla. back in the early 70's. Now that was a real shocker known as Bestiality, I almost puked my guts out but the woman did enjoy the love licking. Gosh people can be so very disgusting
Mar 6, 2013 5:03AM
Having read the comments and replies to the comments, I have to say this. I understand how some could see it as disgusting to kiss a pet (germs, where their mouths have been, etc.), but as a pet owner myself and I'm sure 99.9% of pet owners would agree, the fur babies are more than just pets. They are family. It's just a showing of appreciation to have them in our lives and a small showing of love we develop for them. A parent wouldn't refuse to show love for their child, so why is it wrong to show a bit of the same  to what really amounts to another child in the household? (albeit a really furry child.)
Mar 6, 2013 4:55AM

i kiss my male cat all the time his name is casanova need i say more :)

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