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Dr Zac Turner on why kissing and sharing a bed with your dog is bad for you

It’s something most dog owners do but a Sydney doctor has issued a warning to “stop it” as it could cause huge health problems.

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner debunks whether it is okay to kiss your pooch.

QUESTION: My partner loves getting up close and personal with our dog. He will give it kisses on his nose and even lets it lick his face. I always tell him off about it and say he can’t kiss me because I know he’s been kissing the dog. He tells me there’s nothing wrong with it, but I believe it’s just about the same as licking a public toilet seat. What kind of gross diseases could my partner be exposing himself to? – Aimee, 34, Victoria

ANSWER: The dog is man’s best friend but to be frank with you their other best friend are germs and diseases. Have you ever heard of the urban myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human? Most people will believe this, even after we watch our pooches eat their own sick, rotten food found in the park, and yes, lick their butts clean!

Even if you consider your pet to have immaculate hygiene, there is still a risk for transmission of diseases, pathogens, and germs. The list of transmissible diseases is too long to publish here, and you should take that bit of information as a warning. I will preface that the risk of getting sick is quite low – however for the immunocompromised among us there is a larger risk.

If you must kiss your dog and let it kiss you, there are some tricks to lower the risk of getting sick and spreading disease, but first let’s go through the science of dog germs.

Let’s learn two key words today: Zoonoses and Zoonotic. Zoonoses refer to animal diseases that can be passed on to humans. Zoonotic is how we describe animal pathogens that can cause disease. Think of a pathogen as an organism, and disease as the product of the organism.

Your dog can pass diseases, or Zoonoses, on to you by licking, biting, scratching; indirectly by carrying other infectious critters such as fleas and ticks or by shedding diseases through faeces.

Most Zoonotic pathogens in your dog’s mouth are harmless but as always there are exceptions. These include bacteria and parasites, like Salmonella, Pasteurella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Leptospira, Giardia, ringworm, and hookworm.

And guess what? They are most likely contracted through kissing or from contact with infected faeces, which can happen during cuddling. I’ve got some bad news for everyone out there that shares a bed with their pet pooch. Stop it. I always tell patients to think twice before letting their dog onto their bed, as they may be spreading these pathogens onto their sheets.

A common pathogen that is passed on to humans from their dogs is worms. Symptoms vary but they include weight loss, fatigue, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. You should visit your doctor if symptoms persist, and you begin to feel unwell.

To limit the risk of pet transmission, there are a few things to consider. After your cuddle-session with your dog, you should:

• Wash all parts of your body that you encountered with warm soapy water.

• Limit any type of kissing, but if you do try washing your mouth immediately with mouthwash.

• Regularly clean up your dog’s faeces and wash your hands immediately before touching anything else.

• Administer worming and anti-flea treatments periodically.

Aimee, I recommend you take your boyfriend through the reasons why it’s not best to kiss your dog or let it lick you. Keep the affection to a pat, and always remember to regularly wash your hands!

Got a question: askdrzac@conciergedoctors.com.au

Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.

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