If you're a pet owner, you've heard the famous saying, "A dog's mouth is cleaner than a person's mouth." You might have even uttered it yourself!
While it might feel comforting to say this familiar adage, is it really true?
Are dogs mouths clean and if not, what's inside of them? Before you give your pet pooch a smack on the lips, read on. Today, we're exploring what really lies behind Fido's mischievous grin.
Are Dogs Mouths Clean? The Short Answer
Let's get straight to the answer.
No! Your dog's mouth is not sparkling clean, and it's certainly no fresher than yours. In fact, researchers have discovered that there are hundreds of unique bacterial species taking up residence in his saliva. Moreover, that same saliva can also be home to various kinds of parasites.
Specifically, there are about 600 different species of bacteria in your pup's mouth. While that number might sound shocking, consider that humans have even more, clocking in at about 615 different species and counting.
If those germs are transmitted to you, they can cause a range of medical conditions. To stay on the safe side, it's best to stick to snuggles, not kisses!
The Most Prevalent Kinds of Bacteria
It's estimated that only 2% of dog owners brush their pet's teeth on a daily basis, despite their veterinarian's recommendations. Failing to perform this simple task can lead to more than just a bad case of halitosis.
It can also cause plaque and biofilm to build up on your dog's teeth over time, which can lead to dental disease. If your dog has any form of dental disease (including mild), this can automatically introduce bacteria into his mouth. Other factors that help control the amount and kind of bacteria present include:
- His diet
- His genetics
- His oral hygiene
- His environment
Knowing this, it helps to understand what you're dealing with. Next, let's take a look at a few of the most prominent kinds of bacteria lurking in your dog's slobber.
Pasteurella are a genus of zoonotic bacteria. This means they can be transmitted between animals and humans. They naturally inhabit your dog's skin, digestive tract and oral cavity and don't usually cause him any harm. Yet, under the right conditions, they can wreak havoc.
If the bacteria spread between dogs (via coughing, sneezing or bite wounds), it can cause a variety of diseases, including infection in the:
- Nasal cavity
- Chest cavity
- Brain covering
In addition, Pasteurella can lead to pneumonia in dogs. If you're exposed to it, you can experience severe skin infections.
A few of the most common types of intestinal bacteria present in dogs include:
- E. coli
In many cases, your dog could be infected with these bacteria but not show any symptoms. Yet, they remain on their feces. Then, if you pick up after him and your hands come into contact with those feces, you can transmit the bacteria into your body via oral contact.
What do these bacteria have to do with your pup's mouth? It's no secret that dogs tend to lick their anus, especially when those glands are impacted or agitated. When this happens, those bacteria can transmit from one location to the next.
You might have heard of Bartonella henselae indirectly as "cat-scratch disease".
Yet, while this proteobacterium is the causative agent behind this affliction, it can also affect dogs.
How? It contaminates their feces through infected lice, ticks and fleas, which can lead to bacteria in their mouth. While cat scratches can lead to human contamination, research remains unclear on whether the same holds true with canines.
That's a cute tongue you got there! Might not be that clean though...
Where Do the Rest of the Germs Come From?
Now we've covered the simple question, "Are dogs mouths cleaner than humans?" Still, if the answer is "no", then where do the rest of those germs come from?
After all, your dog isn't exactly foraging in the wild. He's house-trained and lives a plush life, so his mouth shouldn't be that dirty, right? Turns out, it's exposed to more bacteria than you might think.
During the course of an average day, your dog's mouth comes into contact with a variety of surfaces and materials, including:
That's because this species is used to using its mouth to perform a wide variety of actions! In addition to eating and drinking, your dog might use his to:
- Scratch a stubborn itch
- Fetch a toy
- Remove bugs, debris, or mats from their coat
- Lick a wound
- Bark and express affection
- Clean himself
Any of these actions can expose his mouth to a plethora of new germs that weren't there before.
This is especially the case with that last bullet. Like cats, dogs are used to licking themselves in a self-cleaning ritual. While it's a harmless behavior most of the time, it can quickly turn into a disgusting and dangerous one if their mouth comes into contact with a wound or surgical site.
In this case, it can cause the wound to become infected, which can lead to topical infections and internal health problems. That's why it's always best to leave a cone on your pup if he's had a wound treated at the vet!
Can I Contract My Dog's Germs?
As we've mentioned above, there are some instances in which you can come into contact with germs that live in your dog's mouth. However, it's important to notice that this contamination usually comes after you handle your dog's feces or are scratched by your furry pal.
For the most part, it's uncommon to swap diseases with your dog orally.
That's because, with the exception of Pasteurella, most of the bacteria that live in your dog's mouth are not zoonotic. In other words, a majority of them are incapable of passing from animals to humans.
That means you're generally free to give your dog a big kiss without fear of becoming infected or inflicted with a disease. Of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions.
If your dog sticks to a raw diet, he's at a greater risk of contracting salmonella. In addition, if he's used to getting into your kitty's litter box, he could be exposed to a variety of bacteria that live in her feces. In both cases, it's best to avoid direct mouth-to-mouth contact with your pup, however cute he might be!
Maintaining Your Dog's Oral Hygiene
Now that we know a little more about what's behind his smile, let's talk about a few ways you can keep your dog's mouth as clean as possible. After all, while you might not actively lean in for a kiss, you never know when he's going to deliver a slobbery wake-up call, and you need to be prepared!
If you don't fall into that aforementioned 2% of pet owners, it's time to start brushing your dog's teeth. Today, there are many tools and accessories you can buy to make this process a lot easier and quicker than it sounds. In addition to the work you do at home, it's also helpful to bring him into your vet's office for regular dental cleanings and check-ups.
Taking these simple precautions can help you identify any issues with your dog's mouth. It can also help ward periodontal disease, so his gums are always as healthy as possible.
If your dog is just a puppy, start brushing his teeth early. This will get him used to the routine and help set healthy habits, right from the very beginning. When you do so, make sure to only use toothpaste and toothbrushes designed for canine teeth. Human toothpaste might smell and look more pleasant, but it contains ingredients, such as xylitol, that can be extremely toxic to your dog.
Stay Clean and Confident
By now, we've taken an in-depth look at the simple question, "Are dogs mouths clean?" As you've seen, the answer is far from straightforward. Depending on your dog's habits, diet, environment, and other factors, the number and degree of bacteria present can differ greatly.
Naturally, you want to keep your dog's mouth as sanitary as possible. Doing so can help him live a longer, more comfortable life free of oral afflictions that can affect his entire physical makeup. In addition, making his oral hygiene a priority also keeps you safe! This way, if you do encounter the occasional, impromptu kisses from your pup, you won't have to think twice.
What Is Actually In Your Dog's Food?
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