Most of us have heard the phrase, “A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s,” but there are studies that prove to let a dog lick your face is extremely unwise. If it’s dangerous to allow a dog to lick an adult’s face, imagine the risk involved when a baby’s face is covered in dog licks.
Growing up misinformed about what a dog’s lick could mean has caused us to mistakenly find it endearing when our family dog “kisses” our babies and children. The truth is that a dog’s mouth houses a number of germs that can be very harmful to humans.
The danger doesn’t stop with the illnesses that could be passed from dog to baby, though. Allowing your dog to lick your baby increases the possibility of bad behavior in the future.
So, why exactly should the dog not lick the baby and how can you prevent it?
Reason #1: Basic Hygiene
If you have a dog, you know exactly how dogs behave. They are known to eat garbage and feces. They lick their own bottoms, and they don’t brush their teeth. Even if you give your dog some kind of dental dog bone, it will not remove the germs ingested when a dog comes in contact with waste.
Babies and young children have not had a chance to build up their immune systems; therefore, coming in contact with unhygienic dog mouths is more dangerous for them. Germs that wouldn’t harm an adult or older child can be a very serious threat to young children with undeveloped immune systems.
Some argue that it’s good for babies and young children to have early exposure to germs in order to strengthen their immune system faster. However, using the treasure trove of unknown germs in a dog’s mouth as the exposure is extreme.
If you are still not quite willing to believe that dogs are, well, actually kind of gross. Pay close attention to your dog for a day. Watch what he eats. Watch what he plays in. Observe what he puts in his mouth. By the end of the day, you’ll understand why a dog’s mouth has no place on a baby’s face!
Some common germs that live in the mouths of dogs are:
- E. Coli
- Bacteria that cause gum disease
E. Coli is one of the most known germs humans are warned about. Normally, it is ingested by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked meat. This bacteria can easily be transferred from a dog to a baby or young child.
Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, pain, and tenderness, nausea, and vomiting. Infection with E. Coli can quickly become life-threatening for an infant because they dehydrate extremely fast.
This bacteria will live on the body until there is an open wound that it can enter. It enters the open wound and causes infection, and the infection can quickly turn serious for an infant.
Called staph for short, it most commonly infects the skin. Staph infections will be red, swollen, and painful pimples or boils. Once a staph infection sets in, if it isn’t treated fast and properly, it can turn into impetigo or cellulitis – both of which are very harmful to babies.
This bacteria causes strep throat in humans. Strep throat, even though it is well-known and can be treated with medicine, is incredibly painful and will cause lots of discomfort in an infant. It is also highly contagious and will infect the entire family very quickly.
Strep throat is a nasty throat infection that has the following symptoms: sudden and extreme throat pain, pain with swallowing, red and swollen tonsils that can develop white patches or pus streaks, red spots in back of mouth and on palette, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, rash, nausea, vomiting, and body aches.
Bacteria that Causes Gum Disease
There are various bacteria in a dog’s mouth that can cause gum disease. It is harmful to subject infants to this bacteria because it can attack their gums before they have even formed teeth.
Reason #2: Zoonotic Diseases
A zoonotic disease is an infection or disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Normally, the risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from your dog is rather low, but for young children and babies who can not or do not practice proper hygiene when handling dogs, like washing their hands thoroughly, the risk of catching a zoonotic disease is higher.
Some zoonotic diseases that dogs carry are:
This zoonotic disease lives in the intestines of dogs and is passed through feces. Humans most often become infected with salmonellosis because of contaminated water or food.
However, an infected dog that has come into contact with his infected feces can transfer the bacteria to a baby or young child easily, especially by licking their faces.
Salmonellosis can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, and bloody stool. After suffering from this illness, it could take months before bowels return to normal. Some strains of this bacteria can produce more serious illnesses, like typhoid fever.
This zoonotic illness affects the skin, eyes, lymph nodes, and lungs. It is spread by direct exposure to the infected dog. In the case of the dog’s licking human baby’s faces, tularemia could be very easily transmitted.
There are multiple forms of this disease, but the most common form is ulceroglandular tularemia. Symptoms of this form of tularemia include skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph nodes, fever, chills, headache, and exhaustion.
Glandular tularemia manifests with the same symptoms as ulceroglandular tularemia except there are no skin ulcers. Oculoglandular tularemia affects the eyes, causing eye pain, redness, swelling, and discharge, an ulcer inside the eyelid, and sensitivity to light.
If diagnosed early, tularemia can be successfully treated with specific antibiotics. So, if you believe you are infected, see a doctor immediately.
This zoonotic disease is spread through infected urine. The infected urine can contaminate water and soil as well, and it can survive for weeks and months. The bacteria that causes this disease is transmitted to humans through their skin and mucous membranes in their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Leptospirosis, unfortunately, cause a wide range of symptoms that are rather hard to diagnose. They include high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rash.
This disease can also have two phases, with the second phase causing more severe symptoms like kidney failure or meningitis. Additionally, some infected humans show no symptoms at all.
Leptospirosis can last up to 3 weeks or even longer, and if it is not treated properly, recovery can take many months.
This is a zoonotic disease that can be life-threatening for babies and young children. It is spread through the feces of infected dogs, and it can contaminate and survive in food and water.
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis are fever and headache followed by diarrhea, cramps, and abdominal pain. In babies under one year of age, this disease can cause more serious symptoms like toxic megacolon, dehydration, and sepsis.
In most cases, this illness will go away on its own and simply requires management of the symptoms and replenishment of fluids and electrolytes. In a more serious case, antibiotics can be used.
The Danger of Zoonotic Diseases and Babies
There is an extremely high risk of an infected dog transmitting a zoonotic disease to a baby when licking its face. While most zoonotic illnesses are not fatal, illness in infants is not the same as an illness in general.
For instance, a regular bout of diarrhea can dehydrate a baby within hours and have them hospitalized, connected to IV fluids. Imagine an infant contracting salmonellosis and having the kind of diarrhea associated with gastroenteritis. It can be deadly.
Babies do not have the same immune defenses that adults do. It is vital to keep them away from all considerably harmful germs that we can.
Reason #3: Worms
Not only do dogs carry the threat of zoonotic diseases, but they also can be hosts for various parasites, like worms.
Some parasitic worm infections in dogs are:
- Dog tapeworm
Dipylidium, commonly called dog tapeworm, can enter both dogs and humans if they swallow an infected flea that houses the tapeworm larvae. Children are much more likely to become infected with this tapeworm.
For both infected dogs and humans, you will see proglottids, which look like pieces of rice, in their bowel movements or around their anus. In a child, the proglottids can also fall into his or her underwear (or diaper for a baby).
The only way to prevent this tapeworm is to control fleas on your pet and inside and outside of your home. Luckily, both dogs and children can be treated with a medication that will dissolve these tapeworms inside of the intestine.
There are four different hookworm species that can infect dogs, and all of them can be transmitted to humans. Dogs will pass the eggs of these hookworms in their feces. The contaminated feces can infect the ground and soil where it was dropped.
Humans can become infected by walking on the contaminated ground while barefoot or by sitting on contaminated soil. The larvae enter the body through the skin and cause cutaneous larva migrans, or CLM. CLM is a condition in which the larvae move through the skin, causing inflammation and discomfort.
The larva inside a human suffering from CLM will die off in about 6 weeks. In the meantime, there are treatments that can help lessen symptoms and make sure no other bacterial infections form.
Toxocara canis is the roundworm species that infect dogs. It causes toxocariasis in both dogs and humans, and it is actually one of the five targeted parasitic diseases that the CDC has marked for public health action.
Children are more often infected with roundworms than adults. The parasites spread through the environment, infecting dogs and humans that unknowingly swallow their eggs. Some may not show any symptoms. However, there are two major forms of toxocariasis, and they each have their own sets of symptoms.
Visceral toxocariasis manifests as fever, coughing, enlarged liver, and pneumonia because of larvae traveling through the liver, lungs, and central nervous system. Ocular toxocariasis happens when larvae infect the eye, usually only one eye, and causes inflammation and scarring. It can even blind.
Doctors can treat these infections with antiparasitic drugs, but ocular toxocariasis is much more difficult to treat than visceral toxocariasis.
Reason #4: Behavioral Issues
Often, we think it is “precious” and “adorable” when our dog licks our new baby or young children, commenting on how they are “protective” or “puppy moms.” But is this really what we want our dogs to feel toward our babies and young children?
Think about how a dog treats its own young. It carries it by the neck with its teeth. It growls at almost anyone that comes near its young, and it will attack when it feels like its young is being threatened.
Further than how a dog treats its own young, dogs can feel jealousy when someone new is brought into the family, as well. So, a new baby that is taking lots of attention away from the dog can cause issues. We have to remember that, while our dogs are parts of our families and we love them completely, they are still animals with animal instincts.
Introducing a Dangerous Dynamic
While it may look like love when a dog licks a baby’s face, it usually means that a dog is asserting dominance. It’s licking the baby, saying that the baby is its property. There is a dangerous dynamic that is introduced when a dog is allowed to believe that an infant is his to protect.
Dogs are very protective. We see this in our dogs even without babies and young children around. They will bark when someone comes to the door. They will even attack when they feel like their owners are truly being threatened.
The bottom line is that you do not want your dog to form a parental or protector relationship with your baby. It will foster risky, harmful behavior in the future.
How Do I Stop my Dog from Licking my Baby’s Face?
The best way to prevent any learned behavior is not to allow it to start. However, I know that some people may read this article and realize that they have allowed their dog to form this kind of relationship with their infant and desire to reverse that.
According to Wagwalking.com, there are three methods that can be used to train a dog to not lick your infant’s face. They are:
- The Leave It Method
- The Extinguish Licking Method
- The Alternate Behavior Method
The Leave It Method
This method relies on verbal commands and rewards for compliance.
Step 1 – Present a Treat.
Present a treat to your dog, then demand that he leave the treat. Put your hand over the treat, tell the dog to “leave it,” and wait until your dog stops searching for the treat. Say “leave it” one more time and provide a different treat for your dog.
Step 2 – Leave Treats on the Floor.
Once your dog has mastered Step 1, leave various little treats on the floor. Command your dog to “leave it.” When your dog fully ignores all little treats on the floor, reward him with a different, better treat.
Step 3 – Practice the Method in Different Places.
Practice using the command “leave it” in different areas of your house and while on walks with your dog. Make sure you have treats with you to reward compliance.
Step 4 – Apply Method to Licking the Baby.
Watch as your dog approaches your baby. As soon as the dog starts to lick your child, command “leave it.”
Step 5 – Vary Your Rewards.
When your dog listens to the “leave it” command as it pertains to licking your baby, give him a treat and lots of verbal praise and physical affection – like pets and hugs. After a while of using different types of reward, you will only have to praise him when he doesn’t lick your baby instead of also giving treats each time.
The Extinguish Licking Method
This method requires ignoring the dog when he licks and physically removing him away from the baby until he learns not to lick the child.
Step 1 – Ignore the Licking.
Let every person that lives in your home and visits your home know about this training method. Any time that your dog licks anyone that is in the home, ignore the dog completely until it leaves.
Step 2 – Reinforce not Licking.
When your dog has completely stopped licking and moved on to different behavior, give him a reward.
Step 3 – Physically Remove the Dog From the Baby.
If your dog licks the baby, completely remove him from the baby’s area by putting him in a different room, sitting him on a mat or in an area away from the baby, or blocking him from getting to the baby. The tactic you use here will depend on the dog’s insistence on licking the baby.
Step 4 – Reward the Dog for not Licking the Baby.
The goal of Step 3 is to train the dog to be able to sit next to the baby or on a mat next to the baby and not lick the baby. Once your dog can do this, give him a treat.
Step 5 – Be Consistent.
Start at Step 1 and continue to use the steps to remove opportunities that your dog will lick people. Each time your dog completes a new non-licking training, reward him.
The Alternate Behavior Method
This method involves distraction and teaching different behaviors for your dog to do in the place of licking to make him forget about licking the baby altogether.
Step 1 – Teach an Alternate Behavior.
Teach your dog an activity that does not allow him to lick while performing it like “roll over” or “lay down.” As your dog learns and masters these actions, reward him his treats. Make sure he can consistently perform the actions before moving to the next step.
Step 2 – Carefully Supervise the Dog.
If your dog starts to approach your baby, watch him very closely.
Step 3 – Distract the Dog from Licking.
If your dog starts to lick your baby, distract him and remove his attention from the baby.
Step 4 – Command the Dog to Do Other Behaviors.
Give him the command to “rollover” or “lay down” that you trained him to do, and give him a reward if he does it.
Step 5 – Continue.
Continue distracting your dog from licking the baby with other learning activities and rewards. Eventually, your dog will stop associating your baby with licking.
Other Methods for Getting Your Dog to Stop Licking
If you do not have the time to dedicate to the step by step methods of discouraging licking behavior in your dog, you can try the following methods:
- Verbal Discouragement – When your dog licks you, you can simply say “No!” or “Nope!” or another negative word in a firm, strict voice. Move whatever part of the body he licked away from him. Completely getting up and moving away after verbally discouraging the dog can be helpful as well. If your dog has gotten used to licking, he may follow and continue to lick you for a bit, and you will have to use verbal discouragement over and over.
- Verbal Discouragement for Dogs that Don’t Get It – Some dogs may not understand that you are trying to discourage them from licking. Some may believe you are playing a game. If your dog is one of them, when he licks you, say “No!” or “Nope!” in your firm, strict voice, but then physically get up and very dramatically storm off into another room and close the door behind you, leaving your dog alone. Stay in the other room for at 30 seconds to make sure your dog realizes it isn’t a game.
- Create Positive Attention with Another Task – Similar to the Alternate Behavior Method, this method encourages teaching the different dog tricks and rewarding him on his journey toward mastering the tricks. It distracts the dog from licking, and you can command the dog to do the trick to distract him from any behavior you’d rather him not do. You can teach things like shake, roll over, sit up, lie down, and more! This method helps prevent your dog from licking with a positive affirmation.
Every single dog is different. If all dogs were the same, we wouldn’t need more than one method to make a dog stop licking! The one thing you must remember is this: if your dog has been rewarded or allowed to lick in the past, it will be harder to break him of the habit. Be patient when attempting to have your dog unlearn licking.
How Can My Family and I Protect Ourselves from Dog Germs and Illnesses
The downside of reading this article is that you are now aware of all the germs and diseases that can be passed from your dog to a human, and the list is rather scary. However, basic hygiene and proper pet care can keep help keep your risk of contracting a sickness from your dog very low.
Some safety precautions that can prevent illness transmitted by dogs are:
- Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up after your pet, especially if you can into contact with urine or feces. Use antibacterial soap.
- Do not clean up after your pet, especially if the cleanup includes urine or feces if you have an open cut or wound on your hands or arms.
- Clean up after your pet when you take him on walks and after he plays in the yard. This means to pick up any droppings he leaves. Feces can contaminate soil and leave bacteria on cement.
- Make sure that your dog has regular heartworm, flea, and tick control. It is also wise to use preventative measures against and do periodic treatments for ticks and fleas inside and outside of your home.
- If you own a puppy, make sure he is in a program for deworming. Puppies are more likely to develop worms.
- Have your dog checked for parasites on a regular basis. This not only prevents sickness from traveling to your family, but it also ensures that your dog remains healthy.
Dogs are “man’s best friend!” They are the favorite companion of so many people, but they are animals. We must remember that they are animals because it reminds us that they can be harmful to humans.
Young children, especially infants, are helpless. They do not have the physical strength to defend themselves, nor do they have a strong enough immune system to defend them from sickness. Babies rely on us to protect them – even if that means protecting them from the family dog.
There are many behaviors that must be taught on both sides of a child and pet relationship. However, the very first, and possibly most important lesson, should be taught to your dog upon bringing home your new baby. That lesson is to not lick the baby – or anyone else.