Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dog Blog

As I was chopping okra and peeling tomatoes for a summer gumbo last evening, the dog's chicken with green beans* was gently simmering on a back burner and I got to thinkin'...

Random Thoughts about Sleeping with Man's Best Friend and Other Practices
Don't you hate it when people kiss their dogs on the mouth or accept their doggy 'kisses' on the lips while saying stuff like, "Good doggie, mama wuvs you"? I'm sorry, I know people relate to their animals in myriad different ways, but really?! Not to be all Lucy about it, but I know what my dog eats and how he cleans himself. As a kid we heard (although not from my folks), "a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's."  Again, really ?! So I looked it up. Among others, Life's Little Mysteries (who passes no judgement on the pet kissing practice) tackled the canine oral cleanliness myth and found, "In short, a dog’s mouth is besieged by its own legions of germs, roughly as huge in population as those living in the human mouth and causing a similar array of dental illnesses."

pucker up? "no thanks, human,
I don't know where that mouth has been."
Before I could say, "See?!?!," I ran across an article from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about diseases that can pass from pets to humans through kissing, being licked by, and sharing a bed with them. Here's the introduction to Zoonosis in the Bedroom (Chomel and Sun; 2011), "In most industrialized countries, pets are becoming an integral part of households, sharing human lifestyles, bedrooms, and beds. The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs and cats on their beds is 14%–62%. However, public health risks, including increased emergence of zoonoses, may be associated with such practices." 

While I don't play kissy-face with our animals (for the record, three cats and a dog), the cats do sleep with us. gulp. And I get the occasional the-cat-will-clean-that-spot-for-you licks, I get drooled on pretty regularly and my pants get mistaken for a tissue...what kind of risk are we talking about?

"Zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon. However, severe cases of C. canimorsus infection or plague in humans have been documented. More zoonotic agents that are transmitted by kissing a pet or being licked by a pet have been identified, especially zoonotic pathogens that are commensal in the oral cavity of carnivores, such as Pasteurella spp. and C. canimorsus."  Oh look! The article has a list of diseases you can catch from your dog, cat, rabbit, and other kissable, cuddly critters...can you say, Pasteurellosis?** Cryptosporidiosis? Plague! (Here in the Southwest we know about that one.)

They conclude, "Although uncommon with healthy pets, the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real ... Carriage of ectoparasites or internal parasites is certainly of major concern when it comes to this type of behavior. To reduce such risks, pet owners should seek regular veterinary care for their pets."

I'm not an alarmist germaphobe who hates animals and I appreciate the full range of benefits that come with having pets in one's life, I'm just informing myself (and you, Intrepid Reader) about the consequences of some of our behaviors that might, on the surface, seem trivial. Just as I won't be kicking the cats off the bed I don't imagine people who feed treats to their animals mouth-to-mouth or get lick-y kisses all over their face are going to discontinue those practices either. As the authors point out, the slight risks can be mitigated by making sure that your animals are healthy. So do that.

And for my part, the next time I see that kind of wuvy-dovy kissing going on between pets and their owners I'll park the snark and inquire about the health of pet, "What a gorgeous dog! Who's your vet?"

This Stochastic public service announcement is brought to you by:

*No, we're not those kinds of people. This is a pragmatic choice: when chicken is $.87/lb and the green beans are free, this is a cheap way to supplement the dog's regular kibble, especially during hunting season when he's working his tail off. 
**Me neither... not the point.

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