If you kiss your dog, you're not alone. A 2019 survey by Riley's Organics dog treat company showed that 52% of people kiss their dogs more than their partners and 61% kiss their dogs on the mouth. Perhaps it's because 94% of participants considered their canine companion to be their best friend. But should we be kissing our dogs? Is it okay to kiss dogs? It's a personal decision, of course, but it's a good idea to consider both health and behavior before puckering up for some puppy kisses.
It's a myth that dog saliva is cleaner than human saliva. There are plenty of bacteria in a canine's mouth and there is a very small risk of transmission when your dog kisses your face. Our skin protects us from most germs (including those in your dog's mouth), so there's a greater risk of transmission if your dog licks your mouth, nose, ears or wounds. Fortunately, though, the bacteria in your dog's mouth really doesn't present a big health risk.
Parasites are also not a big health risk, as transmission is possible but very unlikely. In fact, most bacterial and parasitic infections that do occur are via a fecal-oral route. This means that your pup would have to lick or eat his own or another dog's feces and then lick you for a potential transmission. Furthermore, most parasites need to mature to become infective, so it would've had to be feces that was more than a day old. Viruses, on the other hand, tend to not be transmissible between canines and humans with the exception of a few (such as rabies).
All this is to say that, in general, it's really not common for humans to become sick from smooching their pup. The risk of infection is highest for babies and very young children, the elderly, immunosuppressed individuals (such as people on chemotherapy) and those who do not have healthy immune systems.
Pro Tip: Keep these risks even lower with annual fecal exams, appropriate anti-parasite treatment, regular deworming, washing your hands after handling your dog's poop, feeding your dog safe food and washing produce you plan to eat.
You'll also need to take into account your dog's behavior. Many dogs don't like hugs, but do they like kisses? Kissing is not a natural behavior for dogs, but rather a learned one. It can also be a sensory one, which simply means you have a scent or taste on your face that they want to explore. The behavior that most resembles kissing for dogs is when they lick each other's faces. But that's usually to indicate a desire to play or submissive social status.
The best way to determine if your dog likes kisses is to observe his or her behavior. Your dog is likely okay with kisses if he or she stays relaxed and comfortable, does not change the position of their tail, has perked-up or relaxed ears, or even leans in. On the other hand, any signs of distress or discomfort means your dog doesn't like kisses. These signs include tensing up, pulling back, looking away, ducking, dropped or tucked tail, pinned back ears, growling, baring teeth or other signs of anxiety. In these cases, the decision is easy and it's best to find another way to show affection to your dog.
As long as your dog enjoys it, it's truly pretty safe kiss your dog. The only reservation you may have is knowing that your dog could have been nose-deep in something unpleasant. However, even that won't stop some of us from getting in our puppy kisses.