Dr. Dean

OK For Our Dog To Lick Our Four-Year-Old's Face?

Posting Date: 01/13/1999

Jeff: Our dog just loves to lick our four-and-a-half year old son. We have trained the dog to refrain for licking his face and hands, but he still does it once in awhile. Or, he licks the baby's bib and then the baby puts the bib in his mouth. My question is: should we worry about any diseases?

Dr. Dean: First, it does seem important that children get germs. Many studies have shown asthma rates and allergy rates are lower in kids who are dirty or who live in homes with siblings, but it is not exactly the same if they live with animals.

Germs are a part of our lives, and yet, it is a reasonable thing to fear some of them. We need germs for life. They exist throughout our bodies, on our bodies, and everywhere. There is a balance.

A bacteriological study of dog and cat bites found all kinds of germs that will not grow in humans, but the germs that did grow showed some pretty wild things coming from dog and cat mouths. Perhaps they were not as bad as in a human bite, but still pretty bad.

Dogs and cats can transmit parasites to humans, which is a concern. There are parasites like Toxocara canis, a very nasty, yet common parasite which can be picked up from eating dirt in the backyard where a dog or cat was many years ago.

Cats can cause all kinds of problems that you just don't want to know about, but dogs licking kids has never really been studied. Probably it's okay most of the time. Of course, when you think about the other things dogs lick and where they put their noses, it's not very pleasing.

The main thing is to make sure your dog is healthy. If you have a puppy, you should get shots at the vet, and deworm them.

I am not recommending that dogs lick kids faces. It is inappropriate behavior for a trained dog to do that. You train a dog to be a member of the family, and both sides give a little in the process. The dog has to give up a little of its dogness, and you have to give up a little human beingness.