February 6, 2019

How Clean is My Dog's Mouth, Really?

Everyone has that one friend who lets their dog lick their necks, their face, and (shudder), even their mouths. When side-eyed, these people inevitably retort with, "Dog mouths are cleaner than human mouths, anyway. Everyone knows that!" But is it true? If you've ever looked at your farty, drooly dog and wondered if his mouth really was cleaner than your own, here's what you should know.

With Germs, Type is More Important than Amount

Germs are germs, right? Well, not exactly. Germs aren't universal in the sense that every germ gets everybody sick (or not sick) in the same way. C. canimorsusfor example, is a germ commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats. It doesn't make our furry friends sick but in rare cases, it can cause humans to become very sick - some have even died. The germs your dog is carrying around in his mouth could hurt you, even if he has "fewer" germs in his mouth than you do. (How many germs are in a dog's mouth varies drastically by the size, health, and age of the dog.) This isn't anecdotal, it's proven. Somewhere between 10-15% of dog bites to humans eventually become infected each year.

So, Is My Dog's Mouth Really "Cleaner?"

Eh, probably not. It really depends on your definition of "clean." Consider going through your whole day, touching subway poles and picking up a dirty dollar bill off the ground, then eating a sandwich without washing your hands. Sounds gross, right? Well, dogs' mouths basically act as their hands, so allowing a dog to lick you right in the face isn't exactly hygeinic by human standards. Do you need to religiously disinfect everything in your house your dog's mouth touches? No. You should clean all your dog's things and anything your dog comes in contact with on a regular basis, but only in the same way you clean your own stuff. The only exceptions are dog items that are porous - rope toys, dog beds, squeaky stuffed animals - which should be totally disinfected or replaced at least once every few months. The moist, humid environment they create is like a rave for bacteria.

Oral Hygiene Matters (A Lot)

So, is it always unsafe for you to come into contact with your dog's saliva? Well, not exactly. Healthy dogs' mouths have far, far fewer levels of unhealthy bacteria. Just like for people, regular brushings and teeth cleanings can help keep your dog's mouth as clean as possible. If you ever notice an unusually offputting smell coming from your dog's mouth, there are likely bad bacteria present. Gum disease is actually one of the leading medical diagnoses for dogs. If your dog's teeth and gums become infected, he's likely to have trouble eating. Once he loses teeth to rot or extraction, it's even more difficult for him to take in the nutrients he needs to be at optimal health. Regular dental care from a vet is critical for keeping your dog healthy and for keeping bad bacteria out of your shared environment.

Questions about your dog's dental hygiene? 

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