Should I let my dog lick my baby? It’s an interesting question, and one I’ve had to ask myself when bringing our baby home earlier this year. Opinions, and even research, seem to have come to different outcomes. Whilst no one will really argue that a dogs mouth can play host to an array of parasites and bacteria, people easily forget that the extent to which this is true is highly dependent on the dog, and their behaviour. Things like their diet, whether it’s raw meat or dry food, have they been wormed and treated for fleas, or even whether they’ve just been eating something the cat left in the garden, all play a role in the amount of bacteria found in their mouth.
Research also indicates that the main risk in a dog actually passing any bacterial or parasitic infection would come from a fecal-oral pathway. That is, if the dog has licked its anus, or eaten any faeces and then licked your mouth, then there is a chance that these harmful diseases may be passed.
Ironically though, research shows that dog saliva may hold wound healing properties. There has been a chemical called histatins identified that speeds up wound healing and also promotes the spread and migration of new cells. Other research has shown that nitric oxide is created when saliva contacts the skin which inhibits bacterial growth. And finally, researchers from the University of Florida isolated a protein called Nerve Growth Factor that halves the time of wound healing. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were on to something.
For me, I personally let my dogs lick my face. To a certain extent I almost find it therapeutic. Our one dog Elsie has a knack for knowing when you’re upset and would love nothing more than licking the tears from your eyes. Yes, some people say it’s disgusting, but I like it, and I honestly don’t care.
Of course, that’s me. And I have a fully developed immune system. A baby, however, does not. In regards to Isabelle, we were much stricter with the dogs in the beginning. We would of course be holding Isabelle any time they got near her, and we would immediately push them back if they gave a lick. These days, with Isabelle now crawling around, it’s much harder. But then the dogs don’t quite care as much as before, and Isabelle can probably handle a few more licks.
In terms of my health, I am very rarely ever ill. Is this down to being licked by my dogs? Probably not. But does it help? Maybe it does. My point being, I haven’t had any detrimental effects from being licked by my dogs, so I like to think that Isabelle will be similar to that. People do think that having your dog lick your baby can lead to aggressive behaviour, but I simply see it as them accepting her. Of course we watch them, and still never leave them to ‘babysit’.
Personally, I feel that having a dog lick your child is a little bit like letting them play in the mud and dirt outdoors, at least as they grow older. Sure, if you tested the mud there would likely be some sort of parasite or bacteria, or something harmful. But this is also how we develop and grow resistance to these diseases. Research even indicates that babies from families with pets, 70% of which were dogs, showed higher levels of two types of microbes associated with lower risks of allergic diseases and obesity. This is probably more to do with being around dogs than having them actually lick you, though, but still, the research clearly shows a health benefit from dogs.
But when it comes to babies, having a dog lick their mouths is obviously going to be unwise, as they get older and their immune system becomes less fragile, then perhaps you can be a little more liberal with those licks, which is where we are now.
My view is that a certain level of exposure can simply make us stronger, which is supported by the above research. But please do not inject your child with E. Coil to help them protect themselves from future diseases. I am not liable if you decide to do that.
If you want a little advice on ways to introduce your baby to your dog, then funnily enough I have a post about that here.