Cats wash themselves very often, and dogs love to lick us, their human companions, to show their love of course, but how many bacteria are in a lick, and is it harmful to all of us?
In some tests, scientists found nearly a million live bacteria on each gram of cat hair, but we have stroked cats for many years and been fine right?
Here is a case we might consider, maybe this doesn’t apply to all of us, but could it? – Julie McKenna came to the hospital, back in 2007, in Mildura, Australia, she could hardly speak. Her arms and legs were cold and her face was going purple.
Julie was in septic shock, said the doctors, bacteria in her bloodstream were multiplying poisoning her. Even after she had antibiotics the purple color kept spreading, her organs were failing her. Parts of her arms were starting to turn black!
Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria found in the saliva of healthy dogs and cats was the cause, it was two whole weeks before doctors found this out…
It was then that Julie realized that she burnt her left foot with hot water a few week before she became sick, it wasn’t a bad burn she remembers. The little fox terrier licked it better for her!
Most of us don’t really think about whats in our pets saliva, or what it could do to us, normally our immune system and a layer of skin is our barrier to these germs, but if there is a break in the barrier, thats when the trouble can start!
Animal bits can be serious, 10-15% of dog bites can become infects and 50% of cat bites too. The end result can be fatal. A total of around 25% of people with confirmed C. canimorsus infections died.
Scientists are now identifying many potential pathogens in our pets slobbery or scratchy lick!
In Julie’s case the antibiotics saved her life but not before her left leg below the knee and part of her right foot had to be cut off, it didn’t stop there she also lost every one of her fingers and toes.
“It’s changed my life in every aspect”
Following are a few of the myths about our pets’ mouths and the reality of what coats them, and us, with each pass of their tongue:
Actually, says Floyd Dewhirst, a bacterial geneticist at the Forsyth Institute and professor of oral medicine at Harvard; one of the biggest reasons we could get infections from our pets, is that our bacterial ecosystems are so different from each other.
“If you look at humans and dogs, we only saw about 15 percent that are the same species”
“Part of that may be what the bacteria evolved to eat”
In Human mouths, they are dominated by streptococcal bacteria, which are excellent at consuming sugars. For dogs and cats, they don’t eat these sugars so don’t have many streptococcal bacteria. The oral microbes of cats and dogs, in comparison, overlap by about 50 percent.
Dewhirst says that a single lick can put untold millions of these unfamiliar bacteria on us, on our skin, and if we are compromised, our skin or immune defenses or both it could be very serious!
“So, if you’re licked by a dog, and someone were to take a Q-tip five hours later and rub that spot, they could recover over 50 different species of dog-mouth bacteria”
History is packed with folklore telling us that canine saliva can heal us rather than harm us. Dogs supposedly licked wounds at the ancient Greek temple of Asclepius (the god of healing).
There are many antibacterial compounds in dog and cat mouths, small molecules called peptides, in humans’ mouths also. But your pet’s tongue is not necessarily a magic healer!
The good news for pet owners is that most of a cat’s and dog’s oral bacteria won’t survive indefinitely on their hair. The bad news is that they don’t die right away.
The most important thing to be sure the bacteria don’t penetrate the skin and good general cleanliness, washing hands… as long as your immune system is good and you don’t have any cuts or wounds on your face or mouth that could let bacteria into your bloodstream, your pretty safe!
The young and the old must be more careful as their immune systems are not quite as strong, so caution is strongly advised in these cases!
So, wash those hands, all you pet lovers, and maybe think again before letting any dog or cat plant a big wet one on your face!