Are Doggy Kisses Safe? Can My Dog Really Make Me Sick?

Girl getting kisses from dog

If you love getting showered by doggy kisses, you will definitely share a germ or two with your dog, but will you get sick?

Diseases that are passed from animals to humans are termed zoonotic.

The good news is that most zoonotic diseases from dogs are NOT common, especially in the US, but underdeveloped countries are more likely to see outbreaks.

Below you will find a list of the most common zoonotic diseases that are shared between dogs and their human companions.

#1 Giardiasis:

Giardiasis is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite called Giardia lamblia. It is a fairly common cause of diarrheal illness and can be treated with antibiotics such as metronidazole, tinidazole, nitazoxanide or furazolidone. However, some individuals may recover on their own without medication.

The Giardia parasite is passed in the feces of a dog and without proper sanitation and hand washing may contaminate the owners water or food. Person-to-person transmission may also occur in daycare centers or other settings where hand washing practices are poor.

The Giardia parasite can frequently be found in dog parks with poor water drainage and can be difficult to diagnose in some dogs. It’s important to see a veterinarian if your dog has acute, intermittent, or consistent diarrhea.

#2 Salmonellosis:

There are many strains of salmonella bacteria that cause various illnesses. The bacteria which is passed from dogs to human is classified as non-typhoidial salmonallae.

Dogs can ingest the bacteria through raw or uncooked meat and eggs, rotting garbage bins, bird feeders and bird feces and will exhibit noticeable fever, vomiting and maybe loss of appetite, 6 to 72 hours post infection.

Dogs shed Salmonella organisms in both their feces and saliva, meaning that transmission can occur via licking.

Salmonella infections in dogs deserve special comment for several reasons related to zoonotic transmission because infection can happen from human to dog and subsequently back to other humans.  In fact, Salmonella infections in large animal teaching hospitals have been linked to the introduction of bacteria from infected human personnel, with subsequent spread to animals and then back to other human workers.

Treatment is usually simple. The vet will probably prescribe antibiotics along with a bland diet and send the dog home. More severe cases could require hospitalization for intravenous fluids and antibiotics.  Strict attention to hygiene is essential for preventing further spread of the disease, which is often shed in the infected dog’s stool.

#3 Ringworm:

Although the name suggests otherwise, ringworm is not caused by a worm at all—but a fungus.  Ringworm in dogs is primarily a disease of puppies and young adults.  This highly contagious infection can lead to patchy areas of hair loss on a dog, and can spread to other animals—and to humans.

Ringworm is transmitted by spores in the soil and by contact with the infected hair of dogs and cats, typically found on carpets, brushes, combs, toys, and furniture. The fungal spores can live in the environment for a long time, but can easily be killed with a solution of bleach and water. (500mls of bleach to 4 liters of water.) It’s important to kill all spores in the environment to avoid reinfection.

Humans can acquire ringworm from pets by touching an animal with ringworm. Ringworm can spread while petting or grooming infected dogs, and vice versa. Children are especially susceptible.

If no treatment is carried out, ringworm will run its course in two to four months and the symptoms will resolve themselves. However, treatment is recommended to save your dog from suffering any longer than necessary and to cut down the period of time they are contagious.

#4 Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA):

Healthy people commonly carry Staphylococcus aureus on their skin and in their noses. If the bacteria enter the body through a cut or scrape, it can lead to a skin or soft tissue infection.

Treatment with a class of antibiotics called beta-lactams usually does the trick. However, if these bacteria become resistant to methicillin (a type of beta-lactam), or other antibiotics — such as penicillin and amoxicillin — the bacteria is classified as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

Humans commonly contract MRSA in hospital settings, but they can also become infected in the greater community if they come in direct contact with a person, pet or object contaminated with MRSA. But while dogs can transmit MRSA to humans, their role is thought to be relatively minor.

Risk factors for MRSA in dogs are largely unknown. Some are likely similar to those in humans, such as previous surgery, hospitalization, and antibiotic use. Dogs used in hospital visitation programs may also be at increased risk.

For pets with active MRSA infections, the bacteria can be transmitted to humans either by direct contact with the infected area or contaminated items, such as bedding. An infected dog often carries the bacteria around the nose and anus, so people should be vigilant about washing and sanitizing their hands after touching infected dogs or picking up their feces.

While a MRSA infection can be life threatening for both dog and owner, the majority of MRSA infections can be treated effectively if they are diagnosed and appropriate treatment is started in a timely manner.


While it is possible to catch a disease from that doggy kiss, the good news is that most of the time, while it may be annoying or irritating, will not be lethal. To top if of, the likelihood of contracting can be prevented with some good hand washing and basic hygiene.

So go ahead, give your dog that cuddle and a kiss, chances are you’ll live.