There’s no doubt dogs are affectionate creatures. And they have numerous ways of showing it. So what’s the deal when your furry friend comes up and gives you a big ol’ pooch smooch? Let’s take a tongue-in-cheek look into why.
You taste great … or at least interesting
Dogs are oral creatures and gather a lot of information about their surroundings through taste and smell. Maybe you’re salty after a sweaty run. Maybe you’ve got barbecue sauce on your face. “Dogs can smell a lot better than we can,” says Opens a new windowDr. Jo Gale, BVetMed CertLAS MRCVS, Senior Manager, Global Science Advocacy at Waltham Petcare Science Institute, “so they find a lot more things interesting to lick than we can.” This despite the fact dogs only have about 1,700 taste buds compared to around 9,000 in humans.
Why do dogs lick your face?
In a poll* of dog owners, IAMS™ found a large majority (75%) believe dogs lick people to offer friendliness. That’s definitely a correct assumption. Licking has been a social behavior among dogs since the days of great-great-great granddaddy wolf. "It’s a standard canine greeting to lick others around the face,” agrees Opens a new windowJames Serpell, B.S., Ph.D., Professor of Humane Ethics & Animal Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “Junior members of the pack will run around and lick the mouths of more senior members.” Your dog considers you part of their pack, so it’s their way of greeting and welcoming you. Or maybe you still have that barbecue sauce on your face.
Why do dogs lick your wounds?
In ancient Greece, dogs at the shrine of Asclepius were trained to lick patients. In the Middle Ages, Saint Roch was said to have been cured of a plague of sores through his dog’s licks. The French even have a saying, “langue de chien, langue de médecin,” which translates to, “a dog’s tongue, a doctor’s tongue.”
Don’t cancel your health insurance just yet. While dogs’ saliva does have some possible bactericidal properties against some types of bacteria, it can put you at the risk of exposure to others. Too much licking can also reopen the wound and cause further infection. With modern medicine, you’re much better off hitting the first-aid kit.
And that myth about dogs’ mouths being cleaner than humans’? Not true — both contain over 600 types of bacteria. You’re welcome for that image.
How to handle a dog that licks too much
While an occasional canine kiss is “aww”-inducing, some dogs can overdo it to the point of annoyance. When this happens, the best thing to do is “completely ignore it and give no attention,” suggests Dr. Jo Gale. “When they stop, provide them with attention.” Over time your dog will learn to scale back on the smooches.
*Surveyed U.S. dog owners, age 18+
Sample Size: n=201
Fielded May 8-10, 2020
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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