Other health problems

Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face

Laura García Ortiz
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. May 13, 2024
Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face

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Dogs will often want to lick their owner's face, a behavior with an origin in their wild heritage. Puppies of wild canids would lick the snouts of adults as a way to stimulate regurgitation of food. Domestic dogs see us as their point of reference. Even if it is not for regurgitation, licking our face is a way to get attention and express the bond we have together. Unfortunately, this behavior is not always safe. Bacteria, parasites and other pathogens can reside in the saliva of our dog. Licking us can transfer them and result in illness. The risk of a dog licking our face resulting in disease transmission is greater if the dog has been exposed to more pathogens.

At AnimalWised, we look at the diseases you can get from a dog licking your face. We see what possible pathogens may be spread and assess the level of risk in allowing the dog to lick us in this sensitive area.

You may also be interested in: Stop your Dog from Scratching a Wound
  1. Is dog saliva clean?
  2. Rabies
  3. Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection
  4. Leptospirosis
  5. Giardiasis
  6. Campylobacteriosis
  7. Pasteurellosis
  8. Roundworms
  9. Flatworms

Is dog saliva clean?

Whether or not a dog's saliva is ‘clean’ is relative. For a dog, the level of bacteria and other microorganisms in their mouth might not cause any problem to their organism. Their bodies will always contain certain levels of bacteria which can provide benefit in smaller numbers thanks to their immune system attacking threats. However, if they are transferred to our bodies, they may pose a more serious risk.

In other cases, the dog may have a disease which can be transferred via the saliva. This may be a disease which is asymptomatic in the dog or they may be a reservoir for a certain pathogen. They may appear otherwise happy and healthy, but the transmission can make us very ill. It may also be the case that the dog shows evident signs of disease.

Whether a dog will transmit a zoonosis (i.e. a dog disease transferable to humans) will depend not only on their health status, but on our own. If our immune system is poor, they may transfer bacteria or a viral load which would otherwise not cause us a problem. It is also possible we have a sensitivity to something in the dog's saliva which can lead to an allergic reaction.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, it is always a risk to allow a dog to lick our face. However, there are certain factors which can increase such as risk. They include when the dog is:

  • Showing evident signs of disease
  • Known to have contracted a disease
  • Not dewormed appropriately
  • Not vaccinated
  • Living with a lot of other animals
  • Of poor hygiene status
  • Feral

In these cases, there is a greater chance of a dog transmitting disease. Even if we have a dog which is vaccinated, dewormed and lives at home with us, it doesn't mean it is safe for them to lick our face. The risk will be your own, but it is important to be careful as it could result in the following diseases:


Rabies is one of the most feared diseases which can be transferred by a dog to a human. It is transferred by the rabies virus which contains the largest viral load. For this reason, we need to be particularly careful in the case of bites.

The infectious disease known as rabies is caused by a virus of the genus Lyssavirus and the family Rhabdoviridae. It affects the host's central nervous system, resulting in various physical and behavioral characteristics. Since contagion is spread through saliva, we should never let a potentially rabid dog lick our face. Unfortunately, it can take days or even months for symptoms to appear, meaning an infected dog may not show the following symptoms.

Symptoms of rabies in dogs

This virus induces flaccid paralysis due to a syndrome of the lower motor neuron in the dog. This transports to the upper motor neuron and the cerebral cortex of the brain as the virus progresses. The end result is encephalitis in the dog and the animal's eventual death. Other symptoms may appear such as:

  • Fear of water
  • Changes in mood
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain at the wound site
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of muscle function
  • Aggression

In dogs, symptoms such as increased aggressiveness and irritability, seizures, tremors, disorientation, biting ‘flies’, fear, irritability, ataxia and rage occur toward the later stages. If the dog is in an advanced stage of rabies, it is unlikely they will try to lick you on the face. They are much more likely to try to bite you.

Fortunately, rabies in dogs is eradicated in much of the planet, although not everywhere. It is important to vaccinate dogs against rabies in any places where it is still present.

Capnocytophaga canimorsus infection

The bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus is a saprophytic agent that commonly lives in the mouth of dogs, especially in the gums. It can be easily transmitted through their saliva, through any lick or bite that dogs perform on a person.

The most harmful strains are only found in 10% of dogs. If they bite or lick a person with an open wound, it can trigger a devastating disease in humans. Statistically, the likelihood of this happening is around four cases per million people, so it is relatively very uncommon. This usually occurs in people who are immunosuppressed, alcoholic or suffer from a spleen problem.

Symptoms of capnocyophaga in humans

Early in the infection, fever, nausea, malaise and flu-like symptoms usually occur. Once the infection is established, about 30% of cases end in death. Many survivors require amputations due to gangrene caused by the bacteria.


Although the main route of infection is urine, canine leptospirosis can also be transmitted from a dog to a person through saliva when a dog licks our face. This is often because the dog has previously licked urine which contains bacteria from the genus Leptospira. Although urine contains the largest bacterial load, it can also be passed on through other bodily fluids. An affected dog can show fever, blood in their urine, jaundice or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans

Generally, it takes one to two weeks for people to experience symptoms of a leptospirosis contagion. They typically start quickly with cold-like symptoms. The illness may then be mild and may present with symptoms such as vomiting, chills, dry cough, fever, headaches, chills, redness of the conjunctiva, lymphadenopathy, enlarged spleen or liver, muscle stiffness, tenderness and skin rashes. In serious cases, it can worsen to produce a deadly infection in organs such as the kidneys, brain and liver, putting the person's life at risk.

Learn more about the causes and treatment of leptospirosis in dogs.


Giardia are flagellated protozoan-type parasites that infect dogs and are spread through the expulsion of cysts in feces. An infected dog will likely experience anal agitation and lick the area to relieve themselves. If this happens and the dog then licks our face, it is likely a transmission will occur. Even if they do not lick our face, touching our own mucus membranes after coming in contact with their saliva can result in parasitical infestation.

Symptoms of giardiasis in humans

These parasites are often of the species Giardia intestinalis. They usually cause digestive symptoms such as mucus in diarrhea, although it can also be subclinical (i.e. it is not sufficiently strong to cause symptoms).

Discover more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of giardia in dogs.

Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face - Giardiasis


Although most associated as a foodborne illness in humans, infections form Campylobacter jejuni bacteria can also be spread through contact with a dog's saliva. Dogs can often be asymptomatic reservoirs for this bacteria, showing no evident symptoms, but passing it on to us when they lick our face or mouth.

Symptoms of campylobacteriosis

It is an infection that is the cause of many gastroenteritis in humans. This is accompanied by various gastrointestinal symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea. These are also generalized symptoms, so it is important we speak to a doctor for diagnosis.

Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face - Campylobacteriosis


Pasteurella multocida is a bacteria that can be found naturally in the mouth and respiratory system of dogs. Our dogs' saliva can be a relatively common source of infection in people, especially if it comes in contact with an open wound. If such a wound is on our face and our dog licks it, the transmission risk is increased greatly.

Symptoms of pasteurellosis in humans

After infection occurs, this disease is caracterizad by cellulitis. This cellulitis can occur with abscesses that build up a large amount of pus and/or blood. In rare cases, septic arthritis or osteomyelitis may even occur due to bone involvement, being more common in people with joint prostheses, rheumatoid arthritis or who are being treated with corticosteroids.


Our dogs can be hosts to many types of internal parasites, a very important group being roundworms or nematodes. These parasites mainly target the digestive system of dogs, specifically the intestine. They cause inflammation and direct damage to gastrointestinal tissues, resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal discomfort and weight loss.

Some of these types of roundworms or nematodes that can parasitize dogs belong to the genera Ancilostoma, Toxocara and Ascaris. The form of transmission of these parasites is through the fecal-oral route. Dogs ingest parasite eggs that are eliminated with the feces of infested dogs. Transmission to humans can occur through the saliva of our dogs such as when licking our face or if we touch their saliva and then our mouth.

Symptoms of roundworms in humans

After infection, symptoms in humans can vary depending on the specific type of parasite. They also usually cause digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, among others. To prevent this from happening, it is essential to maintain an adequate deworming schedule for our dogs, following the instructions of your veterinarian closely.

Learn more about roundworms in dogs caused by Toxocara nematodes.

Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face - Roundworms


Transmission of flatworms occurs via the same route as roundworms. After an infested dog licks their anal area and subsequently licks our hands or face, we can then be contaminated by the egg-carrying saliva. Flatworms are parasites that are also known as tapeworms. It is very important we maintain strict hygiene if we come in contact with a contaminated dog.

This type of parasites is characterized by releasing eggs through feces. They appear macroscopically like grains of rice, meaning we see white worms in the dog's poop. They interfere with the host's ability to absorb nutrients, weaking them incrementally even if they have a normal appetite. This means a dog can be skinny even though they eat because their lack of nutrients stops them maintaining weight. The main tapeworm that is transmitted this way through dogs is Echinococcus granulosus, the cause of hydatid cysts in people.

Symptoms of flatworms in humans

The human being acts as an intermediate host while the dog is the definitive host. The tapeworm evolves to its adult state located in the canine intestine. In the case of people, the eggs evolve into larvae that do not lodge in the intestine, but migrate through the mesenteric veins or lymphatic vessels. The circulatory system can transport them to any part of the body, developing mainly in the liver in 65-75% of cases after arriving through the portal vein.

If the above does not occur and they are directed through the suprahepatic veins and the inferior vena cava, they reach the right side of the heart. They reach the lung in up to 30% of cases. If these two main locations are skipped they reach any other organ such as the kidney, peritoneum, brain or bones where a hydatid cyst is also produced. Its growth can cause symptoms depending on the location, such as bleeding, vascular compression, atrophy, cranial hypertension, jaundice, liver failure, lung involvement or neurological signs, among others.

Now that you know the diseases that dogs transmit through saliva, remember to maintain adequate preventive medicine in the dog to prevent their spread. If your dog loves to do it, you can find out how to stop a dog licking your face to further prevent the possibility of disease.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Cross S. L.,& Bronze, M. S. (2014). Pasteurella multocida infection. Retrieved from: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/224920-overview
  • Third, M. J., & Olalla, R. (2008). Hidati-dose a zoonosis with worldwide distribution. Pharmaceutical Field Parasitology, 27(9), 88-94.
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Diseases You Can Get From a Dog Licking Your Face