We’re pro-kissing when it comes to most pets, but keep safety and happiness in mind before smooching them
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Do you smooch your pooch? Kiss your cat? You’re not alone. A 2021 survey by Just Food for Dogs found that 53% of its 2,000 respondents said they kissed their dog more than their partner. Another 2021 poll of 2,000 adults commissioned by cleaning product company Vileda discovered that 97% of respondents are happy to receive “kisses,” aka licks, from their pets.
Kisses between pets and people range from a soft nose-to-nose touch, kisses on the forehead between the eyes and on top of the head between the ears, and raspberries on the belly. Some pet owners avoid the muzzle, nose or mouth, but most dogs aren’t so choosy. They just give a big slurp wherever they can.
Kisses from people to pets are delivered primarily to dogs and cats, but a recent outbreak of salmonella in 11 states linked to small turtles -- ones with shells less than 4 inches -- has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning parents to make sure young children don’t kiss or snuggle with shelled, scaly or feathered pets.
Reptiles can carry salmonella germs in their droppings, which spread easily to their bodies, their tank water and people who touch them. It’s all too easy to acquire the bacteria simply by touching pet turtles or anything in their habitat and forgetting to immediately wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching anything else, especially the face or food.
Pet chickens can also carry salmonella, so the same “no kissing or cuddling” and “handwashing after handling” rules apply.
But what about dogs and cats? Is it OK to kiss them? You’ll find lots of articles online recommending against it, but that doesn’t stop most people. And some veterinary professionals are right there with you when it comes to kissing pets -- with some caveats.
Our own Dr. Marty Becker is a big proponent of getting and giving his dogs some sugar.
Veterinarian Tony Johnson, an internal medicine and ER specialist, says if dogs and humans are healthy, it’s an acceptable risk.
“If someone is immunocompromised or has just had an organ transplant, then probably no. Or if your dog has MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), probably best to avoid it.”
Licensed veterinary technician Colleen Clemett, who has kissed a lot of animals over the years, believes there are few zoonotic diseases of concern that could be spread by kissing or getting kisses from a pet.
To be on the safe side, however, therapy animals in particular are trained not to give kisses because they frequently encounter people who are immunocompromised.
Of course, it’s important to kiss only animals you know well. Never encourage children to go face-to-face with pets, who can be startled into a bite by the close interaction. Make sure you’re familiar with your animal’s body language and that they’re not expressing “get-away-from-me” signals such as turning their head away, flattening their ears, lowering their tail, crouching or closing their mouth.
Whether you kiss pets depends a lot on how they respond to it, too. Do they appear to welcome that smack between the ears, or do they cringe like a junior high boy whose mom just kissed him in front of his friends?
“I often wonder if they recognize it as a sign of affection,” says bull terrier owner Elizabeth Anderson Lopez of Lake Forest, California. One dog -- Maybelene --seems to enjoy head-top kisses, but her other dogs Tosh and Dexter merely tolerate them, so they get fewer.
Pet lover Daleen Comer knows some of her pets are unpredictable -- her cats have been known to go from purring to biting in a split second -- so she keeps her face a safe distance from them.
ER vet Johnson says two of his dogs love to give kisses -- and he’s not going to swipe left on that.
a touch cue
Q: I’ve heard of teaching a cat to touch a target stick. Why? And how?
A: Teaching “touch” has lots of great uses: asking your cat to move to or away from a certain spot -- the kitchen counter, for instance -- or to go into a carrier or hop on the scale at the vet. And it’s the foundation for tricks such as spin or sit. At its simplest, target training is a way to communicate with your cat.
To teach this skill, hold the target -- which can be something like a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon -- at the side of your cat’s face, just out of sight. Slowly move it into your cat’s field of vision, with the goal of catching her attention but not startling her. Using your voice (“Good!”) or a clicker, mark any interest your cat shows in the target, whether that’s a glance, a slight move toward it or a touch with nose or paw, and reward with a treat. Move the target away and repeat. Try holding it higher or lower if your cat doesn’t show interest. If your cat is fearful of anything unusual, start at a distance and reward for glancing at it or not running away. Practice for brief periods -- a minute or two at a time -- so she doesn’t lose interest.
For cats who need more encouragement, smear a small amount of a soft treat on the end of the stick. If she reaches out to sniff or lick the treat, mark and reward. Gradually offer the treat less often or remove it altogether, continuing to mark and reward for touching the target.
When your cat readily touches the target with her nose or mouth, add a verbal cue like “touch.” Say it just as your cat moves toward the target. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- If you work or volunteer at a shelter, the following tips will help animals in your care stay healthy until adopted. Handle every animal who comes in as if they’re diseased. Wear disposable gloves, and change them frequently. Use paper towels instead of individual fabric cloths when cleaning cages, and discard them after each cage is cleaned. Make hand sanitizer readily available; apply it to wet hands and rub it in for one minute to ensure effectiveness. Use appropriate pet-safe disinfectants. Avoid spraying harsh chemicals in the presence of animals. Use disposable litter trays and food and water dishes.
-- Communicating with hand signals is one of the most important things you can do if you live with a dog who’s hearing-impaired. In addition to traditional training cues, such as a raised hand for “sit” or a downward hand motion for “down,” dogs can also learn American Sign Language to understand such words as “dinner,” “walk,” “play” or “outside.” A flashlight is another visual signal that can attract your dog’s attention when you flash the light toward them -- though be sure to avoid their eyes! Give verbal praise, too. Even if your dog can’t hear you, they can read your facial expression.
-- A survey by Chewy of 500 pet lovers found that 65% say trips are more enjoyable when pets come along. Since the pandemic began, 31% say they travel more with their pet. Most often, pets go on road trips (96%), while only 12% accompany owners on flights. Top challenges include finding pet-friendly lodging and making sure pets are comfortable away from home. What do they pack for pets? Portable bowls (53%), carriers (17%), calming aids (12%), backpacks (8%) and first-aid kits (5%). Preferred destinations have beaches or open spaces. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.