Furry friend’s licks are fine

Our colum­nist doesn’t re­ally mind hav­ing his face licked in the morn­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - star2@thes­tar.com.my Catch Ja­son God­frey on The LINK on Life In­spired (Astro B.yond Ch 728).

THIS keeps hap­pen­ing.

It’s early morn­ing, the sun just start­ing to peek through the blinds, I roll over and sense some­thing is wrong, some­thing is in bed with me and it’s not my girl­friend ... then some­thing moist runs it­self over my fore­head, then my nose, then my eyes. My dog is lick­ing my face. There are sev­eral prob­lems with this, the first be­ing that an an­i­mal lick­ing your face with the vigour of small child at­tack­ing an ice cream cone makes it very dif­fi­cult to sleep. Or you do sleep and all you dream about is drown­ing – which is not a recipe for feel­ing re­ju­ve­nated in the morn­ing.

The se­cond prob­lem is the dog isn’t al­lowed on the bed. Over time he’s learned that wak­ing us up with a bois­ter­ous leap re­sults in us kick­ing him off, so he hops up with the stealth of a ninja war­rior and set­tles in some­where hop­ing we won’t no­tice him. That is, un­til he springs his trap of sub­tle face lick­ing that quickly builds into fullfledged tongue fury.

So why is my dog lick­ing me, and more gen­er­ally, why do dogs lick their own­ers?

First, for all you non- dog own­ers, I know what you’re think­ing: Gross. And a dog lick­ing you while you’re asleep? Ex­tra strength gross.

And let me as­sure you, you’re not wrong. Be­ing licked by a dog, even if it’s your trusted buddy dog, is pretty dis­gust­ing. It’s not just the dis­gust­ing idea of dog saliva drip­ping down your cheek – which does hap­pen – it’s the sound. Some­thing I’m acutely aware of when I’m half asleep with my eyes closed. It’s the sound of be­ing in a starv­ing per­son’s mouth as they de­vour a cheese­cake. It’s the back­ground noise in the Walk­ing Dead when­ever the zom­bies land a fresh meal and dig in like it’s a newly baked lasagne.

This is the noise of be­ing licked by a dog. Why put up with it? This is partly an­swered when we look at why dogs lick peo­ple.

Pri­mar­ily, dog ex­perts agree, we taste great!

Hu­mans think they’re clean but re­ally, we’re cov­ered in stuff that dogs like to taste. Bits of food and, of course, sweat. Even when we’re not sweaty, we’re sort of sweaty and dogs love a salt lick. Maybe that’s what we are. Gi­ant, mov­ing salt licks.

Dogs may also be look­ing to com­mu­ni­cate. They want your at­ten­tion for some­thing. Maybe there’s no more wa­ter in the bowl, no more food in the tray, maybe the creepy neigh­bour just got home, who knows what the dog is try­ing to tell you, but hon­estly, when you’re a dog you have a lim­ited num­ber of com­mu­ni­ca­tion meth­ods.

And the most com­mon rea­son dogs lick peo­ple is af­fec­tion. It’s a great show of af­fec­tion in the ca­nine world to lick their friends and fam­ily, so a dog lick­ing an owner could be the ul­ti­mate sign of re­spect. Even if that sign of re­spect is man­i­fested on your eye­lids at 5.30am.

But what about the gross fac­tor to be­ing licked by an an­i­mal? My dog licks all sorts of stuff, from the side­walk to the stinky spot on a brick wall – and now he’s lick­ing my face. That’s a health risk, right? Let’s see.

Dogs can be hosts to par­a­sites and may show no symp­toms while a hu­man be­com­ing in­fected can re­sult in in­testi­nal dis­ease, blind­ness and brain dis­or­ders. But trans­mis­sion through lick­ing is un­likely. Un­less your dog is eat­ing fae­ces, which – come on – don’t let your dog do that.

Dogs also have bac­te­ria in their mouths, par­tic­u­larly sal­mo­nella and E. coli, but there has been lit­tle proof that lick­ing can be a ma­jor means of trans­mis­sion. But are there any ben­e­fits from be­ing licked by a dog?

Maybe. In France there’s a med­i­cal say­ing: “A dog’s tongue is a doc­tor’s tongue.” In­deed, re­searchers found dog saliva con­tains the chem­i­cal his­tatins that in­crease wound heal­ing by in­creas­ing the spread and mi­gra­tion of new skin cells. Re­searchers also found a pro­tein called nerve growth fac­tor that “halves the time for wound heal­ing”, ac­cord­ing to petmd.com. And to top it off, saliva com­ing in con­tact with skin creates ni­tric ox­ide, which in­hibits growth of bac­te­ria and pro­tects wounds from in­fec­tion.

Crazy. Though I still think I’d pre­fer pro­fes­sional med­i­cal as­sis­tance than let­ting my dog lick my open wounds any time soon.

So maybe my dog lick­ing me in the morn­ing, isn’t so bad af­ter all, ex­cept for the fact that I’m tired – but, ul­ti­mately, the rea­son why I, and maybe other dog own­ers, put up with it is be­cause we know it’s just their way of say­ing they love us. Let’s just be happy that their way of show­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion isn’t wan­ton uri­na­tion. That would be aw­ful.

Ja­son God­frey big smile, no teeth

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