The health benefits of owning a dog are well known. Young children raised in homes with pets have lower incidents of developing allergies and asthma. Pets help reduce anxiety and stress, and can lower our blood pressure. Now a group of researchers from the University of Arizona are taking doggy kisses to a new level – an upcoming study aims to find out if there are beneficial germs for humans in a dog’s slobbery licks. The researchers believe doggy kisses may contain probiotics that are as beneficial to us as a cup of yogurt.
Probiotics are helpful live bacteria and yeasts that live in the gut. They are especially important for a healthy digestive system, which is home to 500+ different types of good and bad bacteria. Probiotics help move food through the gut, balance out the good and bad bacteria to keep the body working normally, lower the amount of bad bacteria that could cause infections or other health concerns, and help replenish good bacteria after a round of antibiotics.
The focus of this new pilot study will be finding out if there’s any positive effect on the overall health of older people who live with a dog. Past studies have shown the health benefits children gain from living with a dog, and researchers want to find out if there are similar results for older people who aren’t dog owners or haven’t had a dog in the home for a period of time.
Our dog is a licker. I won’t go so far as to say she’s an obsessive licker, but she likes to lick. She can get fixated on a spot, either on herself or on me or my husband, and lick as long as we can stand it. I asked our veterinarian about it —because it seems excessive— and the vet thinks that since our dog is somewhat anxious, she’s probably using licking as a relaxation technique. The vet said some dogs enjoy licking because the act releases endorphins that allow the dog to feel pleasure and a sense of security and comfort. A dog’s licking is like a person biting their fingernails; basically they do it to relieve stress.
This makes sense because our dog also yawns a lot, and we’ve learned that yawns are a canine’s calming signal. Yawning is an important part of a dog’s communication toolbox; they often yawn when they are in what they believe is a stressful situation. For example, dogs are not hugged or petted in the wild so it probably doesn’t feel natural for them. When we give our dog a big hug or get expressive with a scratch on the head, she very often starts her yawning repetitions. She uses these short yawns to comfort herself so when she starts self-licking, it’s likely for the same reason.
But why does she lick us? Why do dogs lick people?
Here’s a typical evening scenario. We’re all piled up on the sofa, relaxing and talking about the day. Our dog and cat are in the mix because they have to be the center of everything. Then our dog will find a place on my exposed arm or leg and start the licking. If I would sit still I think she would lick me indefinitely.
As kids, we were sure that a dog’s lick was a canine kiss. We thought that the more your dog licked you, the more she loved you. There’s a part of me that still believes this is true, but I couldn’t find scientific evidence to back me up.
There is some logic to that universal childhood theory, however. From the day pups are born, their mother licks them to clean them and stimulate breathing as well as to encourage elimination. Mother’s licks (kisses) are vitally important for a newborn puppy’s survival. Furthermore, when puppies lick one another it serves an important social function which strengthens the bond between littermates. The act of licking is a natural instinct that dogs learn from their mother at an early age. Since one of their earliest social bonds involves licking, that action has become a significant canine social device.
Dog behavior can be hard to figure out. Some dogs spend their days licking everything in sight. Why do dogs lick walls, floors, the carpet, a toy, us, themselves and even cats?
Most dog licking isn’t anything to be concerned about, as long as it isn’t excessive and the dog isn’t ingesting bad things along with his licking. Dogs use their tongue and mouth to investigate and determine what things are. They’re always exploring their world, tasting what they find. The problem with allowing a dog to constantly lick surfaces like carpet, furniture or floors is they can ingest hair, fibers, string, toxic products or other small objects, and these could end up blocking their intestinal tract.
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