When Julie McKenna landed on the hospital in Mildura, Australia, in 2007, she could barely speak. She arms and legs to be cold and also mottled, and her confront was transforming purple.

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Doctors quickly identified that Julie remained in septic shock—bacteria in her bloodstream to be attacking her from within. Even after beginning on antibiotics, the purple preserved spreading, and her organs started to fail. Eventually, components of her arms and legs began turning black.

She had actually been hospitalized for an ext than 2 weeks before doctors to be able to determine the bacteria in her blood. It was Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a pest commonly found in the saliva of healthy and balanced dogs and also cats.


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Only climate did Julie remember that she had scalded the peak of her left foot in warm water a few weeks before she gained sick. It wasn’t a poor burn, and she hadn’t thought lot of it when her fox terrier puppy licked the wound.

Like Julie, most of united state don’t really know what’s swimming roughly in ours pets’ saliva, or how dangerous it could be. Our skin and also immune systems typically stand between us and our pets’ germs—but those systems deserve to be breached.

About 10 to 15 percent of dog bites come to be infected, as carry out up to fifty percent of cat bites. Periodically the after-effects are deadly: In one study, 26 percent of people with evidenced C. Canimorsus infections died. (Find the end whether her dog would certainly eat friend if friend died.)

Now, researchers have begun to explain all the bacterial varieties living in dogs’ and also cats’ mouths and also compare them come our own, and their work-related is revealing a hold of potential pathogens lurking in every slobbery kiss or scratchy lick.

In a puppy’s mouth, C. Canimorsus is no large deal. At the very least a 4 minutes 1 of all dogs and many cats lug them. Humans normally don’t, and once the bacteria obtained in Julie’s bloodstream, her body struggled to fight off infection.

Antibiotics at some point turned the tide, however doctors had actually to amputate she left leg listed below the knee, component of her best foot, and also every among her fingers and toes. “It"s adjusted my life in every aspect,” she later told abc News in Australia.

Here space a couple of of the myths around our pets’ mouths and the fact of what coats them—and us—with each pass of the tongue.

Takes a Licking

If anyone to know what’s in a dog or cat’s mouth, the Floyd Dewhirst, a bacter geneticist at the Forsyth Institute and also professor that oral medication at Harvard. Dewhirst pioneered the research of the oral microbiome—all the bacteria that live in the mouth—in humans, dogs, and also cats.

About 400 to 500 bacterial species are common and also abundant in the human mouth, that says. Therefore far, Dewhirst and also his colleagues have actually identified approximately 400 kinds of oral bacteria in dogs and practically 200 in cats, and Dewhirst expects more will be discovered with more study.

One of the main reasons us can obtain infections from our pets, the says, is the our bacterial ecosystems space so different from each other.

“If you look in ~ humans and dogs, we just saw around 15 percent that space the same species,” he says. So, plenty of of a dog’s mouth bacteria are less likely to be maintained in examine by ours immune systems and native bacteria. The dental microbiomes that cats and also dogs, ~ above the various other hand, overlap by about 50 percent. (Also find out what old DNA is mirroring us around cat domestication.)

“Part the that may be what the bacteria developed to eat,” Dewhirst says. Human mouths are conquered by streptococcal bacteria, i beg your pardon are good at eat sugars. “Since cats and dogs generally don’t eat too numerous doughnuts, there’s nearly no strep,” the says.

A single lick can deposit untold millions of these unfamiliar bacteria, Dewhirst says, and also they’ve to be detected on person skin hours later. Once studying the skin microbiome the humans, scientists were surprised to find several human being with job of skin covered in dog bacteria.

“So, if you licked by a dog, and someone to be to take a Q-tip 5 hours later and rub the spot, they can recover end 50 different species of dog-mouth bacteria,” he says.

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Healing Paws?

Weirdly, history is packed with lore arguing that canine saliva can heal quite than harm. Dog supposedly licked wounds in ~ the ancient Greek temple to Asclepius, the god the healing. And also there’s a long-running but unconfirmed tale that Caesar’s military employed wound-licking dogs.