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One of the arguments against feeding a raw diet for dogs is that our dogs can make us sick when they lick us.  I don’t know about others, but I’m not racing to kiss my dogs on the mouth after mealtime. 

But that’s just me.

I’ve been feeding raw since 2013 and I’m very affectionate with my dogs.  I’ve managed to avoid kisses after mealtime and getting sick.

I feel like I should say something like “knock on wood” here, but I’m not the only raw feeder who hugs, cuddles, and kisses (not after mealtime) their dogs on the regular without picking up a bug, bacteria, or parasite.  So why the fear?

The Tin Foil Hat part of my personality believes that this is just another way for the anti-raw community to turn pet parents away from feeding fresh food.  The more open-minded part of my personality believes that it’s something more.  Since I was a kid, people believed that a dog’s mouth is a nasty den of bacteria, but now I know differently.

A Dog’s Saliva KILLS Bacteria

Did you know that a dog’s saliva can kill bacteria, specifically E-coli?  This is one of the reasons why they can eat a raw food diet without getting sick.  Dogs also have an acidic gut and a shorter digestive tract, which means that bacteria don’t set up camp and multiple in a healthy gut, and raw food is digested faster, turning into waste (poop) long before the bacteria can cause a problem in healthy dogs.

With this information, our dogs can lick us after mealtime without issue – yeah, okay, I'm not suggesting you run over and start kissing your dog after they messily devour a raw meaty bone and I’m not volunteering to test this theory. However, I do have anecdotal evidence that I’m safe because I have aggressively affectionate dogs in my house and have experienced the random lick up the side of my face as a pup expressed gratitude (maybe) after eating.

AND I’M ALIVE!!!! #knockonwood

So, in my opinion, it’s not dangerous for raw fed dogs to lick their humans.  As long as we’re all engaging in proper sanitary practices – WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS AND FACE Y’ALL – then we should be good.

Of course, I’m not a doctor, so what do I know?

Why Do Dogs Lick Their Human?

Now that the raw feeding aspect has been addressed, have you ever stopped to ask why our dogs lick us?  I’ve come up with theories based on my incessant need to humanize my dogs:

  • My dogs lick me to show affection, love and happiness
  • My dogs lick me because I just worked out and I taste salty
  • My dogs lick me because they’re hungry (not in a creepy way)
  • My dogs lick me because they’re seeking comfort

Some dogs rarely lick their humans while other dogs – my dogs – can’t stop.  So, as I was exploring if this habit puts raw feeders at risk, I decided to delve deeper to better understand why my dogs won’t stop licking me.

Dogs Lick Humans Out of Curiosity

What do you do when you’re curious about something? You often touch it, maybe smell it. Dogs do make frequent use of their paws; however, they don’t have opposable thumbs to do the feel test on something new. Thus, dogs often explore with their mouths. Licking is part of this behavior as it provides important sensory input. Dogs may mouth objects or lick them to explore.

When Apollo joined our family, he was seven months old, untrained, and un-socialized – it was fun watching him explore his new home, and walks took forever as he sniffed and tasted everything.  Including the slugs and horse poop we encountered on our trail walks. That was fun. #sarcasm

My dogs also lick me when I come home from visiting friends (and their dogs).  I experience an immediate sniff-down the moment I walk into the door, which includes some licks too as the dogs try and determine which dogs I'm seeing on the side.

Dogs Lick Humans Because of How We Taste

I joke that my dogs are tenderizing me with plans to eat me when the Zombie Apocalypse happens.  And then 2020 happened and this wasn’t so funny anymore.  If you’ve ever noticed that your dog is more interested in giving affection after a workout or run, then it’s because the sweat makes you taste salty.

Personally, I don’t like to feel like a human salt-lick, so I shower and change before the dogs can get at me.

Dogs Lick Humans for Bonding and Grooming

My dogs groom themselves by licking and I watch them do this with each other too – it’s cute.  So, I can see why people might think dogs will groom their humans. But I'm not buying this explanation for my dogs.

Dogs Lick Humans to Express Love & Affection

I think the main reasons my dogs lick me is to show affection.  I’ve also seen this behavior with each other and love it when Rodrigo and Apollo (they had a rough start) share kisses.

I’ve experienced this expression of love when I’m sad and my dogs are offering comfort, when I come home and they welcome me through the door, or when I’m cuddling with them and they return the affection.  Kisses from the dogs is a daily occurrence in our home; so much so that Johan, who previously hated being licked by the dogs, will lean in for a kiss on the cheek from time to time.

Dogs Lick Humans for Attention

Secondary to love and affection, I think a big reason why our dogs lick us is for attention.  My dogs could just be letting me know they want some love, they’re hungry, or they’re anxious. Regardless of the reason, they are licking me to get my attention and, in our house, a lick is preferred to loud barking to express “I WANT A HUG!!!”

Without meaning to, we reinforce this behavior by petting our dogs or turning our attention to our dogs immediately to find out “what’s up, pup?”

Apollo is the world champion of licking for attention in our house.  Nearly every request is preceded by a lick on a hand or our pants.  At least once a day, you’ll hear “stop licking me,” in the house and when that happens, his job is done.  He got our attention.

He also steals kitchen towels for attention – works like a charm.

Raw Feeding, Dog Licking, and Life with Dogs

When it comes to raw feeding and raising dogs, there will always be risks.  But I disagree that pet parents are in danger of getting sick or worse because we feed a raw food diet to dogs that lick us out of affection, to gain attention, or because we taste like salt.

If the raw meat grosses you out, then don’t let your dog lick you after meals.  Create a habit of going outside for a potty break or for a light walk after meals.  Or wrap up the meal with a light chew in a kennel.  Or simply train your dog not to lick you after meals.

And, keep in mind, that (1) dogs shed salmonella in their poop, (2) kibble companies have had recalls due to salmonella, and (3) bacteria live in many places other than in a dog's dish.

Personally, I love it when my dogs lick me.  I’ve received shaming messages from people who tell me that I’m being irresponsible for allowing my dogs to lick me.  I laugh and click delete because I don’t care what some random stranger has to say.  These are my dogs and I love them and I express that love in many ways, including kissing my pups and allowing them to kiss me back.  I don’t punish my dogs for showing me love, I appreciate every lick because there will come a day when I will miss those licks.

Read More About Raw Feeding for Dogs

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