When Julie McKenna landed on the hospital in Mildura, Australia, in 2007, she might barely speak. Her arms and also legs were cold and also mottled, and her face was turning purple.

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Doctors quickly established that Julie remained in septic shock—bacteria in she bloodstream were attacking she from within. Even after starting on antibiotics, the purple preserved spreading, and her organs began to fail. Eventually, components of she arms and legs began transforming black.

She had actually been hospitalized for more than 2 weeks before doctors to be able to determine the bacteria in she blood. It was Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a an insect commonly uncovered in the saliva of healthy dogs and also cats.


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Only then did Julie remember the she had actually scalded the height of her left foot in hot water a couple of weeks before she got sick. It no a bad burn, and also she hadn’t thought lot of it as soon as her fox terrier puppy licked the wound.

Like Julie, many of us don’t really recognize what’s swimming roughly in our pets’ saliva, or how dangerous it can be. Our skin and immune systems typically stand in between us and our pets’ germs—but those systems deserve to be breached.

About 10 come 15 percent the dog bites end up being infected, as carry out up to half of cat bites. Sometimes the consequences are deadly: In one study, 26 percent of civilization with confirmed C. Canimorsus epidemic died. (Find the end whether your dog would eat you if friend died.)

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

In a puppy’s mouth, C. Canimorsus is no huge deal. At the very least a quarter of all dogs and also many cats lug them. Humans normally don’t, and once the bacteria gained in Julie’s bloodstream, she body struggled come fight off infection.

Antibiotics ultimately turned the tide, yet doctors had actually to amputate her left leg listed below the knee, component of her ideal foot, and every among her fingers and toes. “It"s changed my life in every aspect,” she later on told alphabet News in Australia.

Here space a few of the myths about our pets’ mouths and the reality of what coats them—and us—with each happen of the tongue.

Takes a Licking

If anyone to know what’s in a dog or cat’s mouth, that Floyd Dewhirst, a bacterial geneticist at the Forsyth Institute and professor that oral medicine 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 come 500 bacterial varieties are common and also abundant in the person mouth, he says. So far, Dewhirst and also his colleagues have actually identified roughly 400 kinds of dental bacteria in dog and virtually 200 in cats, and also Dewhirst expects an ext will be uncovered with further study.

One that the main reasons us can obtain infections from our pets, that says, is that our bacterial ecosystems are so different from every other.

“If girlfriend look at humans and dogs, we just saw about 15 percent that are the very same species,” he says. So, many of a dog’s mouth bacteria are less likely come be maintained in inspect by our immune systems and also native bacteria. The oral microbiomes of cats and also dogs, on the various other hand, overlap by around 50 percent. (Also find out what ancient DNA is mirroring us about cat domestication.)

“Part that that may be what the bacteria advanced to eat,” Dewhirst says. Human mouths are overcame by streptococcal bacteria, i beg your pardon are an excellent at eat sugars. “Since cats and also dogs usually don’t eat too countless doughnuts, there’s virtually no strep,” the says.

A single lick can deposit untold countless these unfamiliar bacteria, Dewhirst says, and they’ve to be detected on human skin hours later. When studying the skin microbiome that humans, scientists were surprised to uncover several world with spot of skin spanned in dog bacteria.

“So, if she licked by a dog, and also someone were to take a Q-tip 5 hours later and rub the spot, they could recover end 50 different species of dog-mouth bacteria,” that says.

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Healing Paws?

Weirdly, background is packed with lore saying that canine saliva have the right to heal quite than harm. Dog supposedly licked wounds in ~ the ancient Greek holy place to Asclepius, the god the healing. And also there’s a long-running however unconfirmed story that Caesar’s army employed wound-licking dogs.