Why Do Dogs Lick You?

Dog showing affection to his owner by licking

Why Do Dogs Lick You? It’s a Sign of Affection and More. Dogs lick you primarily as a sign of affection.

Licking is a natural behavior that dogs use to communicate various feelings and intentions, from showing love to seeking attention.

Understanding Why Dogs Lick

Licking is an instinctive behavior for dogs, stemming from their puppyhood.

Puppies lick their mothers’ mouths as a signal to regurgitate food, and mothers lick their puppies to clean them and stimulate their bodily functions.

Here are some reasons why dogs continue this behavior with their human families:

  • Affection: Licking releases endorphins in dogs, providing a sense of comfort and pleasure. By licking you, dogs are expressing their love and strengthening their bond with you.
  • Communication: Dogs might lick to get your attention or communicate a need, such as wanting to go outside, play, or eat.
  • Grooming: Sometimes, dogs lick as a grooming behavior, which they may extend to their human family members as part of their pack behavior.
  • Taste: Dogs enjoy the salty taste of human skin, especially after we sweat.

Are Dog Licks Safe?

Generally, dog licks are safe, but there are some health considerations to keep in mind:

  • Bacteria and Germs: A dog’s mouth is not cleaner than a human’s; it contains a lot of bacteria, including some that can cause infections in humans.
  • Wounds: It is especially important to avoid letting dogs lick open wounds, as this can introduce bacteria and cause infections.
  • Immunocompromised Individuals: People with weakened immune systems should be cautious about dog licks, as they are more susceptible to infections.

What Bacteria Is in a Dog’s Lick?

Dog licking the finger of unknown person

A dog’s mouth harbors numerous bacteria, some of which are harmless, but others can be pathogenic to humans. Common bacteria include:

  • Pasteurella: Pasteurella can cause skin and soft tissue infections.
  • Capnocytophaga: Capnocytophaga can lead to infections in humans, particularly in those with a weakened immune system.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: Staphylococcus aureus commonly found in the environment and in the nasal cavity of dogs, which can sometimes be transmitted through licking.

Can Dogs Contract Rabies from Other Dogs?

Yes, dogs can contract rabies from other dogs.

Rabies is a viral disease that is primarily transmitted through the saliva of infected animals, usually via bites.

When an infected dog bites another dog, the rabies virus can be transferred through the saliva entering the wound.

The virus affects the central nervous system, leading to severe neurological symptoms and, if left untreated, death.

Transmission of Rabies Among Dogs

The rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact with the saliva of an infected animal. Here are common ways rabies can spread among dogs:

  • Bites: The most common method of transmission is through biting. The virus is present in high levels in the saliva of infected animals.
  • Scratches: Although less common, rabies can also be transmitted if infected saliva comes into contact with open wounds, cuts, or any break in the skin.
  • Rare Cases: In very rare instances, rabies can be transmitted through mucous membranes. If an infected dog’s saliva comes into contact with another dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth, the virus may be transmitted.

Prevention of Rabies in Dogs

Preventing rabies is crucial for the health and safety of dogs and the public. Key measures include:

  • Vaccination: Regular rabies vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the disease in dogs. Rabies vaccines are safe and highly effective.
  • Control and Reporting: Keeping dogs on a leash, avoiding contact with wild or stray animals, and reporting any stray animals to local animal control officials can help reduce the risk of rabies.
  • Quarantine Measures: Dogs that have bitten someone or are suspected of having rabies may be placed in quarantine to monitor for symptoms, as recommended by local health authorities.

Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

Recognizing the signs of rabies in dogs can help in timely intervention, though once symptoms appear, rabies is nearly always fatal. Symptoms include:

  • Behavioral Changes: Dogs may become more aggressive, irritable, or alternatively, unusually affectionate.
  • Fever: A low-grade fever might be one of the first signs.
  • Seizures: As the disease progresses, seizures can occur.
  • Paralysis: The virus can cause paralysis in the muscles, particularly those that control swallowing, leading to “foaming at the mouth.”
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Dogs might drool excessively or have difficulty swallowing due to throat and jaw muscle paralysis.
  • Fear of Water: Hydrophobia, or a fear of water, is a classic sign of rabies, resulting from an inability to swallow.

Can You Get Rabies from Dog Licks?

Dog licking a man

Rabies is not typically transmitted through licking. It is transmitted through bites or scratches because the virus is present in the saliva of infected animals.

However, if an infected animal licks an open wound, there is a small chance of transmission. Ensuring your dog is vaccinated against rabies is crucial.


While the occasional lick from your dog is not likely to be dangerous, it’s important to maintain good hygiene and monitor the health context in which these licks occur.

Understanding why dogs lick and taking precautions can help you enjoy this affectionate behavior safely and healthily.