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The Healing Powers of Drool

The Caninologist

Dog spit is a tough sell.

It’s not often found in your average corner drug store aisles. Despite recent evidence of antibacterial chemicals in canine saliva, something about doggy drool as a healing aid just fails to impress.

Maybe it’s the English bulldog thing, when the slobber-cycles grow nearly to the ground, and attach to articles of clothing. Something like that gets all over your skin, your first thought is not to smear it on an open cut.

And of course a dog foaming at the mouth is an image of terror. For good reason. There’s no reason for anyone to seek exposure to dog spit.

But people do let dogs lick and kiss them and even their babies.

The Bay Area is a mecca for kissers of all species and persuasions. Dogs have replaced children. We kiss dogs. They kiss us, all the time.

Let’s be more precise. A dog will lick anything, especially something it likes. Also something it plans to eat. If the initial lick test is positive, a dog eats without tasting it, or chewing it, or worrying at all what it is. Sometimes this licking resembles a kiss. It is not. Dogs lick us for the same reason anteaters stick their tongues in anthills. Because they can.

We need to take time and study dog saliva, given their numbers and our frequent encounters with it.

In dogs, by the way, saliva serves little real digestive purpose other than helping the kibble slide down the gullet. No saliva needs to get mixed into the churn as in humans, with our mouth-linked digestive processes. Dogs wolf it down and why not. Chewing is a waste of time. The only chewing dogs are in cartoons, or aren’t actually eating it so much as using their piehole to do as much damage they can to whatever it is they can’t manage to actually eat.

Humans don’t need to smear animal spittle on ourselves to cure a wound; we can purchase an ointment, and use a bandage.

Our salivary output is wholly unlike the dog’s. We are like ungulates crossed with scavengers, our teeth designed to grind vegetable matter or tear flesh. Dogs, it’s all tearing, no chewing except by accident. Sure, a dog will chew on a bone, or a piece of leather, or a table leg, or its own leg. But for a dog, it’s all teeth. Saliva is essentially nothing more than lubricant.

But it’s got that curative stuff, antibacterial chemicals and growth factors, promoting skin replacement and wound healing.

I still don’t recommend it. The average dog must lick some part of itself at least three hours a day. That’s based on limited data, admittedly of no statistical power, consisting of the dogs I have known or just wished would stop their infernal licking. Our two dogs, Dave and Trixie, build up tidy earthquakes, licking out of synchrony, the 50-pound old cattle dog and the 10-pound Chihuahua going at it.

Why do they do this? Obviously, and as a million Sunday supplements and product-pushing websites have popularized, dog saliva will help Trixie’s foot issues, suffered when looking for some kind of grass to eat, also possibly for unknown health reasons due to the unfathomable medical knowledge of the dog.

Licking, that physical scraping of tongue on skin, can help debride a scrape. So dogs lick themselves as part of their natural wound-healing instinct.

A lot of nasty stuff gets mixed up in whatever a dog happens to put in its mouth, including bacteria. You might think of that next time you see a dog with tongue unleashed, approaching you or a child. Something about an infection due to a dog’s oral secretions makes me want to keep it to a handshake next time.

Studies of cross-species contamination are hardly overwhelming. What doesn’t kill you may make you slimy, but maybe stronger on the end something.

Nor are the benefits all that clearly established. Don’t believe all the feature stories. These little studies aren’t science in all cases.

Veterinarians will tell you its better to protect a dog from its own tongue when a wound needs time to heal. Hence, the cone of shame.

A little licking, some dog spit now and then, probably doesn’t hurt, and may help, as long as it isn’t taken to extreme.

The only trouble: Any dog with a tongue will almost always take it to extremes.

Carl T. Hall, executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, is a longtime science reporter and journalism instructor who is allergic to cats. He lives in the Bayview neighborhood where he and some business partners will soon be opening a dog-friendly cafe, Word.

Main article photo by: Photo by istock/LUX_8