Shocking Case: Pet Parent Nearly Dies From Dog Licks

PetMD Editorial
Published: July 05, 2016
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While we want to smother our pets with affection (and vice versa), sometimes this love can come with a dangerous health risk. 

In a shocking case that came out of England, a 70-year-old woman was diagnosed with sepsis and multiorgan dysfunction. The cause? Her dog licked her. 

According to the medical journal BMJ Case Reports, this instance—fittingly titled the "Lick of Death" by study authors—discovered that while the woman was not scratched or bitten by her pet Italian greyhound, she did pet him and get dog kisses from him. 

After running blood tests, doctors discovered that "a bacterium frequently isolated in the oral cavities of dogs and cats"—called C. canimorsus sepsis—was present in the woman's system.

Luckily, the pet parent made a full recovery after two weeks and "no underlying immune dysfunction was found." 

Dr. James Wilson, one of the authors of this case, tells petMD that instances of infection from C. canimorsus sepsis are extremely rare and are more likely to happen from bites. And while infection is uncommon, he says, the bacteria is present in the saliva of most dogs. 

People at the highest risk of contracting the bacteria from dog "kisses" are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, says Wilson. "People who have problems with their immune system—people without spleens, or people who suffer from cirrhosis of the liver, or undergoing chemotherapy—should be aware of the risks," he states. 

However, most pet parents who have healthy immunue sytems will not have to stop their doggy kisses and licks, since the risk of infection is incredibly low.

"In the U.K., three cases of severe infectin from this particular strain of bacteria have been reported since 1990," Wilson says, "equating to a rough incidence of 1 case per 150 million people per year."

Since the biggest risk associated with C. canimorsus sepsis is from a dog's bite, it's essential that precautions are taken around children, especially. 

"All bites should be immediately irrigated with clean water (tap water will do) and assessed by a health professional; often a 5-7 day course of antibiotics will be recommended," Wilson advises. "Severe injuries with deep bites and bleeding will require more urgent attention." 

Image via Shutterstock