When Pets Kiss the Vet: Goofy, Gross or Great?

After all, to kiss is to communicate ­­— happily. Kissing, or, let’s speak plainly, licking is what dogs do by way of expressing any number of positive emotions. Though far more subdued in their lingual approach, even cats seem to advance their tongue as a positive gesture of appreciation. (Luckily, “tasting before biting” isn’t a common approach, whether we’re talking about dogs or cats.) Play, greeting, excitement, exploration, solicitation and just plain adoration can all serve as explanation for the lowly licking behavior so many humans inexplicably abhor.

Lick Likers and Dislikers

I mean, I love a licky dog. But not everyone feels the same way. My father claims it gives him the willies. Others disdain the slobbery, drool-y component. But what’s a little saliva among friends, I ask? What’s up with all these kiss-a-phobics?

Based on my everyday life as a veterinarian, here are a couple of observations on the kissing front:

1. Men, more than women, seem to claim they do not enjoy a dog’s lick. "Creepy," "gross" or "messy" rule the vocabulary on this score.

2. Large dog people appear to be overrepresented in their dislike of a lick. ("Does he really have to wash my entire face each time he wants to say he’s happy?") Small dog owners, by contrast, seem likelier to welcome this brand of communication with its associated saliva stains, foul breath, social awkwardness — makeup disasters be damned!

Like most veterinarians I know, I’m open to all brands of pet-licking behavior. Nonetheless, I can understand when people say they can’t stand it when their Mastiff applies his slippery 6"-by-16" tongue to his owner’s face after she’s just put on her morning makeup. But a little kitty lick? A teensy tongue’s worth of affection?

Indeed, how can anyone — especially a veterinarian — resist a pet’s public displays of affection? I can’t. After all, we veterinarians have to take our simple pet pleasures wherever we can get them… even if they are a bit “gross” on occasion.


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