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

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Doctors quickly identified that Julie was in septic shock—bacteria in her bloodstream to be attacking her from within. Also after starting on antibiotics, the purple kept spreading, and also her organs began to fail. Eventually, parts of her arms and also legs began transforming black.

She had been hospitalized for an ext than two weeks prior to doctors were able to recognize the bacteria in her blood. It was Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a pest commonly uncovered in the saliva of healthy dogs and cats.




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Only climate did Julie remember the she had actually scalded the top of her left foot in warm water a couple of weeks before she gained sick. It wasn’t a negative burn, and she hadn’t thought lot of it once her fox terrier puppy licked the wound.

Like Julie, many of united state don’t really know what’s swimming around in our pets’ saliva, or exactly how dangerous it could be. Our skin and immune systems typically stand in between us and also our pets’ germs—but those systems deserve to be breached.

About 10 to 15 percent the dog bites become infected, as execute up to fifty percent of cat bites. Periodically the after-effects are deadly: In one study, 26 percent of world with confirmed C. Canimorsus epidemic died. (Find out whether her dog would eat friend if you died.)

Now, scientists have started to define all the bacterial varieties living in dogs’ and also cats’ mouths and also compare them to our own, and their job-related is revealing a hold 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 bring them. Humans typically don’t, and also once the bacteria gained in Julie’s bloodstream, her body struggled come fight off infection.

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

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

Takes a Licking

If anyone knows what’s in a dog or cat’s mouth, that Floyd Dewhirst, a bacterial geneticist at the Forsyth Institute and also professor of oral medicine at Harvard. Dewhirst pioneered the examine of the dental microbiome—all the bacteria the live in the mouth—in humans, dogs, and also cats.

About 400 come 500 bacterial types are common and also abundant in the person mouth, he says. So far, Dewhirst and also his colleagues have actually identified approximately 400 kinds of oral bacteria in dogs and virtually 200 in cats, and also Dewhirst expects an ext will be found with more study.

One the the key reasons we can gain infections from our pets, he says, is that our bacterial ecosystems room so different from each other.

“If girlfriend look at humans and also dogs, we just saw around 15 percent that space the very same species,” the says. So, numerous of a dog’s mouth bacteria are less likely come be kept in inspect by our immune systems and also native bacteria. The oral microbiomes the cats and also dogs, ~ above the other hand, overlap by about 50 percent. (Also discover out what old DNA is showing us about cat domestication.)

“Part the that may be what the bacteria progressed to eat,” Dewhirst says. Person mouths are conquered by streptococcal bacteria, which are good at eating sugars. “Since cats and dogs usually don’t eat too numerous doughnuts, there’s virtually no strep,” the says.

A solitary lick have the right to deposit untold numerous these unfamiliar bacteria, Dewhirst says, and also they’ve been detected on human skin hours later. When studying the skin microbiome the humans, researchers were surprised to discover several civilization with spot of skin extended in dog bacteria.

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

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Healing Paws?

Weirdly, background is packed through lore saying that canine saliva deserve to heal rather than harm. Dogs supposedly licked wounds in ~ the old Greek temple to Asclepius, the god of healing. And also there’s a long-running however unconfirmed story that Caesar’s military employed wound-licking dogs.