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Are Dogs’ Tongues Clean? Exploring the Facts

are dogs' tongues clean

Dogs are known for their sloppy kisses and licking, but are their tongues really clean? One of the most distinctive features of dogs is their tongue, which is used for various purposes, from grooming to communicating with their owners. 

There is a long-standing debate about whether or not dogs’ tongues are clean. Every responsible pawrent brushes their canine’s teeth at least two times a week and even uses dental water additives and chews often.

Many people would think a dog’s tongue is clean because it’s rare for them to transmit diseases to humans through it. We have drawn from expert sources to answer all your questions about how clean your dog’s tongue really is.

It’s true that a dog’s tongue is covered in a layer of saliva containing enzymes to keep the mouth clean. However, they’re constantly reintroducing bacteria into their mouths. The fact that most owners need to learn how to stop their dogs from eating poop is very telling of the dog’s oral hygiene. 

However, it is important to note that dogs’ tongues have antimicrobial properties. They contain histatins that can help combat infections. This means that their tongues may kill some of the harmful bacteria they come into contact with.

Overall, dogs’ tongues are not completely clean, but they do have some antimicrobial properties. It is important to take precautions when letting a dog lick a person or an open wound. Regular dental care and grooming can also help to keep a dog’s mouth and tongue healthy.

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The Truth About Dog Tongue Cleanliness

Some people believe that dogs’ tongues are cleaner than human tongues, while others argue that they are full of bacteria and germs. The truth is somewhere in between. 

Firstly, it is important to understand that dogs’ mouths are riddled with bacteria. This bacteria is a natural part of their oral microbiome and helps digest food. In fact, studies have shown that canine saliva was effective against bacteria like Escherichia coli and Streptococcus canis.

Secondly, dogs use their tongues to clean themselves. They lick their fur, paws, and even their bums to groom themselves. This means that their tongues can pick up dirt, debris, and other particles that may be present on their skin or fur, and the result is far from a clean tongue.

It’s important to understand that a dog’s mouth is not sterile. In fact, a dog’s mouth contains billions of various bacteria and other microorganisms. This doesn’t necessarily mean a dog’s tongue is unclean by nature’s standards, but by human standards, those tongues are filthy. 

The reason some people believe that dogs have cleaner tongues and mouths than humans is the bacterial differences between the two. Dogs have billions of bacteria completely different from those found in humans.

This is why some people say that, theoretically, it’s safer to get kisses from your pooch than another human. Because, at least then, the dog’s bacteria isn’t compatible with you. However, remember that bacteria are bacteria, and you can absolutely catch something from harmful canine microbes. 

Additionally, dogs are known for licking all sorts of things, from their paws to random poop and rotting carcasses down the street. So, it’s safe to say that a dog’s tongue is not clean, and it’s definitely not cleaner than a human with proper oral hygiene.


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Bacteria on Dog Tongues

Dogs do have some natural defenses against harmful bacteria, but their tongues can still harbor various microorganisms because they’re animals, after all.

 Documented events noted that dogs frequently lick their owners, or other dogs may transfer these bacteria from their tongues to their human or canine companions. While canine-human infections through saliva are rare, they’re fatal if they occur.

One study found that dogs’ tongues contain a diverse range of bacteria, including both potentially harmful and beneficial species. Some of the bacteria commonly found on dog tongues include:

  • Capnocytophaga;
  • Pasteurella;
  • Firmicutes;
  • Fusobacterium;
  • Streptococcus;
  • Staphylococcus; and
  • Neisseria.

While most of these bacteria are harmless to both dogs and humans, some can cause infections or illnesses. For example, Pasteurella can cause skin infections or respiratory problems in humans, while E. coli can cause gastrointestinal issues.

It’s crucial to note that bacteria on a dog’s tongue does not necessarily mean that the dog is unclean or unhealthy. Some of the bacteria found on dog tongues are beneficial, helping promote healthy digestion or boost the immune system.

It’s essential to practice good hygiene when interacting with dogs, including washing your hands after handling them and avoiding close contact with their tongues or saliva. 

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Diseases Transmitted Through Dog Licks

Dogs are known for their affectionate and loving nature, often showing their love through licking. However, it is important to be aware of the potential diseases that can be transmitted through dog licks. Illnesses that can spread across species are zoonotic infections. Plenty of research on canine transmissible infections addresses this issue.

One of the most common diseases transmitted through dog saliva is rabies. Rabies is a fatal, brain-eating virus with little help when symptoms present. Luckily, Rabies vaccines exist, cutting down virus prevalence tremendously.  

Another disease that can be transmitted through dog licks is Capnocytophaga Infection. This is another type of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and even sepsis. People with compromised immune systems are more likely to have severe reactions. 

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. It is commonly found in the intestines of dogs and can be transmitted to humans through licking or contact with contaminated surfaces.

Other diseases dogs can transmit to humans through their saliva include:

  • Pasteurella infection;
  • Noroviruses;
  • Brucella;
  • Campylobacter; and
  • Leptospirosis.

It is important to note that while these diseases can be transmitted through dog licks, the risk of transmission is relatively low. Maintaining good hygiene practices, such as washing hands after contact with dogs and avoiding contact with dog feces, can help reduce the risk of transmission.


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Dog Tongue Anatomy

Taste Buds

Dogs have taste buds like humans, but they are not as sensitive as ours. They have fewer taste buds (1700) than humans (9000) but can still taste sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors. Dogs have taste buds on their tongue’s tip, sides, and back.

Salivary Glands

Dogs have four pairs of salivary glands that produce saliva. Saliva is important for digestion and helps to keep the mouth clean. The salivary glands produce different types of saliva, including serous, mucous, and mixed saliva.


Dogs have four types of papillae on their tongue: filiform, fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate. Filiform papillae are the most common and are responsible for the rough texture of a dog’s tongue.

Fungiform papillae are found on the tip and sides of the tongue and contain taste buds. Foliate papillae are located on the back of the tongue and are responsible for detecting bitter tastes. Circumvallate papillae are located at the back of the tongue and detect sour and bitter tastes.

How Dogs Clean Their Tongues?

Dogs use their tongues for various purposes, including grooming, eating, drinking, and communicating. Cleaning their tongues is an essential part of their grooming routine in these ways:


Dogs use their tongues to lick their fur and skin to remove dirt, debris, and parasites. They also lick their paws, noses, and other body parts to keep themselves clean. When they lick, they also clean their tongues by removing any food particles or bacteria that may be present.


When dogs chew on toys, bones, or other objects, they scrap their tongues against them, which helps remove any plaque or bacteria buildup.


Dogs have a lot of saliva, which is also a natural way of cleaning their tongues. Saliva contains enzymes that break down food particles and bacteria, which helps to keep their mouth clean.

How to Maintain Dog Tongue Hygiene

Maintaining dog tongue hygiene is essential to keep your dog healthy. Here are some tips to keep your dog’s tongue clean:

1. Regular Brushing

Brushing your dog’s teeth twice a week can help remove plaque and bacteria that cause bad breath and other dental problems. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste specially made for dogs. You can also use dental chews, quality mouth rinses, and chew toys to complement their dental care regimen. 


Replying to @baccyconezz How to brush your dog’s teeth 🦷 We brush every night before bed! #dogteethbrushing #dogteeth #dogcareroutine

♬ Summer day – TimTaj

2. Provide Fresh Water

Ensure your dog has access to clean and fresh water at all times. Providing fresh water can help wash away any food particles and bacteria that may accumulate on the tongue.

3. Avoid Sharing Food and Water Bowls

Sharing food and water bowls with other dogs or animals can spread bacteria and germs that can cause infections in your dog’s mouth. Use separate bowls for each of your pets and clean them regularly.

4. Regular Check-ups

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help detect any dental problems early on. Your vet can also recommend dental cleaning procedures to keep your dog’s mouth healthy.

5. Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can help maintain good oral hygiene in dogs. Feed your dog a balanced diet with bones, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid feeding your dog sugary or starchy foods that can cause tooth decay. You can also incorporate dry food into their diet since it improves oral health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do dogs’ tongues have bacteria on them?

Yes, dogs’ tongues have bacteria on them, just like human tongues. However, dogs have a different set of bacteria that are adapted to their environment and lifestyle.

How do dogs clean their tongues?

Dogs clean their tongues by licking. Their tongues have rough surfaces that can scrape off food particles and debris when they lick a bone or themselves. Additionally, the saliva produced by dogs contains enzymes that can break down food and kill some bacteria.

Can you get sick from a dog licking you?

It is possible to get sick from a dog licking you, although the risk is relatively low. Some bacteria found in dogs’ mouths can cause infections in humans, especially if the person has a weakened immune system or has an open wound.

Are dog tongues cleaner than human tongues?

Dogs don’t have cleaner tongues than humans. Dogs’ tongues may have different bacteria than human tongues, but they can still harbor harmful germs. Additionally, dogs may pick up bacteria and other pathogens from their environment that humans are not exposed to.

Do dogs’ tongues have germs?

Yes, dogs’ tongues have germs just like human tongues. However, the types of germs found in dogs’ mouths may differ from those found in humans. It is important to practice good hygiene when interacting with dogs to minimize the risk of infection.

What is the purpose of a dog’s tongue?

A dog’s tongue serves many purposes, including helping with eating and drinking, regulating body temperature, and communicating with other dogs. Additionally, dogs use their tongues to groom themselves and to show affection to their owners.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, while it is true that dogs’ tongues have some antimicrobial properties, there is no clear evidence to suggest that they are “cleaner” than human tongues. It is important to note that dogs’ mouths can contain harmful bacteria and viruses and transmit these pathogens to humans through licking or biting.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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