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Settle a bet, please: Is a dog’s mouth dirtier than a human’s? How about a cat’s?

By: Denise Foley

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It’s hard to generalize, but if you have a choice, it’s better for your health to avoid human bites, advises Dr. Bryan T. Ambro, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center. While both cats and dogs carry germs, the 100 million bacteria in one milliliter of human saliva are more likely to cause infections in the skin and soft tissue, he says.

In fact, roughly 50 percent of human bites become infected. Along with staph and strep infections, humans can pass hepatitis and HIV via bites. “In the pre-antibiotic era,” says Ambro, “up to 25 percent of people who got a human bite on a foot, toe or hand required amputation.” Bacteria isn’t the only reason human bites are so serious, adds the plastic surgeon. Rather, it’s that people tend to avoid the doctor. “If you go within the first 12 to 24 hours and get treated, your chance of infection is pretty low.”

As for animal bites, cat bites are more likely than dog bites to cause infection, but it doesn’t mean that cats have dirtier mouths. “They have very slender teeth, and the wounds are deep and very hard to clean,” says Ambro. Only about 15 percent of dog bites get infected, which is a good thing, since, according to Ambro, man’s best friend is more likely to bite you than either cats or people.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/knape

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Denise Foley is Completely You’s News You Can Use” blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women’s health and parenting.

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