For most dog-owners, a few slobbery licks are part of sharing your life with a canine companion. But for one man, his dog’s saliva was lethal.
The unnamed 63-year-old, who lived in Germany, died from “multi-organ failure” a few weeks after he was licked by his dog, according to the man's doctors, who wrote about the case in the European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine. His symptoms included fever, muscle pain, and labored breathing. After he was admitted to hospital he was found to have signs of kidney damage and “liver dysfunction.”
The man was transferred to intensive care, where he was diagnosed with severe sepsis and gangrene over the next few days. Eventually, blood tests showed the presence of the bacteria Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which is found in the saliva of cats and dogs.
His family made the decision to turn off his life support 16 days after he was admitted to hospital.
In 2018, two separate cases of people contracting Capnocytophaga canimorsus were reported in the US. Sharon Larson, 58, from Wisconsin, died a few days after her dog nipped her.
Greg Manteufel, also from Wisconsin, was rushed to hospital after going into septic shock, had both legs amputated up through his kneecaps, and underwent surgery to remove parts of both of his hands. He had been around eight puppies when he first became ill, and it's suspected that he picked up the bacterial infection from them.
Earlier this year, Marie Trainer, a dog owner from Ohio, had both arms and both legs partially amputated after she experienced flu-like symptoms. When her temperature suddenly spiked and then plummeted, she was admitted to the hospital, and within hours she had developed sepsis and was placed into a medically induced coma. Blood tests revealed that she had contracted Capnocytophaga canimorsus, which she believes happened when her dogs licked a small cut on her arm.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus is normal in dogs and cats and doesn't cause symptoms in animals. But when transmitted to humans through animal saliva—typically through a bite or a scratch—it can lead to fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches. In some cases, it can develop into a blood infection.
“It’s not very common, but when it occurs, it [can be] really bad,” Bruno Chomel, DVM, PhD, professor of zoonosis at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, previously told Health.
According to the German man’s doctors, Capnocytophaga canimorsus infections are rare and normally only affect those with a suppressed immune system, no spleen, or alcohol problems. If caught, the infection is fatal in around a quarter of cases, they added.
If you’re bitten by a dog or cat, follow the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and wash the affected area with soap and water without delay. It’s also advised to seek advice from your doctor, even if you don’t feel sick, and especially if the wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen; if you develop a fever; or if the dog that bit you was acting strangely.
If you have a weakened immune system—for example, if you have cancer, HIV, or another serious condition—it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor for general advice about how to protect yourself when you come into contact with pets.
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