When I Kiss My Dog My Lips Swell?

Getting kisses from your furry canine companion is one of life’s simple joys. But for some people, leaning in for puppy kisses can lead to an itchy, irritated reaction. While rare, allergies to substances in dog saliva do exist.

If your lips or face swell up after kissing your dog, you may be experiencing an allergic response. This unpleasant reaction can range from mild to severe. Understanding the causes, symptoms, risk factors and treatments for dog saliva allergies can help you manage this condition.

In this article, we’ll explore the key facts about human allergic reactions to dog kisses. Read on to learn what to do if your pup’s slobbery smooches make your lips swell and leave you wanting to pucker up less.

What Causes Dog Kiss Allergies

The main cause of allergic reactions to dog kisses is proteins found in dog saliva. When a dog licks or kisses someone, their saliva can come into contact with the person’s skin or be inhaled into their respiratory system.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal’s skin cells, saliva or urine.”

Specifically, the allergenic proteins in dog saliva come from glycoproteins and mucins. These proteins tend to be very small, lightweight and “sticky,” allowing them to become easily airborne or quickly absorb into human skin upon contact. Once the allergenic proteins enter the body, they can trigger an allergic response in those sensitive to them.

“Allergy to dog (Canis familiaris) is a worldwide common cause of asthma and allergic rhinitis. However, dander extract in allergen immunotherapy often lacks efficacy. The objective was to investigate dog salivary allergens that might contribute to the allergenicity of dog dander.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652036/)

In essence, the allergy is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to the foreign proteins present in dog saliva. Even a small amount of these proteins can trigger allergic symptoms in sensitive individuals when exposure occurs through kissing, licks, or close contact with a dog.

Common Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of dog kiss allergies include swollen lips and itchy skin where the dog has licked [1]. When a dog licks or kisses a person who is allergic to their saliva, the proteins and allergens in the saliva can trigger an allergic response. This often causes the lips to become red, irritated, swollen and itchy shortly after contact [2].

In addition to swollen lips, red rashes or hives may develop on the face, neck, hands or anywhere the dog has licked. The skin in these areas can become intensely itchy, inflamed and uncomfortable. Some people may also experience tingling or burning sensations after a dog lick. The rash and itching typically subsides within a few hours, though in severe cases it can last for several days.

Besides the skin, the eyes may also become irritated, red and itchy after exposure to allergens in dog saliva. Some individuals can experience watery, itchy eyes or sinus congestion resembling hay fever after interacting with a dog. These ocular and nasal symptoms demonstrate how dog saliva allergens can affect multiple areas.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing an allergy to dog saliva. The most significant risk factor is a personal or family history of allergies, particularly respiratory allergies like hay fever or asthma. According to research, up to 70-80% of people with dog saliva allergies have a history of other allergies. This is because people with allergies tend to have an overactive immune system that identifies harmless substances as threats.

Asthma is another major risk factor. People with asthma already have inflamed airways that can react to allergens. Dog saliva may trigger asthma symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath in those with asthma. According to this source, around 10% of people with dog saliva allergies also have asthma.


If you develop symptoms of a dog kiss allergy, the first step is to see an allergist for testing. The allergist will likely perform either a skin prick test or a blood test to check for allergen-specific IgE antibodies. For a skin test, the allergist will prick the skin with extracts of common dog allergens like dander, saliva, and urine. If you’re allergic, a small hive will develop at the prick site. A blood test can also detect IgE antibodies to these allergens 1. These tests help confirm that symptoms are due to an allergy and identify the specific allergen triggers.

Your doctor may also recommend an elimination diet, where you remove all dog allergens from your environment for several weeks. If symptoms improve during the elimination period and return upon re-exposure to the dog, it supports a diagnosis of a dog saliva allergy 2.


There are several treatment options available for people with dog kiss allergies. Two of the main medical treatments are antihistamines and allergy shots.

Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin) can help reduce allergy symptoms by blocking the effects of histamine, which the body releases in response to allergens (1). Antihistamines come in pill, liquid, and nasal spray form. They can relieve sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and other symptoms. However, antihistamines don’t treat the underlying allergic response.

Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy, can help desensitize people to dog allergens over time. Allergy shots involve getting injections of a serum containing tiny amounts of the substances you’re allergic to. The doses are gradually increased to build up your tolerance (2). It can take months to years for allergy shots to reach maximum effectiveness. Though allergy shots don’t provide a cure, they can significantly reduce allergy symptoms and need for medication in many people.


There are some steps you can take to help prevent allergic reactions when kissing your dog:

Wash your dog’s mouth regularly, especially before interactions where kissing may occur. Use a pet-safe oral rinse to wash away saliva proteins that can trigger allergies [1].

Take an oral antihistamine like Zyrtec or Claritin 30-60 minutes before visiting with or kissing dogs. This can help block the allergic reaction [2].

Avoid kissing around your dog’s mouth, as saliva can stick to their fur. Try rubbing your nose on your dog’s head or back instead [3].

Bathe your dog regularly using a pet-safe shampoo to wash away dander and allergens in their fur [2].

Keep your dog out of your bedroom, as their dander can accumulate on bedding [1].

Living with Dog Kiss Allergies

For those with dog kiss allergies, living with a dog requires taking certain precautions. Though giving up a beloved pet may seem drastic, there are several steps dog owners can take to reduce allergy symptoms.

Avoid having the dog lick your face and wash any licked areas immediately. Wearing long sleeves and pants can create a barrier between your skin and allergens. Bathing your dog weekly can also help reduce dander and saliva proteins that trigger reactions. Consider keeping your dog out of bedrooms and frequently vacuuming any areas they access.

Some find success using HEPA air filters to capture allergens and regularly grooming dogs outside the home. Medications like antihistamines may relieve symptoms, along with nasal sprays and allergy shots. For severe allergies, rehoming the dog with a caring family may be kindest for both parties.

While challenging, living with a dog you’re allergic to is possible by being vigilant. Focus on symptomatic relief and reducing allergen exposure through simple precautions. This allows dog owners to manage their condition while continuing to enjoy their precious pets.



When to See a Doctor

In most cases, dog kiss allergies result in mild symptoms that can be managed at home with over-the-counter medications and avoidance. However, severe reactions can occur in some individuals that require prompt medical attention.

Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms after kissing or close contact with a dog:
– Swelling of the lips, face, or throat

– Difficulty breathing or swallowing
– Wheezing or shortness of breath
– Rapid heart rate

– Hives covering a large portion of the body
– Nausea, diarrhea, dizziness or fainting

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that can come on rapidly after exposure to an allergen. Call 911 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency room if you suspect anaphylaxis. Symptoms include swollen airways, dangerously low blood pressure, shock and loss of consciousness.

Seek prompt medical care if you develop any rashes, redness or skin infections around the mouth. These could indicate a secondary bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment.

While not everyone with dog kiss allergies will react severely, it’s important to monitor symptoms carefully. At the first sign of an escalating reaction, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or go to the emergency room.


Dog allergies from kisses can be bothersome, but are manageable with proper treatment and precautions. The exact cause is unknown, but symptoms like lip swelling, rashes, wheezing and gastrointestinal issues can result from your dog’s saliva. Certain individuals are at higher risk, though anyone can develop an allergy over time. Diagnosis involves testing and systematically isolating the allergen. Treatment options range from oral antihistamines to allergen immunotherapy. Preventative measures like avoiding direct contact between your lips and your dog’s mouth, washing your dog frequently, and wiping their mouth can help reduce reactions.

While dog kiss allergies can be frustrating, most people can still keep their furry companions. With some simple precautions and medical treatment if needed, you can minimize symptoms and continue sharing your life with your beloved pet.

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