Salivary Glands and Saliva
Saliva is produced in and secreted from salivary glands. The basic secretory units of salivary glands are clusters of cells called an acini. These cells secrete a fluid that contains water, electrolytes, mucus and enzymes, all of which flow out of the acinus into collecting ducts.
Within the ducts, the composition of the secretion is altered. Much of the sodium is actively reabsorbed, potassium is secreted, and large quantities of bicarbonate ion are secreted. Bicarbonate secretion is of tremendous importance to ruminants because it, along with phosphate, provides a critical buffer that neutralizes the massive quantities of acid produced in the forestomachs. Small collecting ducts within salivary glands lead into larger ducts, eventually forming a single large duct that empties into the oral cavity.
Most animals have three major pairs of salivary glands that differ in the type of secretion they produce:
- parotid glands produce a serous, watery secretion
- submaxillary (mandibular) glands produce a mixed serous and mucous secretion
- sublingual glands secrete a saliva that is predominantly mucous in character
The basis for different glands secreting saliva of differing composition can be seen by examining salivary glands histologically. Two basic types of acinar epithelial cells exist:
- serous cells, which secrete a watery fluid, essentially devoid of mucus
- mucous cells, which produce a very mucus-rich secretion
Acini in the parotid glands are almost exclusively of the serous type, while those in the sublingual glands are predominantly mucus cells. In the submaxillary glands, it is common to observe acini composed of both serous and mucus epithelial cells.
In the histologic sections of canine salivary gland shown above, the cells stained pink are serous cells, while the white, foamy cells are mucus-secreting cells.
Secretion of saliva is under control of the autonomic nervous system, which controls both the volume and type of saliva secreted. This is actually fairly interesting: a dog fed dry dog food produces saliva that is predominantly serous, while dogs on a meat diet secrete saliva with much more mucus. Parasympathetic stimulation from the brain, as was well demonstated by Ivan Pavlov, results in greatly enhanced secretion, as well as increased blood flow to the salivary glands.
Potent stimuli for increased salivation include the presence of food or irritating substances in the mouth, and thoughts of or the smell of food. Knowing that salivation is controlled by the brain will also help explain why many psychic stimuli also induce excessive salivation - for example, why some dogs salivate all over the house when it's thundering
What then are the important functions of saliva? Saliva serves many roles, some of which are important to all species, and others to only a few:
- Lubrication and binding: the mucus in saliva is extremely effective in binding masticated food into a slippery bolus that (usually) slides easily through the esophagus without inflicting damage to the mucosa. Saliva also coats the oral cavity and esophagus, and food basically never directly touches the epithelial cells of those tissues.
- Solubilizes dry food: in order to be tasted, the molecules in food must be solubilized.
- Oral hygiene: The oral cavity is almost constantly flushed with saliva, which floats away food debris and keeps the mouth relatively clean. Flow of saliva diminishes considerably during sleep, allow populations of bacteria to build up in the mouth -- the result is dragon breath in the morning. Saliva also contains lysozyme, an enzyme that lyses many bacteria and prevents overgrowth of oral microbial populations.
- Initiates starch digestion: in most species, the serous acinar cells secrete an alpha-amylase which can begin to digest dietary starch into maltose. Amylase is not present, or present only in very small quantities, in the saliva of carnivores or cattle.
- Provides alkaline buffering and fluid: this is of great importance in ruminants, which have non-secretory forestomachs.
- Evaporative cooling: clearly of importance in dogs, which have very poorly developed sweat glands - look at a dog panting after a long run and this function will be clear.
Diseases of the salivary glands and ducts are not uncommon in animals and man, and excessive salivation is a symptom of almost any lesion in the oral cavity. The dripping of saliva seen in rabid animals is not actually a result of excessive salivation, but due to pharyngeal paralysis, which prevents saliva from being swallowed.
Send comments to Richard.Bowen@colostate.edu
Some common zoonotic bacteria include clostridium, E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, which can cause severe gastrointestinal disease in humans, said Dr. Leni K. Kaplan, a lecturer of community practice service at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
So I shouldn’t let my dog lick me at all?
“When dog saliva touches intact human skin, especially in a healthy person, it is extremely unlikely to cause any problems, as there will be very little absorption through the skin,” Dr. Kaplan wrote in an email.
However, a dog’s saliva and pathogens can be absorbed more easily through the mucous membranes of a person’s nose, mouth and eyes. Though illnesses transmitted this way are rare, Dr. Kaplan said it was best to avoid having your dog lick those parts of your face.
John Oxford, a professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London and an expert in microbiology, said he would never let a dog lick his face, The Hippocratic Post reported.
“It is not just what is carried in saliva,” he said. “Dogs spend half of their life with their noses in nasty corners or hovering over dog droppings so their muzzles are full of bacteria, viruses and germs of all sorts.”
What other illnesses can be transmitted?
Other infections, such as hookworms and roundworms, can be transmitted in a practice called coprophagia, in which animals ingest one another’s stool or by licking each others’ anuses, Dr. Nandi said in an email.
Dr. Joe Kinnarney, the immediate past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said in an interview that one study calculated that a puppy could have as many as 20 million to 30 million roundworm eggs in its intestinal tract in one week. He said a client’s child at his practice in Greensboro, N.C., nearly lost an eye from a roundworm infection.
It is conceivable that a dog with fecal material in its mouth could transmit an intestinal parasite to a human through licking, but that is rare, Dr. Sarah Proctor, a clinical assistant professor and the director of the veterinary technology program at the University of New Hampshire, said in an email.
More commonly, a parasite can be contracted by ingesting contaminated soil — via a home garden, for example — where pets have left their droppings.
President Obama even touched on the subject in an interview with Wired magazine that was published in August:
“I still don’t let Sunny and Bo lick me, because when I walk them on the side lawn, some of the things I see them picking up and chewing on, I don’t want that, man,” Mr. Obama said, laughing.
Are there other hazards?
Dr. Proctor says people should be aware that not all dogs want to be hugged or kissed.
“Most people do not pick up on a dog’s subtle body language that shows fear, stress or aggression,” she wrote. “Putting your face into a dog’s face and kissing it could lead to a bite on the face if you are not careful.”
What about, you know, cats?
Cats do not eat feces, and humans are therefore unlikely to become infected by parasites from them, according to the website petMD.
Cats’ mouths do harbor Pasteurella, which can cause infections of the skin and lymph node, and Bartonella henselae, a bacterium that can cause a severe skin and lymph node infection known as cat scratch fever, the website reported.
Most of those infections come from bites or scratches.
What precautions should I take?
• Make sure your pet is current on all vaccines.
• New pets should undergo deworming.
• Keep your pets away from the feces of other animals.
• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Here’s how to do it right.
Arden Moore, who hosts “Oh Behave,” a podcast on Pet Life Radio, said in an email that she welcomed the occasional kiss from her five dogs and one cat, and kisses the tops of their heads in return.
“Pets, just like people, crave attention and affection,” she said. “As long as I remain healthy and my pets stay healthy, I will take this ‘risk’ and accept their kisses.”Continue reading the main story