Sleeping With Your Pet: Yes Or No?
If you’re shopping for a mattress, you might be considering several options if you have a partner who is particular, kids you occasionally share your bed with, or an animal, likely a dog or cat.
Recent surveys have indicated that 71% of pet owners sleep with their dog or cat, and out of that group, 43% say that last their animal sleep with them every night. Another 5% say they let their pet sleep with them when their partner is out of town.
Within the pet snuggling group, 53% let pets sleep at their feet, while 23% of them allow their animals to snuggle right alongside. even more interesting, 11% of people who share their beds with their furry friends share their pillow, and 14% let their pet under the covers.
Experts say to go right ahead, that it presents no health hazard, as long as your pet is clean, and both of you are in healthy condition. As it turns out, according to the Mayo Clinic’s recent research on the subject, sharing your mattress with a canine companion might actually improve your well being and health.
The research didn’t evaluate cats, though some anecdotal evidence suggest that cat lovers will likely have the same beneficial results, although the nocturnal nature of felines can make sleep more disruptive, but so could anxious dogs, too.
Lois Krah, M.D. a sleep specialist for the Mayo Clinic, has stated that the real benefit of sleeping with your pet might be that you are maximizing your time with them, which increases the bond between you and your pet, though this idea confused many out owners who have been told for decades to avoid the practice. For years, doctors and veterinarians have advised that it promotes poor behavior in dogs, and could lead to serious illness in humans.
But in recent years. most vets now believe that issues about humans sleeping their pets are either non-existent or rare, advising against the behavior when there are overriding medical conditions such as allergies or immune disorders.
In fact, sleeping with your pet may be an important ritualistic behavior in the evening and at bedtime, and might help with sleep induction and sleep hygiene. Dr. Ann Hohenhus, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York, who is a veterinary oncologist, says the ritual is very important for many owners and their animals, and should not be avoided unless there are medical concerns.
Dr. Hohenhaus adds that despite what we’ve been hearing all along, letting a dog or cat sleep with us doesn’t cause behavioral issues with most animals, either. If you own an aggressive animal, you might be hesitant allowing that animal to sleep with you.
For most people, their bedroom is a sanctuary and safe place, so any questionable behaviors should be avoided anyway, including sleeping with animals who are unpredictable.
The dominance issue always seems to pop up when it comes to animal owners allowing their pets to sleep with them. Dogs tend to sleep with their closest pack members, but the dominance issue has been rebunked, since it neither influences any further negative animal behavior, or rewards or punishes the animal.
Essentially, it is the choice of the human pet owner, and the human is receiving the most comfort and the most benefit from the experience.
“There is chronic confusion over this issue. It is completely fine to have them on the bed,” says another veterinarian. “It’s actually funny this question even exists. The concepts about dominance and nesting together with humans were debunked many years ago. One reason people believe some of this is that some animal TV show hosts don’t follow evidence-based science.”
Other issues should be considered when deciding to allow an animal to share your bed with you. Can you tolerate pet hair on your bedding linens and comforters? What about cats or dogs whose claws can damage your mattress, bed linens, or even a wooden headboard or footboard?
Cats may get up and move around frequently at night, and dogs, particularly breeds known to have sinus and respiratory problems can snore, causing major disruptions in sleep. Seemingly minor inconveniences can be much more amplified in the still of the night.
Pets enjoy being around their owners, especially during down time, so as an alternative, you could install a pet bed immediately adjacent to your bed and give your pet a similar experience, by allowing them to sleep in your den.
What About A Child Sharing A Bed With Your Pet?
Young children often want to share their beds with pets as well, but generally it’s considered unadvised to let children under age 6 to sleep alone with a pet.
“Before a child should be permitted to sleep with a pet, it’s my opinion they should show that they can handle the responsibility,” states Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian who practices at Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic. “A parent should monitor a child to make sure they use good judgment when they feed, water, or walk it. That’s very important.”
Osborne does add that the fable about cats suffocating or smothering sleeping infants is nothing to take seriously, and cats typically shy away from infants because of random and sudden motions as well as unusual scents associated with infants or very young children. Humans might love the scent of a baby’s head, but cats tend to avoid it.
The real reason to keep animals away from the beds or cribs of very young children is because of infections due to underdeveloped immune systems, especially those younger than 3 months.
Perhaps the greatest concern humans have about sleeping with a dog or cat is that they can get sick through some kind of infection. Experts agree that this is highly unlikely, though pet owners should have at least some sense of awareness of diseases that can be passed form pets to their human owners. Here is a list of diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans, that pet owners should be aware of:
1. CAT SCRATCH FEVER
Also known as Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), CSD is a bacterial infection caused by a bite or scratch from a cat that is infected with Bartonella henselae bacteria. You can also get it if the saliva of an infected cat gets into an open wound or touches the whites of your eyes. It can also be passed to humans by a flea or tick that carries the bacterium. Cats who carry the bacteria don’t often get ill from it, and they typically get it from fleas. It’s also more common in younger cats, especially kittens, than older cats. The CDC estimates that around 12,000 people in the US will be diagnosed and 500 will be hospitalized, each year.
Symptoms of CSD include a low fever, headaches, aches, swollen lymph nodes near the scratch or bite area, and a bump or blister at the scratch or bite area. In more serious cases, symptoms can include abdominal pain, chills, backache, joint pain, and a rash. Those infected with CSD typically improve over time without treatment as long as their immune systems are robust, and for those who need treatment, antibiotics will get rid of the bacterium.
Rabies is also a rare disease in humans, with the CDC reporting 1 to 3 cases annually. It’s more common in cats, with more than 250 cats reported per year, and in dogs far less common, with cases numbering between 60 and 70 per year. Pets contract the rabies virus from wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes.
If you permit your pet to wander outdoors, call your vet immediately if your animal has wounds and has obviously been attacked by another animal. For rabies, most pets won’t show symptoms immediately after infection, as it may take up to a month for symptoms to develop. This is why it’s important that your pet is vaccinated regularly for rabies. If they’re bitten or scratched by an infected animal, they will need a rabies vaccine and be kept under observation for 45 days.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that comes from the a parasite called gondii, which can occur after exposure to infected cat feces. It can also be contracted by eating undercooked meat that has been contaminated, typically lamb, pork, and venison, and more rarely, unpasteurized dairy products.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re healthy and you get infected, you probably won’t notice any symptoms as your immune system will keep the parasite at bay, though they can remain in your body in an inactive state. However, if your immune system ever becomes weakened, the infection can be reactivated, leading to possible serious consequences. Those who do show symptoms often have body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, and fatigue.
Those who have weakened immune systems may have more severe symptoms, including confusion, seizures, poor coordination, lung issues, and blurred vision.
Pregnant women should be especially careful with cats as they can pass the disease to their child, a condition called congenital toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women should never clean litter boxes. The earlier in the pregnancy that the infection occurs, the more serious the consequences for the baby. Many infants don’t show signs of the disease, but it can show up in their teens or later as hearing loss, mental disability or serious eye infections.
Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection. According to MedicineNet, it’s passed from animal to human, or human to human through direct contact, and also though contact with contaminated showers, pools, toilet articles, and clothing.
Cats are more affected than dogs, though other animals that can transmit the fungus are pigs, horses, guinea pigs, and cows. As with humans, infected areas of an animal may show raised, circular areas that often are associated with hair loss, although cats may carry the fungus without showing any signs.
Studies have shown that in homes where a cat has ringworm, 30%-70% of the time, humans will contract the fungus. The treatment for ringworm is usually a topical ointment. If it isn’t effective, an oral anti-fungal is usually prescribed.
Commonly known as salmonella, salmonellosis is caused by a bacteria that can live in the intestinal tract of dogs and cats, horses, reptiles, poultry, birds, hedgehogs, ferrets, and rodents.
Humans can contract the bacteria after not washing their hands after touching an animal or anything that the animal has had contact with. According to the CDC, symptoms for humans can include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps.
Salmonella infections in humans often disappear after 5-7 days and don’t require anything except for increased consumption of fluids, to assist in flushing away the bacteria. Many animals may have salmonella and display symptoms, though pets that are sick will often have diarrhea that contains blood or mucus. Treatment for pets can include fluids, antibiotics, and in more serious cases, hospital treatment.
6. Campylobacter Infection
Campylobacter infection is an infection of the digestive tract caused by the campylobacter bacteria. It can be contracted by handling pets, as well as eating contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk, eating other foods that have been cross-contaminated from handling infected meat, person to person contact, or contact with a surface that has been contaminated.
According to the Government of Australia Department of Health, symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. If you’ve been infected, visit your doctor and don’t go to school or work for 24-48 hours. Treatment usually involves lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that can live in the intestines of animals and humans. It’s the most common waterborne disease in the U.S., both animals and humans can carry the parasite and not have symptoms, yet they can still pass it on.
According to Andrew Weil, M.D., giardia is more common in dogs, and symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and greasy-looking stools. Human symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, gas, and belching. Without treatment, symptoms can last from 2 to 6 weeks. Treatment is usually with the drug metronidazole.
8. Cryptosporidium infection
Cryptosporidium infection is an illness caused by cryptosporidium parasites. They can be passed on from contact with infected animals or their feces, as well as infected humans, contaminated water, contaminated food, or being in contact with a contaminated surface. The parasites travel to your intestinal tract and settle into the walls of your intestines where they reproduce and are shed into feces.
According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from the infection aren’t life-threatening, but if you have a weakened immune system, they can be more serious and can include:
Malnutrition due to poor absorption of nutrients from your intestinal tract
Wasting (significant weight loss)
Inflammation of the bile duct, gallbladder, liver, or pancreas
An infestation of Roundworms is called toxocariasis, and are a parasite found in the intestines of dogs to cats that can be passed to humans. It’s most commonly found in puppies that contracted the parasite before birth or from nursing. It’s most commonly passed to children who play in sand or dirt that has been contaminated by dog or cat feces.
Most roundworm infections aren’t serious, with most people not having any symptoms. The most serious cases are usually in young children playing in contaminated dirt or sand.
Hookworms are similar to roundworms in that they’re parasites that live in the intestines of a dog or cat. Hookworms live on the blood of the animal and are a serious threat to them as they will cause blood loss. Puppies often don’t survive them; older dogs will have weight loss and diarrhea.
Hookwoms can be passed from animals to humans. Hookworms produce eggs that end up in the animal’s feces. Humans can also contract hookworms through walking barefoot on a beach or soil where an infected animal has gone to the bathroom.
According to Pets & Parasites, it’s very important that puppies are treated for hookworms at weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8 because of the high incidence of hookworm at that age, and adult dogs should be treated every 6 months to 1 year.
When humans are infected, there will be itching where the hookworm entered the skin where it will leave visible tracks. It’s easily treated but can include intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, and inflammation.
What you can do to Prevent pet related infections
If you’re already in the habit of sleeping with your pet, you may not be willing to stop letting them in the bed with you. And if your animal is used to it, it can be really difficult (if not impossible) to retrain them not to sleep with you. Though it is unlikely that you will have to deal with any diseases that we’ve described above, h ere are some things you can do to reduce your chances of contracting any diseases from your pet:
Get them their own bed, even if they sleep with you at night.
Keep your animal indoors.
Keep their nails trimmed.
Wash your hands after petting them.
Wash your hands after working in dirt or outdoor activities.
Make sure your children aren’t eating dirt or sand.
Check them for fleas with a flea comb.
Keep litter boxes away from the kitchen and areas where you store food.
Clean litter boxes daily, use disposable litter box liners and dispose of them daily.
When discarding litter, don’t dump it as you take the risk of inhaling an infectious agent; instead, pour the litter slowly or wrap it tightly and always use disposable gloves when handling it and throw them out after each use.
Monitor your pets for changes in behavior and if you have any concerns, speak to your veterinarian.
Don’t feed your pet undercooked meat as they can become infected with parasites if the meat is infected.
If you adopt a wild animal, take them to the vet as soon as you adopt them to get all of their required vaccinations, especially before you allow them into your bed.
Cover sandpits that children play in because animals can defecate in them and pass parasites, bacteria, and fungi.
Good health for a pet means no fleas, ticks, or other parasites, no illnesses, up-to-date vaccinations, and regular vet checkups.
“There’s a reason your vet wants to see your pet every year,” Hohenhaus says. “A vet wants to keep the pet healthy and identify risks so you don’t get sick, too…But with the average, healthy pet, there is a very low risk they will spread an illness to a person.”
And for people, good health in these cases is basically defined as those who are not immunosuppressed. Cancer patients, transplant recipients, and H.I.V.-positive people are among those who should not sleep with pets.
Although there was a recent report of a dog infecting a human with the plague, such transmission is extremely rare, our experts agree. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the majority of the approximately eight annual cases of plague in the United States occur in rural parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and California and are transmitted by rodents.
Sleeping with our pets is one of the joys we can have by owning an animal, and all pets love to be one of the pack. By following simple guidelines and recognizing when your pet might be sick is a great way to make sure you stay healthy as well.