Sleeping With Pets | Strong Immune System Health Blog

Date: 02/08/2011    Written by: Jon Barron

Sleeping With Your Pets

It's interesting that in a world where the idea of sharing the mattress with bedbugs absolutely horrifies most people, the prospect of sleeping with large, furry animals certainly does not.  In fact, there's a whole industry devoted to manufacturing ramps to help dogs climb into owners' beds. I know this because a friend of mine has such a ramp for her elderly golden retriever. When the dog got too feeble to take the leap up into bed by himself, my friend didn't consider the possibility that maybe the canine really didn't need to sleep sprawled across her feet. And she's hardly alone.

An American Pet Products Association survey showed that "62% of small dogs, 41% of medium-sized dogs and 32% of large dogs sleep with their owners," while "62% of cats sleep with their adult owners, and another 13% of cats sleep with children." You would think the mattress manufacturers would jump on that statistic and start making litter-size beds for people and their pets. But like teenagers so hormone-driven that they cram into the back seat of the Mustang in order to neck, pet-loving people manage to fit the animal onto the mattress no matter the size.

It's astonishing that so many people let pets sleep with them, given the popular notion that it's a dirty thing to do -- letting pets on the furniture, that is. But is it really unhealthy? According to Derek Damin of Kentuckiana Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Louisville, KY there's no real problem with sleeping with your pet unless you're allergic.  If you are, you should not only keep Fido off your bed, you should banish him from the bedroom altogether, he says.  Nevertheless, Damin claims, "If you're not allergic, there's really no big issue with having a dog in the bed. It's fine as long as it doesn't disturb your sleep."

Ahh! If that were the end of the story. Unfortunately, not all the experts agree with Damin. Bruno Chomel, for instance, who is a professor of zoonoses at University of California Davis, and his co-author Ben Sun reviewed published literature about people's physical contact with their pets  and found that there is indeed some health risk. They came up with about 100 risks associated with "pet intimacy" -- including sleeping with pets, kissing them, and being licked by them.

One of those risks is bubonic plague, which can come from a flea bite. Chomel and Sun report the case of a nine-year-old who contracted the plague from sleeping with his sick cat when a plague-carrying flea bit the child.  A 2008 study showed that among plague survivors, 44 percent had slept with their dog.  Even when the researchers took into account numerous other factors, the risk of plague from sleeping with a dog remained extremely high…relatively speaking.  Interestingly, cats can't carry plague fleas without getting sick, but dogs can, which raises the risk. (Perhaps that's one of the reasons for the expression "lucky dog".) So if you live in an area that has reported that animals carry plague -- like most of the Midwest and Western US -- you might want to think twice about inviting Spot and Fluffy under the covers.

Another illness spread by pests from pets is Chagas disease. This is one of the deadliest parasitic infections in Latin America. This disease is spread through the bite of an insect known as "the kissing bug," and can be fatal.  A study conducted in Argentina showed that dog and cat owners were at increased risk of the disease, and owners who slept with their pets were at significantly higher risk. By the way, don't slough this one off if you live in the US.  Some experts fear it is working its way north -- particularly as temperatures continue to rise in northern latitudes.

You can also get illnesses such as Lyme Disease from ticks crawling off of your pet and onto you. Then there's Cat-Scratch Disease (also known as Cat-Scratch Fever, a name made famous by rocker Ted Nugent). And yes, it is caused by cat scratches (and bites or exposure to cat saliva), if the cat is infected. A Connecticut study showed that patients with pets were much more likely to contract the disease if they slept with a kitten.  And pet-borne illnesses aren't restricted to those coming from parasites and bites. You can also get communicable diseases that pass from pet to person, such as the case of a woman who developed meningitis after transferring food to her dog mouth to mouth.

And there's another health risk that comes from pets on your mattress -- disturbed sleep. A Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center study showed that of pet owners who slept with their dog or cat, 53 percent reported that the animal disturbed their sleep nightly.  As we all know, good sleep is essential to good health. So if your dog is a blanket hog or your cat is a snorer, you may want to relegate them to their own sleeping quarters.

But safety isn't everything. The truth is that sharing your bed at all -- whether with canine, feline, or human -- is an inherently dangerous proposition. Your chances of getting an STD go up exponentially if you sleep with another person. So do your chances of catching the common cold, the deadly swine flu, and virtually any communicable disease, as does the possibility that your bed-mate's snoring will arouse you from slumber. The safest bed is the solitary one, but what fun is that? If we wanted to completely insulate ourselves from disease we would never procreate or recreate in bed; but clearly there are mitigating factors, and so it is with our pets.

The truth is that the risk is not so great that you need to immediately relegate Rover to the cold floor, unless you prefer it that way. If your pets are clean and free of ticks, receive regular veterinary care, and are up to date on their vaccinations, you'll probably be just fine, although young children whose immune systems are still developing and adults with compromised immune systems may be better off pet-less in bed.  

Some people feel safer with their dog nestled at their feet (or flopped across their legs, as in the case of my friend's 84-pound Golden).  Many feel happier, and happiness boosts the immune system. Perhaps the instinct to sleep with pets goes back to our roots as cave dwellers where domesticated animals helped us to stay warm and acted as early warning systems against lurking predators. In any case, the desire to sleep with our pets seems deeply ingrained (in both them and us).

One other thing you may want to consider: Most pet behaviorists agree that pets get confused about their role when you let them sleep with you. And really, who wants a psychologically challenged pet? So if you want to avoid a trip to the animal shrink, the floor may be the best place for your pet after all.

Hiyaguha Cohen

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    Submitted by Johnny G on
    July 6, 2011 - 7:55am

    I just read another of Jon's articles about sleep deprivation and mental illness and the propensity for diabetes. Also, Dr. Oz on TV mentioned that solid sleep is important for the same reasons: lack of sleep contributes to increased cortisol levels, diabetes, etc. My 22 lb. dog does sleep with me (for eight years); however, as he and I age it is becoming more disruptive for both of us (he, of course, can sleep during the day far better than I). In any case, I do believe that a long term inability to sleep long and soundly is contributing to my increasing mental confusion. So - Simon and I have to have a chat!!!

    Submitted by Rosemary on
    July 8, 2011 - 7:30pm

    Pleased to see an article re pets on beds but I surprised no comment was made abt fact pets lick their backsides & if then lick persons face - v. unhygienic. Also same if they sleep on persons pillow - surely there could be problems from worms etc. as well.
    My 13 yr cocker spaniels health has improved immensely since I stopped all vets treatment/vaccines etc & feed her raw meat with crushed garlic etc - she has never jumped on furniture or people & has several of her own beds away fr our bedroom too.

    Submitted by prema on
    July 5, 2011 - 7:44am

    i am sorry but this article is just too main stream....i don't for example believe in all the vaccinations that big Vet business proposes and this article suggests to get your pet harmfully vaccinated...
    there is so much toxicity that we take in that is the cause of bad health...that is the cause of lowered immunity....that is the cause of obesity....and we are exposed to so much bacteria in restaurants or in purchased food...
    perhaps this article should have shown how dangerous a pet's bacteria given to humans is compared to all that is out there...
    i am very disappointed in this article ..... very....
    the bottom line is our happiness keeps us healthier than anything else.....if pets do that there is no worry.....this article
    is full of an alarmist approach and again i am very disappointed...

    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    July 5, 2011 - 1:57pm

    Are you sure you’re talking about the article on our website when you call its position “alarmist.” The article is merely reporting on a study and then says, “The truth is that the risk is not so great that you need to immediately relegate Rover to the cold floor.”

    Submitted by prema on
    July 7, 2011 - 7:44am

    yes i am talking about your article...totally...remember studies are very limited in their approach ... they are only as good as the people who put them into operation and most of the time they themselves are blinded by their own concepts and what they want want the results to be.....
    reporting on one study alone is very i said the study does not compare the very harmful affects of toxins and food bacteria etc that humans are constantly taking in to what a pet may "give" us...this to me is very limited thinking....yes...the article is basically telling people not to sleep with their pets and to give their pets very very harmful vaccinations supported by big business not by healthful vets or for humans healthful holistic practitioners...or perhaps people can choose their poisons...sleep with pets but eat only organic and no meat for example..

    Submitted by Lifis Mayhem on
    April 5, 2013 - 9:19pm

    It may be too late now to reach out to "prema" but I don't think you really read the article. I believe you skimmed it with a pre-conceived idea of the content. I came across the article while looking for evidence to further my case against having pets sleeping in the bed with humans - I think it is dirty and it is beyond me why someone would insist on doing it to the detriment of their health (allergies). Presumably you shower daily and you don't lick other peoples' butts and you don't roll on the ground that you have just peed and pooped on or any dead animal you may come across. Are you bathing your pet every night before bed? I thought not. I should think about that before I worry about the other things you seem so obsessed with! And as far as the big Vets go, I have had various animals over the last 40 years and not one of them suffered from get immunized and de-wormed! When you watch an animal that you care for die from something that could have been prevented, then you will learn the role of the "big Vets!" The article was and is exactly what it was intended to be; Instructive. It is also intelligently written, complete sentences and all. Maybe, you should devote some quality time each day to learning how to express yourself before you comment on articles in the future!

    Submitted by Praveen Sitoke on
    November 19, 2012 - 5:36am

    Materials such as cotton fabric, fleece or flannel can be used and are machine washable, which will make cleaning easier.

    Submitted by Jennifer Symonds on
    August 21, 2013 - 4:29am

    I use Protectum Tablets + contents of (smelly!) garlic oil capsule as anti flea/tick treatment for my moggy & I double the dose 0f each in Summer, seems to work well. As for catching anything dodgy from her, well she's always bee one for licking my fingers & she's often to be found on my bed (mostly in winter & I don't appear to have come down with anything peculiar disease wise (I don't even get flu or colds) maybe it's the diet/nutrion regime & I've just got a really good immune system.By the way neat (organic & unadulterated lavender oil is also good to keep in cupboard for anti bloodsucking bugs.

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