Every night, millions of Americans and an untold number of people around the world fall asleep with their dogs or cats on their beds. Sharing a bed is quite normal for many pet owners, but it’s not necessarily healthy. In fact, it could be detrimental to your general health by affecting your sleep quality, and by putting you at risk of disease and injury.
Co-Sleeping: A Common Occurrence
The 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey found that 67% of US households have pets—that’s a whopping 84.9 million homes. Approximately 50% of those dogs and 62% of those cats sleep in bed with their owners. That’s millions of animals sleeping with millions of people.
Clinical associate professor at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Susan Nelson, DVM, said that people sleep with their pets for various reasons. For instance, sleeping with pets can give people a sense of security and offer extra warmth.
The potential negative effects on your sleep and physical health, however, may outweigh those benefits. Let’s take a closer look at why giving your pet its own bed next to yours is the better option.
Decreased Sleep Quality
Dogs’ survival instincts mean they’re incredibly light sleepers, and they’re likely to wake up several times a night. In doing so, they may wake you up or disturb you without actually waking you up.
According to a 2020 study of a small sample of women, sleeping with a dog on the bed can increase your movement while you sleep. It might not be enough to wake you up, but it can reduce the quality of your sleep overall, leaving you feeling tired and unrefreshed. A 2017 Mayo Clinic study found that dog owners who allowed their canine companions to sleep on their beds only achieved 81% sleep efficiency, which is less than ideal.
Sleeping with cats can also be disruptive as they’re nocturnal, and when your cat wakes up, it may try to wake you up, too. A separate bed for your pets in your bedroom keeps them close at night while giving you the chance to enjoy nights of restful sleep at the same time.
Aggravated or Triggered Allergies
When many of us think about pets and human allergies, we tend to limit it to fur and saliva. The thing is, pets can aggravate or trigger dust or pollen allergies too, and they do this by carrying those allergens onto our beds.
This could lead to a blocked nose, or sneezes that make it difficult to sleep—and who wants to get out of bed just to take an antihistamine in the middle of the night? Dust, pollen, and other allergens that your pet brings onto your bed can aggravate asthma too.
Pets Can Spread Disease
The possible spread of disease is another reason why it’s not good to let your pets sleep on your bed. Dogs and cats can transmit bacteria, fungi, and intestinal parasites to humans by licking their face or an open wound, by biting or scratching them, or via human contact with animal feces.
Some of the most common issues are:
Parasites—You can contract roundworm, hookworm, ringworm, and tapeworm from your pets.
You can contract roundworms by accidentally ingesting the eggs, after which the larvae hatch in the body, potentially causing organ damage or respiratory distress. Hookworms are easier to contract, as the larvae burrow into the skin and cause itching and irritation.
Ringworm is incredibly contagious, and if you touch an animal with it, the infection can spread to your skin. For dogs with thicker fur, ringworm won’t be as easy to spot until it has progressed past the early stages. This parasitic infection can be incredibly itchy, and if it’s on your head, you may experience hair loss.
Tapeworms are less commonly passed on from pets to animals, but if you accidentally ingest a flea with the eggs, you can become infected. In some cases, tapeworm can lead to hydatid disease, which is hard to treat and can even be fatal.
Even if you don’t have your pet on your bed, it’s advisable to deworm them every six months and to deworm yourself too.
Cat-Scratch Disease—Also known as bartonellosis, cat-scratch disease is caused by bacteria that are present in many cats. In fact, cats are natural reservoirs of them, as discovered in the 1950s. The disease can be serious, especially if it affects the liver, kidneys, and spleen. As the name implies, a cat scratch is a common way of being infected, but the bacteria can transmit through a bite or even by prolonged close contact. Keep yourself safe by taking your cat for regular checkups, and by giving it a comfortable bed of its own. If you do get bitten or scratched, it’s recommended that you get a checkup from your own health provider, especially in case of broken skin.
Toxoplasmosis—In the US, T. gondii, the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis, is generally only found in cat feces. Humans can ingest the parasite accidentally, and immune-suppressed people are especially vulnerable to its effects. The symptoms vary from a fever to headaches, and may feel like the flu. Those with weakened immune systems may suffer from seizures, lung infections, confusion, or coma. Toxoplasmosis is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as the parasite can infect the fetus and be life threatening, or lead to long-term health issues.
Bubonic plague—The bubonic plague was never eradicated, although only a tiny number of cases are diagnosed annually these days. Infected fleas that live on small mammals, such as rats, are usually where you’d find the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes bubonic plague. However, those fleas can spread to cats and dogs, and they can spread them to us. There’s no need to panic, though; just be sure to get your pet regularly checked at the vet and make use of a high-quality flea preventive. This plague is incredibly rare, and the chances of contracting it are extremely slim. However, it’s always good to be aware of the risks.
Risk of Bites
If your dog is aggressive or attempts to dominate children or other adults, allowing it to sleep in bed with any family member could put your family at risk of injury. CDC dog bite statistics show that in 2019, a dog bit 1 in every 73 people. In the same year, 48 dog bites resulted in death, and 13 of those victims were children under the age of 10. You should never allow your dog in your children’s rooms or bed without supervision.
In an Honest Kitchen article, Amy Tokic explained why dominant dogs can pose a threat to humans. According to Tokic, your dog may claim the bed as its territory, and it may try to protect you when you’re in what it sees as a vulnerable position. As a result, it may growl at and possibly try to bite one of your family members. The safer option is to make sure your dog understands that your bed is for humans only. If you’ve already allowed them to sleep on your bed, you’ll need to break the habit. Whether this means buying a new mattress for yourself or a new dog bed for them, it’s worthwhile.
Our pets are a valuable and important part of our lives, and it’s only natural that we want them near us as much as possible. However, the importance of our health, and the health of those we love, means that we shouldn’t allow our pets to sleep with us on our beds.