Sep 24 2013

Sleep Has Gone To The Dogs

Being in practice for 20 years means that I have seen and heard it all when it comes to veterinary medicine.  I am, however, continually surprised by the number of people who report to me that they sleep with their pets.  According to the researchers, 53 percent of dog owners consider their dog to be a family member, and 56 percent of those dog owners (or 29 percent of all surveyed dog owners) sleep with their dog next to them on the bed. This includes all sizes of dogs, from small to large. The number of cats who sleep with their owner is reportedly even greater.

Now don’t get me wrong, loving your dog is a normal emotional expression of the bond that develops between pets and their owners, it’s just that extending this bond to sharing sleeping arrangements is not always the best option for both us and the pet.  Here are a 6 reasons you might not want your pet sharing your bed with you.

  1. Your pet can make you sick – Recently, a lot of media attention has been focused on the increased risk of catching an infectious disease from your pets if you allow them to sleep on your bed. The media reports were based on recommendations from a study soon to be published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases. The study authors, both experts in zoonoses (diseases or infections transmitted between animals and humans), reported that “the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing, or licking is real”. The authors point out that the risks are rare, but
    no one is getting any sleep in this situation....including the pets

    no one is getting any sleep in this situation….including the pets

    want to raise awareness that there are risks, especially for young children or immunocompromised adults.

  2. Our beds can make our pets ill – one of the most common allergens for pets (things triggering an allergic response) are dust mites.  Studies repeatedly indicate that the most concentrated point source for dust mites in our homes are our beds and mattresses.  If your pet sleeps on our beds and has allergies, we might just be making them sick.
  3. Dogs are usually terrible at sleeping through the night so if you sleep with your dog, get used to not sleeping through the night aswell.  People who regularly sleep with their dogs are regularly sleep deprived or sleep-disordered.
  4. Transmission of parasitic disease to humans is much more direct if we share a bed with our pets.  Pets that are regularly monitored and treated for intestinal parasites are much less likely to be “parasitized” but a recent survey of urban parks noted that over 90% of fecal samples from dogs frequenting these areas were positive for parasites.  Many dog owners might erroneously believe their dogs to be free of parasites because they can’t see adult worms in the feces.  Only in very heavily parasitized individuals would you expect to see adults expelled in the feces.  In most individuals, only the eggs are being passed in the stool (and these are microscopic in size).
  5. Dogs that sleep with their owners may have higher rate incidence of separation anxiety disorders when they are left for a period of time by these owners (i.e. when going to work or going on vacation).  Some such dogs have not been trained from an early age to have their “own” space.  This is where crate training to get your dog used to going in and staying in a crate can be exceedingly beneficial.
  6. Dogs who sleep with their owners may in fact disrespect them.  Animal behaviourists including the popular Cesar Milan advocate promption of dogs natural, pack-oriented view of life to enhance a healthy mental state in our dogs.  In a pack setting, only the Alpha gets an absolute choice on where to sleep (and will usually choose the most prominent and comfortable spot).  As Alpha, the pet-owner has the prominent and comfortable spot and everyone else gets a lesser spot.  To allow your pet to sleep next to you is to tell them that the pack hierarchy that orders healthy thinking in them, is unimportant and respect for the owner (as Alpha) is unimportant.  Dogs want us to lead them and if we don’t lead, they will choose to.  This is not how we want to relate to our pets.

In our busy modern world, sharing our resting hours with our pets is a source of psychological comfort. Medical studies going back at least 30 years have documented the clinical value of pets for cardiac patients, patients hospitalized with mental illnesses, and elderly people. The CDC reports that pets may lower blood pressure reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and decrease feelings of loneliness, while increasing opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization.  Despite this, the above noted concerns still exist. So how do we reconcile this kind of tension between what we know is good for us (and them) and what we desire?

If you persist with sharing sleeping arrangement with your pet there are several things can be done to reduce the risk of catching a disease from your pet.

  1. Many of the diseases that a pet can pass on to a human can be identified and eliminated by regular veterinary care. Therefore, one
    This is not the best way to avoid inadvertently catching something from your pet

    This is not the best way to avoid inadvertently catching something from your pet

    of the most important things you can do is to ensure that your pet is given regular professional checkups by your veterinarian and that you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment of parasites such as fleas and worms.

  2. A common sense approach to good hygiene will lessen your risk of catching a zoonotic disease from your pets, just as goodhygiene helps reduce the chance that you will catch an infectious disease from another person. Follow good sanitation practices such as washing your hands with soap and water after ‘stooping and scooping’, cleaning litter boxes, or handling your pet’s food and water dishes. Avoid kissing your pets. If your pet licks you, especially on a skin wound or cut, wash the area well with soap and water.
  3. Determine if your dog can share your bed without disrupting your sleep.  If your pet is disruptive, be prepared to evict them from the bed.  If they sleep soundly and do not compromise a healthy pattern of sleep in you, then continue.
  4. Be very conscious of sleeping postures and position.  Animal behaviourists suggest that if you share sleep space, that having the pet sleep at the foot of the bed will effectively keep the owner’s Alpha position intact.  Do not let them sleep with their face on the same level as yours (no pillow sharing allowed).  This will also help reduce transmission of disease.
  5. Ensure that your dog is effectively crate trained.  This will help reduce the likelihood of some of the effects of separation anxiety that may develop.  A visit to the veterinarian can help as well as we have numerous options for helping alleviate separation anxiety.
I love my crate and mom & dad don't even have to close my door.

I love my crate and mom & dad don’t even have to close my door.

Remember that we face many dangers on a daily basis, and for most of us, the risks of catching something from our pets is far outweighed by the joy and companionship that they give to us.  It is not my job to reduce your “joy” of pet ownership which might include a little pillow talk with your pet.  Know what you are getting yourself into and get used to being a bit tired and grumpy in the morning.

Posted by: Dr. Mark Steinebach

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