Last reviewed on November 5, 2015
One of my clients recently asked me to help settle a family dispute. His mother-in-law claimed the family's pets would spread diseases to the children if they slept on their beds. He called it an old wives’ tale, but he wanted my take, of course.
So here it is: It’s been reported that up to 79% of pet owners allow pets to share beds with their human family members. Despite the popularity of the practice, physician and veterinary groups have taken turns speaking out against human-pet bed sharing for a variety of reasons. But don't worry: none of them involve the dreaded Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — much less any sort of suffocation (above picture notwithstanding).
In the case of some physician groups, the warnings are human health-based. Confirmed transmission of MRSA skin infections and H1N1 influenza, for example, gives fodder to the speculation that humans who share the covers with their furred family members are more likely to become ill.
While this is certainly more of a possibility with immunosuppressed humans (HIV-positive, transplant recipients or chemotherapy patients, for example), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer no explicit warnings on this issue beyond the standard warnings for these immunocompromised groups of people.
In fact, when it comes to infectious disease transmission, physicians and veterinarians agree there is scant evidence that healthy, well cared-for pets are detrimental to human health under these circumstances. Indeed, human family members are much more likely to transmit diseases during bed-sharing than our pets are.
Though infectious disease transmission may be rare between healthy humans and pets who sleep in the same bed, veterinarians don’t always agree that allowing dogs to sleep on human beds is a good thing, behaviorally speaking.
Puppies predisposed to dominance or aggression may develop these behaviors when allowed to sleep with humans. Housebreaking may also be affected if beds take the place of crates, for example. That’s why bed-sharing should always be delayed until training is complete and social maturity is achieved, behaviorists suggest.
Housetraining and temperament issues aside, some pets are actually better off not sleeping with humans due to their own health issues. This is most important for older pets or for breeds predisposed to jumping injuries or back troubles.
It’s also argued, however, that pets confer significant psychological and personal safety benefits when they sleep with their human family members. Some sleep studies even show that pets can help insomniacs sleep more deeply.
I’m not sure I helped out with the dispute, but in this case I think I at least managed to distribute lots of ammunition widely. Now it’s up to them to make of it what they will.
So how about you? What's your take? Do your pets sleep in your kids' beds? In yours?
D. Patty Khuly