Sleeping With Your Pets Safely

Did you know that an estimated 14 to 62 percent of pet owners let their dogs or cats sleep on their beds? In my book It’s a Dog’s Life ... but It’s Your Carpet, I explain why this is OK.

Don’t worry — you’re not the only one out there who lets that muddy-pawed monstrosity jump on your bed. Over thirty-one million people in the US do it, too. That’s almost 56% of pet owners! So why do so many otherwise sane and clear-headed adults let their hound-dogs have their way? Well, while Cliffy, Fido, and Fluffy may shed, hog the covers, drool, dream, and snore while in bed, they’ll never leave your bedside or cheat on you! And I’ve got to say, dogs can be awfully snuggly, like a full body pillow with a built-in heater, which helps during long Minnesota winters. And I’m speaking from experience here.

Well, now we’re getting some grief on why we shouldn’t sleep with our pets. Emerging Infectious Diseases, in conjunction with the CDC, released an article called "Zoonoses in the Bedroom." Zoonoses are diseases that animals can spread to people. In this article, they give a few scary examples: A man developed meningitis, which was possibly due to him allowing his dog to sleep under the covers with him and lick his hip replacement wound. In another case, a young boy got plague after having his flea-infested cat sleep with him.

While this article appropriately discussed the risks of sleeping with pets, it’s important to keep in mind that some of these diseases are extremely rare … especially when you think about some of the 30+ million people who sleep with their pets without any problems.

While I think it’s important to acknowledge these zoonotic risks, your danger lies more with that 2-legged person next to you. Personally, I love sleeping with my pets. They add more warmth to the bed, they bond with me while I’m sleeping, and I simply feel closer to them when they are snuggling with me. I’m aware of the rare risks of sleeping with my pets. In fact, as we speak, my body is in the process of healing some 10-15 ringworm lesions … (but more about this horrible fungus in a later blog). Point is, if in exchange for pet-lovin’ it means that I have to smear tough-actin’ Tinactin on my ringworm lesions every few decades, I’ll take the risk.

What I do love about the article is this: First, it’s written by veterinarians who are experts in the field and they admit that "the risk of getting sick from sleeping with, kissing, or being licked by pets is real, but the risk can be reduced by keeping pets healthy. Regular veterinary care is key to having a healthy pet and enjoying the benefits of pet ownership."


To put it bluntly: Don’t exchange bodily fluids with your pets. Letting them lick at your wounds? Let’s use common sense here, folks.

There are, however, certain situations where I don’t recommend sleeping with your pet:

  • Asthma or allergies: If you or your child have allergies or asthma, be smart. Keep your pet out of your room. As you spent 1/3 of your life in your bedroom sleeping, you want to keep a "safe" zone with minimal allergen spread (e.g., a dander-free bedroom). In fact, the added benefit of a HEPA-filter in your bedroom may allow you to still have a pet despite your allergies.
  • Immunosuppression: If one of your family members is immunosuppressed due to geriatric age, underlying illness, metabolic disease, cancer, or certain drugs (e.g., steroids, chemotherapy drugs), be smart and keep your dog or cat out of the bedroom. While contact and appropriate sanitary conditions (i.e., washing your hands after contact, etc.) are appropriate, you are potentially more at risk in the bedroom.
  • New adoptees: I didn’t heed my own advice, which is to always quarantine a new addition to your household for two weeks. Within two short days of adopting a kitten, I had rampant ringworm in my house. Unfortunately, all the humans and my 13-year-old cat succumbed to this fungus-among-us and are all undergoing treatment now. New pets should be quarantined in a separate room until they are deemed to be totally healthy.
  • Current illness: Sadly, while I’m healing from ringworm, my cat is slower to heal, and unfortunately needed to go on expensive oral antifungals ($20 a capsule!) and medicated lime sulfur dips every five days. Cats can carry ringworm for long periods of time and may not always show signs of overt illness. So, my cat has been banned from the bedroom until he’s completely cured (which typically takes at least two months).

When in doubt, check with your medical doctor and your veterinarian about the potential zoonootic risks (that means diseases your pet can spread to you and vice versa).

Ever catch anything contagious from your dog or cat? Think the CDC is overhyping this all?

Dr. Justine Lee

*This column originally ran on December 21, 2011

Image: Michael Pettigrew / via Shutterstock




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