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Is It OK to Sleep with Your Pets?

That depends upon whom you ask, since opinions seem to be divided. Here we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of letting your dog or cat join you in bed.

The American Pet Products Association, a pet industry trade group found that most dog owners consider their pets to be a “child” and a member of the family. Many of these owners let their pets sleep alongside them or at the foot of their beds.

Although some people continue to question whether this is a good idea, a recent Mayo Clinic Study found that having your dog sleep in the bedroom doesn’t negatively impact the quality of your sleep as was previously thought. Contrary to earlier thinking, letting your dog stay in the bedroom during the night may actually improve the overall quality of your sleep.

Pet owners who allowed a single dog to sleep in their bedrooms were able to maintain an 83% sleep efficiency. (sleep efficiency is calculated by dividing the number of minutes actually slept divided by the total time spent in bed. 80% is considered satisfactory). Whether the dog slept on or off the bed seemed to make a small difference. People who allowed a dog to sleep on the bed woke up more often during the night than those whose dogs slept elsewhere in the room, which slightly lowered their sleep efficiencies.

Is Sleeping with Your Pet Safe?

The same Mayo Clinic study also concluded that it’s perfectly safe to sleep with your dog or cat so long as you’re both healthy. Sharing the bedroom with your pet may actually improve the quality of your sleep, provided your four-legged friend isn’t beneath the covers. Many dog owners are separated from their pets for much of the day, so they naturally want to take advantage of their time together by having them in the bedroom during the night, especially since it now appears it doesn’t negatively impact the quality of their sleep.

Many dog lovers, however, are confused. For years, pet experts have cautioned owners that sleeping with their dogs could lead to poor behavior by their pets or result in their owners’ becoming seriously ill. Most veterinarians now believe that these concerns have been overstated or are simply incorrect, so long as both the dog and its owner are in good health.

Behavioral Issues of Pets That Sleep on Owners’ Beds

Allowing a dog or cat on the bed doesn’t necessarily cause behavioral problems, although you might think twice before allowing an overly aggressive animal to sleep on the bed. According to Certified Dog Behaviorist Russell Hartstein, CEO of FunPawCare in Los Angeles and Miami, it’s perfectly fine to have them on the bed. “The bigger issue,” says Hartstein,” is the lifestyle of the pet owner. If the owner is OK with pet hair on the bed or furniture, doesn’t mind sleeping with a pet at their feet or whose sleep won’t be disrupted if the dog or cat decides to leave in the middle of the night, both the pet and the owner will enjoy the experience.”

Russell also pointed out that pets are attracted to the scents of their owners and prefer to sleep on elevated places, since it gives them a better view of their surroundings. If having a pet sleeping on the bed makes the pet’s owner uncomfortable, he suggests placing a comfortable pet bed somewhere in the bedroom with a T-shirt or other article of clothing so the dog or cat can enjoy and be comforted by the owner’s unique scent.

Dr. Carlo Siracusa, the Director of Animal Behavior at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet in Philadelphia found that dogs can react differently to various stimuli. As an example, if a pet owner turns over and startles a dog sleeping on the bed, some dogs might awaken the sleeper by barking or growling, while others may not react at all. According to Siracusa, if the owner is comfortable with the situation, letting the pet sleep in the bedroom should be fine. Some pets, however, such as very young or very old dogs that don’t sleep quietly through the night don’t belong in the bedroom.

If you’re having problems with a dog that’s already sleeping in your bedroom, gradually transition the pet out of your bed or the bedroom itself. A starting point might be putting  a comfortable dog bed somewhere in the bedroom and later moving the pet and pet bed to a spot just outside the bedroom door.

Should a Child Share His or Her Bed with a Pet?

Many children as well as adults want to share their bed with the family pet. Although each case is different, it’s usually not a good idea to let youngsters under 7 years old sleep alone with a dog or cat. “Children need to demonstrate they can handle the responsibility before they’re allowed to sleep alone with a pet,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, an Ohio veterinarian. “It’s important that parents’ monitor the child to be sure he or she uses good judgment when feeding, watering or taking their pet for walks.”

Playing roughly with a pet, pulling its tail or failing to take care of its needs are all indications that the child isn’t yet ready to sleep with a pet. Although dogs and cats may put up with some degree of mischief, the pet may reach the point that it becomes fearful and strikes back. It’s a good idea to wait until the child demonstrates maturity in dealing with the pet before allowing them to share a bed.

According to Osborne, there’s no need to worry about a cat smothering a sleeping infant despite ongoing rumors to the contrary. “Most cats,” she says, “aren’t interested in babies, since they make random motions and smell bad.” She concludes that it’s still a good idea to keep pets away from babies, and especially those less than 3 months old, since they’re immune systems haven’t yet developed and they’re more susceptible to infections.

Health Concerns

Owning a dog can be good for your health. Regardless of the weather, dogs should be walked at least twice a day, which is a great way for the owner to get some extra exercise. Having a pet is also known to lower blood pressure, help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and help ward off feelings of loneliness and depression.

A recent survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association revealed that 42% of dog owners allow them to sleep in their beds. Not everyone, however, thinks this is a good idea, especially for people with allergies or immune deficiencies. Even if your pet is clean and well-groomed, some animal dander will be transferred to the bed. For people with allergies, it’s a good idea to sleep on a latex mattress that provides antifungal and antibacterial protection. Bedding should also be washed at least once a week.

The biggest concern many people have about sleeping with a pet is a fear of catching a disease, although most experts agree that if both the owner and the animal are in good health, it’s highly unlikely that this will occur.

For a pet, good health means being free from ticks, fleas and other parasites, showing no signs of illness and being up to date on all vaccinations. Veterinarians recommend annual examinations to keep pets healthy, identify potential risks and prevent illnesses from spreading to their owners. For the average healthy pet, however, the risk of disease spreading to a person is very low.

People are generally considered in good health if their immune system isn’t repressed, aren’t cancer patients or transplant recipients and haven’t tested HIV positive, none of whom should share their bedrooms with pets.

Should You Allow Your Pet to Sleep with You?

Whether to allow your pet to join you in your bed or bedroom all comes to a matter of personal choice. If you and your dog or cat are both in good health and you enjoy having a dog or cat spend the night with you, go for it!  Otherwise, your pet will do just fine sleeping in a comfortable dog or cat bed in another area of the home.

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