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A recent poll found that 53% of dog owners would describe their dog as "family" and more than half of them sleep with their dog on a nightly basis. Studies have also shown that even more people sleep with their their cats. In fact, up to 62% of cat owners share their beds with a feline counterpart. But, given the potential health problems that can stem from spending up to eight hours a night in close proximity to an animal, should humans really be sleeping with their pets?

There are potential health dangers that humans can encounter when sleeping night after night with their furry companions. Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine recently expressed some concern saying, ".sleeping with a pet is becoming quite common, and there are risks associated with it, even if it is not very frequent." The doctor went on to remark that there have been cases in which diseases have spread from animal to human from sleeping in the same vicinity, kissing and licking. There have even been documented cases of life-threatening infections such as plague, internal parasites and other serious diseases caused by close animal-to-human contact.

Sleeping with cats can be more dangerous than sleeping with dogs. Bacterial infections from cat scratch disease aren't entirely uncommon and can cause swelling of the lymph nodes and potentially lethal damage to the liver and kidneys. The Center for Disease Control says that over 20,000 people contract cat scratch disease every year. In one rare occasion a nine-year-old boy died after contracting the plague from sleeping with his cat.

But, there are also some benefits to sleeping with your pet. The Center for Disease Control states that sleeping with your pet can lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels and decrease feelings of loneliness. Pet owners also have more opportunities to engage in outdoor activities whether they're taking their dog out for a walk or going on a vigorous run. Medical studies going back at least 30 years have documented the clinical value of pets to cardiac patients, those hospitalized with mental illnesses and the elderly.

If you wish to sleep with your pet, there are some things one can do to limit the chances of acquiring diseases. The first is to insure that your pet is in good health and regularly gets checked out by the veterinarian. Fleas, flatworms and parasites present a significant disease risk and should be eradicated immediately after detection. Persons, especially young children, should be encouraged not to sleep or kiss their pet until they are older and have stronger immune systems. In general, if you watch out for your pet's health you'll go a long way towards ensuring the heath of yourself and your family.

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