Is it Safe to Sleep with Your Pet?

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Most pet owners would agree that there’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a pet on a cold night. But should you allow your bed to sleep in bed with you? Experts have debated the pros and cons for years. Some say that allowing your dog or cat to sleep with you is no big deal — as long as you’re both healthy. Others argue that co-sleeping with a pet could create bad behavior and increases your risk of infection by parasites and other diseases, such as staph, meningitis, and even the bubonic plague! Are these fears overrated? We’ve gathered the facts so you can weigh the pros and cons and make the decision for yourself.

How Common is it to Sleep with Your Pet?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that of the 60% of American households that own pets and nearly half of dog owners allow their dog in the bed. The number is even higher for cats — over 60% of cat owners allow their feline friends to sleep with them. Interestingly, this seems to be largely an American phenomenon. While over half of American pet owners sleep with their pets, the next highest rate of co-sleeping with pets was 30% in France, with even lower numbers throughout the rest of the world.


Health Benefits of Sleeping With Your Pet

Recent Mayo Clinic proceedings scored a point for owners sleeping with their dogs. They say allowing your furry family members to sleep in your bed is perfectly safe. Though, that does come with a couple caveats. Both you and your dog must be healthy, and it’s best to keep them out from under the covers. 

With that in mind, though, their 2015 study suggests that sleeping with your pup may actually improve your quality of sleep. Additionally, since many of us are away from home throughout the day, sleeping with your dog is one more way to get in some precious quality time with your pet. The study didn’t examine the effects for owners who let cats sleep with them, though it’s likely to have similar results. Another bonus? Cuddling with your pet increases feelings of safety and security and can ease stress, anxiety, and depression. Since these are all common problems for those who suffer from insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, this is definitely a benefit to consider. 

Health Risks of Sleeping with Your Pet

The number one health risk of sleeping with your pet is one that only a fraction of pet owners need to worry about —allergies. If you have allergies, you should be keeping your pets out of your bed, and out of your bedroom too. Pet dander can stick to surfaces like carpet, clothing and bedding, so even once they leave the room, your immune system will still be fighting it off. The same goes for pet owners with asthma.

Another common health concern associated with letting your pet in bed is the risk of disease. The CDC suggests that up to 60% of bacteria, viruses, and parasites which affect humans are passed along from animals. Fleas are the most well-known example. They can cause “cat scratch disease,” which is very serious. Symptoms include damage to the kidney, liver, and spleen, all of which can be life-threatening.

With that being said, as long as you and your pet are both healthy, sleeping with your pet is no more dangerous than allowing them to lick your face. If you’re taking your pet to the vet for regular check-ups and vaccinations, the risk of your cat or dog infecting you is really very small. However, there are a few who should not allow their pet into bed: 

  • People with immune system problems
  • Those with open wounds
  • Younger family members and infants 

Finally, if you already have problems getting a good night of rest, sleeping with your pet might make it even harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Small dogs and cats might cause less disturbance due to lower weight. On the other hand, cats are typically nocturnal and may want to groom you all night, and small dogs need to go outside more often and may wake you up to do so. In a 2014 study from the CDC, about 20% of owners who slept with their pets reported that pets disturbed their sleep. The Center for Sleep Medicine and the Mayo Clinic worked together on a similar study, and their numbers were even higher. Over 50% of owners in their study reported that pets disturbed their sleep. Since a lack of sleep, or reduced sleep quality, can cause a number of other health problems, it may be an issue worth considering. 

Tips for Sleeping with Your Pet

If you really want your cat or dog to sleep with you, but you’re concerned about any of the problems above, here are a few tips.

General Tips

  • Always use a HEPA air filter to reduce allergies.
  • Allergy shots can help build up your tolerance and reduce symptoms.
  • Make sure you regularly take your pet to the vet to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Since a pet’s added body heat can make sleep uncomfortable, try setting your thermostat a few degrees lower. Around 60 degrees Fahrenheit is considered optimal for sleep quality. You may even want to try a cooling mattress.
  • Look for a mattress that offers enough room for everyone, and that provides better edge support and motion isolation. A memory foam or latex mattress might be a good choice.
  • Keep consistent bedtime and nighttime routine.

For Dogs

  • Make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and playtime during the day, and try to keep them from napping too much if possible. That way, they’re ready to sleep when you are and are less likely to wake you for midnight snacks and playtime.
  • To avoid behavior issues, choose a designated spot for them to sleep in. If they try to move elsewhere, block them off with pillows, and make them get down if they jump in without you. Treats, affection, and consistency when they stay in place will help set the habit.

For Cats

  • Make the choice to let your cat sleep with you or not the first time you bring them home, if possible. If you let them sleep with you, then change your mind, it may cause disruptive behavior like scratching at the door or meowing all night.
  • If you decide to keep them out of the bedroom, make sure they have plenty of stimulating toys to keep them occupied while you sleep. You could even try putting a quiet video on your TV with bugs or other critters moving around the screen.
  • If you decide to let them in, make sure you play with them before bed to tire them out, and give them their evening meal right before bed. Leave the door cracked so they don’t wake you up for potty breaks.

What About Other Pets?

Other pets, like birds, hamsters, rabbits, and others, shouldn’t be spending the night with you. The obvious danger for these smaller critters is the potential for rolling over and suffocating or crushing them. However, these animals are also more likely to spread disease than your cat or dog. Even keeping their cage in your room isn’t recommended, as the noise may disturb your sleep. Plus, airborne particles of bird fecal matter can cause breathing and lung problems that can be serious and irreversible.

How Much Sleep do Pets Need?

Cats need the most sleep. Adult cats sleep on average 15-20 hours a day; for kittens and older cats, it can be even more. They’re also typically nocturnal, so they prefer to get most of their sleep during the day.

Dog sleeping patterns vary based on a number of factors. Age, breed, size, and health all play a role in determining how much sleep your canine needs. The average is about 12-14 hours, but just like with cats, puppies and older dogs may sleep much more.

While the average adult’s sleep needs vary, too, most still sleep significantly less than their cats and dogs. So, your pet’s sleep needs are another factor to consider as you make the decision to let them into your bed, or find them one of their own. Now that you’ve seen the risks and benefits, though, you should be able to find the best sleep solution for yourself, and for your favorite companion.