With winter almost here, nothing sounds better than beating the cold by snuggling with our furry pets in our warm beds. When our first rescue, a miniature Dacshund named Hershey Kiss, began sleeping under the covers on our bed, she kept us warm by sleeping right in the crook of my legs. Why risk being cold when you have a furry friend to cuddle up with, right?
As a pet owner, I’m not alone; recent surveys reveal that a majority of pet owners admit that their dogs and cats sleep with them in their beds.
But a recent study reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases and conducted by Bruno B. Chomel, DVM, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, and Ben Sun, DVM, of the California Department of Health suggested that sleeping with pets can put folks at risk for a myriad of diseases, including bubonic plague and MRSA, a drug resistant staph infection.
Now that my husband and I have been sleeping with our dogs and cats for over two decades, this study or the risk of disease still didn’t make me kick our pack out of the bed.
“I believe 99 percent of people who sleep with their pets would not kick their pets out based on the news of this study,” said Dr. Mike Cavanaugh, DVM and executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association in Lakewood, Colorado. “The human-animal bond is very strong and I wouldn’t expect that they would change their routine based on the results of one research paper.”
Just how great is the risk, though, that you will become infected by your pet if he sleeps with you?
Not very, say the experts. To be precise, the risk of your pet transmitting a disease to you is low if he is properly cared for and if the person’s immune system is not compromised.
Dr. Randall Bock, an M.D. in Revere, Massachusetts with 25 years of practice under his belt, said that his family’s dogs slept with his sons during their childhood for at least 10 years. Now, he said, they have a Corgi that doesn’t care to sleep in the bed with his humans.
Bock said that his family never contracted any illness from the dogs, nor has he ever seen a patient that did. “I think that everyone slept better, including the dogs,” said Bock. “A lot of love and fun.”
The two most important things to consider, said Dr. Saundra E. Willis, DVM, DACVIM, and small animal internist in Phoenix Central Laboratory, is to make sure your immune system isn’t compromised and to make sure your pet is receiving regular exams by a vet.
“Special precautions should be made when pet owners are immunocompromised or there are very young children in the family, particularly when a pet has been diagnosed with a condition that may be zoonotic,” said Willis. “Regular fecal examinations and deworming are important.”
Additionally, common sense should rule when weighing the risk and reward of sleeping with your pets. Willis said pets should never be allowed to lick an open wound on their owners. “Pets should not lick owners excessively anyway. Creams, particularly those containing estrogens, can be mildly irritating to outright dangerous to pets,” said Willis.
Cavanaugh added that regular hygiene practice is also important.
“Take care of the litter pan properly and clean up the yard and wash your hands,” he says. “Let common sense prevail and I don’t see a problem with letting your pets in the bed.”