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Is sleeping with your pet healthy? Yes… and no…

Is sharing your bed with your pet a good idea?

As a lifelong pet owner who has shared her bed with many cats and dogs, I began to wonder if it was impacting my quality of sleep. I am now of a “certain age” when insomnia is becoming a significant problem. Are my cats keeping me up?  What are the risks and benefits of sleeping with pets?

I know that a queen-sized bed is barely big enough for me and my kitties who seem to think that I should be relegated to one corner and that their ability to stretch while sleeping should go unimpeded. However, whenever I get into bed, it becomes a cuddle and purr-fest which brings me great joy and, I am sure, reduces my stress and anxiety. Fortunately, I have a full-sized queen in my Newmar coach so it mirrors home.

When I had dogs (two large and two small) they slept in my bedroom in their crates after being given their nightly treats. They could not jump onto the bed (too high) and the noise they made walking on the wood floors woke me up. And, of course, the bed was the cats’ domain. In the RV, everyone was on the bed.

My sister has three small dogs who regularly sleep with her and would not think about changing it despite her insomnia problems.

So it really boils down to personal preference and weighing the good and the bad things about it.

Warm and cuddly

The benefits of sleeping with pets (and I am going to limit myself to addressing cats and dogs) have been well-researched. Some of the benefits may surprise you.

  • Sleeping with pets can lower stress, which lowers cortisol, and improves your health—both physical and mental. Cortisol is a potent inflammatory agent. Add to that lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and the long-term benefits to your heath are significant. Therapeutic animals are brought into hospitals, long-term care facilities and hospices because their presence and petting them have been proven to benefit patients. 
  • It may improve your immune system. In addition to lowering cortisol, exposure to resident bacteria associated with pets has been proven to increase immunity in adults and children. Keeping your pet healthy and up-to-date on vaccines and deworming are important safeguards, however.
  • It improves the human-animal bond which not only benefits you, it also benefits your pet. I am sure their stress and health are improved, too, although I don’t have any evidence to prove it.
  • It has been shown that having a dog present in your house and bedroom deters crime. It also makes people, especially women, feel more secure and thus it reduces anxiety.

What are the risks of sleeping with a pet?

  • The most obvious downside to sleeping with Fido is that he disrupts your sleeping: Moving around, jumping on and off the bed and vocalizing may wake you up. Animals have different circadian rhythms than humans. My cats, for the most part, sleep through the night and other than limiting my ability to move some, they don’t keep me up or wake me. However, Wally likes to climb on me whether I am on my back or side, stick his face next to mine and purr. Fortunately, he usually does it when I am falling asleep or waking up so I can redirect his affection. I do find that the heat my pets generate can make me uncomfortable at times. If you have insomnia, you must take these factors into account.
  • For immunocompromised people, the exposure to bacteria, even if normal and benign, may cause illness. I know dog people like to kiss their dogs, but it isn’t really a good idea. A chat with your doctor can help you assess this risk.
  • Do you have allergies? Even it you are not allergic to your pet, your dog may have pollen or other allergens on her fur. Sleeping with her brings those allergens closer to your face.
  • Risk of a bite or scratch. I know, that is a far-fetched risk from your beloved pet, but it still exists. I don’t think it is a good idea for very young children to sleep with pets for that reason, although it has been proven that exposure to cats and dogs as young children reduces their chances of developing allergies later on.

What to do

The Sleep Foundation recommends the following common-sense things to do if you sleep with your pet:

  • Use a properly sized mattress so you have enough room.
  • Wash all bedding, including pet bedding, regularly. This helps reduce the exposure to any germs and allergens. I keep pet beds on my bed so the cat hair is concentrated and easier to clean. I cover my pillows when I am not using them because the pillow where Mom sleeps is a magnet for my cats.
  • Give dogs their potty time just before bed to reduce the chance she wakes you up needing to go.
  • Keep up-to-date with regular vet checks and vaccinations.
  • Keeping a consistent bedtime routine will help both you and your pet get a good night’s sleep.

For me, I find sleeping with my cats absolutely lowers my anxiety and stress. But if I am perfectly honest, there are times when I wish I had the bed to myself. Nonetheless, I would not have it any other way. It brings me too much comfort.

I have references for the above-mentioned research and articles if anyone is interested, and you are welcome to ask any questions here in the comments or on my forum Ask the Pet Vet.

And just to remind everyone, I love stories and pictures of your pets, so please visit my forum and share them with me. If you do, indicate whether or not publishing is allowed or whether you would like to keep it private. Thanks! —Dr. Karel

##RVT1048

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Bob p
1 month ago

Our 6lb Maltese sleeps with us, he has his blanket and pillow at the foot of the bed. He only has 3 legs as a German Shepard bit his left front leg in half 4 years ago, so we feel his movement when he gets up to change his position. He is 11 years old and as much a family member as a child would be, he doesn’t shed so that’s not a problem and DW bathes him on a regular basis.

JAMES
2 months ago

My 17lb dog sleeps with me and cuddles up to me. Once in awhile she’ll sleep in her own bed. I love her sleeping with me

Neal Davis
2 months ago

Our present dog is 14+ years of age and suffers from extreme separation-anxiety as well as increasing doggie-dementia. Consequently he has increasingly been allowed to sleep with us. We cover the bedspread with a large flat sheet and I lift him onto the bed (his arthritis prevents him jumping onto or from the bed). We only allow him on the bed after my wife has gone to bed to allow her to stake claim to sufficient sleeping space. He sleeps soundly once on our bed rather than incessantly pacing around our bed until he is placed on our bed (as he does on his “bad”nights). So, we are much happier when he sleeps with us, but also quite happy for the few “good” nights that he is able to peacefully sleep in his bed at the foot of ours.
PS, I remove the large volume of hair he leaves on the flat sheet by running it through the dryer a few times every couple of days. The dryer lint filter is much easier to clean than the washer’s filter.

Last edited 2 months ago by Neal Davis
Patty
2 months ago
Reply to  Neal Davis

You and your wife are amazing dog lovers. Bless you..

Patty
2 months ago

Ours do not, because they shed a lot. We are not full timers and so at the house they have their own Dally Dorm room. When we travel, I bring dog beds but they prefer the leather sofa, or recliners.
I do have a question that I don’t see ever asked or might have missed?
Does anyone have any suggestions on how to load an older 50 lb dog that’s getting arthritis? We have looked at ramps and currently using one that extends 8 feet. But it makes it hard for us to use our steps. Are there any type of lifts for this purpose?
we do not need a wheelchair lift or human lift. We love our outside gliding steps, that’s the main reason we bought this class A was because of the nice outside steps that go to the ground.

Neal Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Patty

Our dog is 14+ years of age, arthritic, and weighs 50-55 pounds. I am reasonably ambulatory at 65 years of age and can carry him down our steps, so long as I can back down the steps.

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