Human/Animal Bond

Lying Down with Dogs (and Cats!)

Opinions on sleeping with pets range from desired to disgusting

Published: April 04, 2016
By Laura Hedden, editor of VIN This Week

pets on bed Oursler

Photo by Dr. Teri Ann Oursler
A 2015 survey conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine found that many pet owners believe that snuggling up in their bed at night with Fido or Fluffy may actually help them sleep better.

Of course, as with most issues, there's more than one school of thought on the subject. If you ask the Google machine, "Should I let my pet sleep in bed with me?" you'll find no shortage of related articles and message board discussions with opinions ranging from "I wouldn't have it any other way!" to "Cats yes, dogs no" to "Gross. Beds are for humans."

When we adopted our cat Lily a little over a year ago, it never even crossed my mind to ban her from our bedroom. Her predecessor, Violet, wasn't much of a snuggler so I was really hoping Lily would want to sleep on the bed with us, and was happy when she chose to cuddle up to my pillow at night. She likes to fall asleep with her paw draped across my wrist and her furry chin in the palm of my hand. It makes me giddy with warm, fuzzy, happiness and I don't think I sleep as well if she's not there when I doze off.

Many pet owners who've been chiming in on recent online discussions on the subject also say consider their animals part of the family and they love having them sleep in bed with them. For some, dozing off to a "chorus of purring" is part of what makes life worth living. While many acknowledged that having their pets sleep in the bed with them could be disruptive, most had long been resigned to putting up with the minor sleep interruptions. In fact, trying to kick the pets out of bed after allowing them into it was often cited as much more disruptive and aggravating than the pets' actual nocturnal activity level.

It seems that once you've used Fido as a foot warmer every night for a while, he starts to take his job pretty seriously, and firing him may not be so easy. You could spend your whole night relocating him over and over while repeating, "No, get down." While re-training your dog to sleep in his own bed is certainly an option, it can be a time-consuming one that requires dedication and at least some immunity to sad-puppy-face induced guilt.

Dislodging Fluffy from her favorite spot on your pillow can have an equally frustrating outcome. Shutting her out of the room at night often results in the eventual need to replace the shredded carpet in front of the bedroom door. Most cat owners would agree, unless you have cat behavior modifier Jackson Galaxy on speed dial, you're probably fighting a losing battle.

If you have pets, you and your furry pals are probably already settled into your sleeping habits. But if you're bringing a new pet into your family, there are some valid reasons to consider banning them from the bedroom from day one:

  • Hygiene: Everyone knows that cats are pretty fastidious when it comes to grooming, but your dog is dependent on you to keep him clean. Is he allowed to go outside? Does he like to roll and play in the grass or dirt? It's worth considering that his play and potty areas are likely the same space. I don't know about you, but I don't have time to bathe a dog every day, nor would it be good for him, so if we had one I doubt I'd let him beyond the foot of the bed and only on top of the covers.
  • Health: While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don't really offer explicit warnings on this issue beyond the standard warnings for immunocompromised people, and there is very little evidence that healthy, well cared for pets are detrimental to human health, it's true that pets do sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.
  • Allergies: Pets and humans alike shed hair and skin particles all day, every day. If you're allergic or even just a little sensitive to pet dander, sleeping next to a pile of dog or cat hair all night may wreak havoc on your mucous membranes and/or skin, as well as your ability to breathe clearly.
  • Bugs: There are many convenient products available to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks and other pests, but they all require you to apply them regularly for maximum effectiveness. If you tend to forget or procrastinate on that chore, you may be inviting fleas and ticks into your bed along with your pet. Ick factor aside, that can be a health hazard for both of you.
  • Sleep disturbances: If you're a light sleeper, you may find you won't get enough truly restful sleep if you're waking up to a snoring pooch or a frisky feline multiple times during the night.
  • Comfort: Unless you enjoy sleeping like a mummy wrapped up tight in your blankets, having a couple of pets, or even just one large dog, pinning you down might make it hard to get comfortable. Just like other disturbances, not being able to roll over or adjust your position while you sleep can result in a less than restful night.
  • Safety: If you're talking about sharing your bed with your cat or dog, it probably seems like safety is a minor concern at the most, and that's probably true. However, if your pet is a rabbit, rodent, reptile or some other species, you probably want to consult with your veterinarian and even your own doctor before you snuggle up with it for the night. If you're wondering if people really sleep with snakes or rats, Google it. Seriously. It happens.

Whether you're in the "beds are for humans" camp or you have more of a bohemian attitude about four-legged sleeping buddies, making the rules clear to them from day one can help you avoid frustration and time-consuming behavior modification attempts in the future.

2 Comment

June 18, 2016

I've found that by rolling a comforter/blanket an using it as a bed divider.. My dogs will curl up next to it believing it's me.. Allowing me to sleep comfortably in the other half of the bed without worried about dogs taking my space

Anne Katherman
April 7, 2016

I'm definitely Bohemian.  At one time shared a full sized bed with a Doberman and a Labrador, felt like a sandwich;) I find that it is my cat that is finicky about movement in the bed, if I am restless she will leave "you move and I am outta here" attitude LOL

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