Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Your Pet Killing You? No!

A rash of articles in various newspapers and journals points the finger at dogs and other bed-sharing pets and begs the question: is it dangerous to let your dog sleep with you?

When you think about it, both the answer and the question are pretty personal. Nor is it a new question. Dogs have been sleeping with their human companions for thousands of years. Maybe longer. In certain cultures, one could argue it would even be unhealthy not to have a dog sleep with you. After all, the phrase “three dog night” has a very strong grounding in history. As the Simmons Mattress company points out on their website:
There is historical evidence that sleeping with pets is not necessarily aberrant behavior. According to The International Encyclopedia of Dogs, the xoloitzquintli, or Mexican hairless, was used in pre-Aztec Mexico as both pet and bed warmer. An account from a 19th - century explorer in Australia, as quoted in The Domestic Dog , describes how Aborigines were so devoted to their dingoes that the dogs were treated as members of the family and allowed to sleep in the hut.
I can’t imagine not sharing my bed with my canine pals, and that’s the right answer for me. Your own answer might look different, but I’ve got a pretty strong idea that, barring extraordinary circumstances, the possibility of disease should not play a part in that decision.

The most recent onslaught of anti-pet sentiment was started by a CDC report earlier this year. Celebrity vet, Dr. Ernie Ward, took a tongue-in-cheek poke at the report on his blog:
In case you missed it, a recent CDC report warned people about getting too close to their pets, specifically warning about the dangers of sharing a snooze with dogs and cats. The report, cleverly titled “Zoonoses in the Bedroom,” revealed that about half of all dogs are allowed to sleep on the bed. While the report didn’t give an exact percentage for cats, my guess is it’s near 100%. If you don’t believe it, videotape your bedroom one night. Dogs can be sneaky.

The report begins by scaring the fur off us that you can get the plague from your pet. The Black Plague. As in Monty Python “Bring out your dead” Plague. Seriously? Seriously. Turns out there have been at least two cases in the past forty years that may have been related to flea bites from dogs sharing a bed. The CDC sure knows how to kick off a report. I can hear it now, “Bring out your dead if you have pets in your bed!”
Ward goes on to make short work of other parts of the report, stressing the fact that many of the things the CDC was alerting people about (like hookworms and roundworms) are things that conscientious owners should be treating for anyway. (In any case, if you have a dog full of worms, sleep is the last thing you should be worrying about: you’ve got other problems on the way. Just sayin’.)

Ward lists some not so tongue-in-cheek rules to help people live with more healthily with their pets. And, actually, all of these points are valid whether or not your pets share your bed. Ward writes:

To prevent the vast majority from happening, follow these simple rules:

1) Have all your pets vaccinated against rabies. It’s the law and a good one.
2) Give every dog and cat a monthly heartworm and flea preventive. Make sure it protects against common intestinal parasites.
3) Bathe your pet often, especially if you (intentionally) share your bed. What the heck, bathe them all; they’re sneaking in there, anyway.
4) No open mouth kissing your pets. I know I shouldn’t have to say it, but according to the CDC report, apparently I do. Now I’m grossed out.
5) If you or your pet is sick or you’re on immunosuppressive meds, skip the bedroom and stick to couch time.

Even after carefully reviewing this report from the CDC, I’m still sharing my bed with my pets. And my kids. I think my wife is in there somewhere.
Another well-known animal doctor, Doug Glover, the self-styled irreverent vet, spoke out about the media storm that followed the CDC’s report.
Was This Article Irresponsible?

I think it was reckless and yes, a bit irresponsible, because this is not really true.

Saying "letting pets sleep next to you can make you ill" is like saying "you should not drive because you could be in an accident"... or "you should not walk down the street because you could be struck by lightening"... or "you should not interact with any other humans because you could catch a cold from them". That kind of advice is both stupid and impractical.

But these "sensationalized" headlines sell newspapers – and unfortunately, they can also make stupid people do stupid things. For example – I heard about a family that wanted to get rid of their dog because of this article.

For goodness sake – don't do that!
Glover’s piece goes on to make several very good points, but the conclusions he draws is something everyone needs to read:
The chance of diseases spreading from pets to people is possible – but it is VERY rare. In fact, I don't know anyone that has ever gotten a disease from a pet – especially while sleeping. And as a veterinarian, I've never contracted a disease from a pet. Millions of pet owners sleep with their pets in bed with them and live to be a ripe old age.
I’m not trying to criticize the press (well yes, I actually am) but sometimes the way they say things can cause unnecessary panic and ridiculous concern for no reason. I understand that the media wants to get different views and that scary headlines sell newspapers, but stating some loose facts that are not based on large studies is unnecessary. Blowing something like this out of proportion is one of them.

Bottom line: is it dangerous for pets to sleep in bed with you? For me – the answer will always be no. I allow my two dogs to sleep with me and have for years – and I'm just fine. Casey sleeps on my pillow and Finnigan sleeps under the covers! In fact, I'm even better than fine. And there's an added bonus: no one will ever sneak up on me!

In the end, remember, the old adage is completely accurate: not everything you read in the newspaper is true. If you read or hear something you find alarming, always request further information so that you can make rational, rather than rash and emotional decisions.


  1. What silly news headlines! I couldn't keep my dog's off the bed if I tried - and why would you want to? One of the best parts of having digs is the snuggling!

    PS- I notice you occasionally post about treats etc. We invite you totake part in our Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop! Check out our blog for more info!

  2. Follow the tips Shared, Both pets and people will be safe.