Family Bed for Fur-Kids?

According to rock and roll lore, the band Three Dog Night named itself after the wintery conditions in the far south under which some Aborigines make it through the night. When it is especially cold, the Australian natives burrow into a shallow hole in the ground and envelop themselves – head to toe – with three toasty dingoes, Australia’s native dogs. The Aborigines make good utility of the fact that a dog’s body temperature is typically six degrees above that of humans.

Though I am not an Aboriginal, I freely make my bed an interspecies bunker of warmth and comfort. And I know that I’m not alone.

Per a survey by the American Pet Products Association, about 50% of dog people and 62% of cat people sleep with their pets. For so many pet parents, sleeping with their fur-kids comes naturally.

But is this practice behaviorally and medically sound? Arguments abound on both sides of this issue.

Though their numbers are dwindling, some dog behaviorists insist that sharing our beds with our pooches is as good as turning our belly up to them. In sharing our most coveted, private space with our dogs, we essentially submit to their “authority.” The “experts” believe our dogs will heed us less and manipulate us more and possibly begin developing aggressive behaviors toward others in exercising their assumed role as ultimate protector.

While there is little hard evidence for this, there is some credence to the idea that tolerating a pet’s bad behavior in bed can set a negative precedent and possibly precipitate a host of unwelcome events. “Bad” bedtime behavior for dogs consists of pawing, whining, sheet-hogging and pushing us to the far-edge of the bed. If we allow toys or bones in bed, we may be treated to an hours-long symphony of gnawing and chewing that may soon set our own teeth on edge.

Meanwhile, cats are nocturnal creatures. They have keen night vision and knack for pouncing on moving targets – including us. A shifting sleep position could be perceived as an invitation to play. A playful paw in the face is the last thing we need while trying to reach that perfect circadian sleep rhythm.

The above pet behaviors can make it harder for us to get or return to sleep leaving us grumpy and inattentive the next day. Good boundary-setting from the beginning (inviting the pet onto the bed on YOUR terms, in a designated spot) will help set the tone for harmonious co-mingling between the sheets. If this proves not possible, it may be necessary to create a special, but separate warm and cuddly place for your fur-kid to get those Z’s – so you can, too.

A good night’s sleep may not be the only casualty in the family bed. Few things can kill one’s romantic ardor as quickly as a dog’s ardent tongue darting up the nostril at the least opportune moment. We might laugh, but the mood may vanish (I know this from personal experience!). Training our pet to plant on that designated spot will especially come in handy during human rendezvous.

Staph infections, plague and meningitis have occurred as a direct result of the inter-species bed, though such incidents are “uncommon, if not rare,” Larry Kornegay, DVM and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, told NBC in 2011.

On the other hand, “If you’re the person who gets a disease from a pet, ‘rare’ doesn’t matter much,” say Bruno Chomel, professor of veterinary medicine at UC Davis, and Ben Sun, DVM formerly with the California Department of Public Health.

The co-authors of Zoonoses in the Bedroom, published in the Center for Disease Control (CDC)journal, Emerging Infectious diseases in 2011, conclude that catching a disease from your pet is indeed rare. However, the CDC contends that 60% of all human pathogens could have been transferred to humans by an animal.

Moreover, more than 100 of the 250 known zoonotic diseases have come from domesticated pets. As an example, they Chomel and Sun cite that 14% of the U.S. population is infected with roundworms. The infection, toxocarisasis, results from handling aged fecal material contaminated with roundworm eggs and larvae.

It is also possible to develop allergies to pet dander over prolonged, nighttime exposure.

At highest risk for contracting zoonotic diseases are the very young, the very old and immune-suppressed persons including post-transplants, diabetics and those testing HIV-positive.

There is much we can do to decrease the risk of contracting zoonotic diseases to near zero. Regular wellness exams, parasite control, geographically-appropriate vaccinations and dental care will keep Fido and Fluffy in the pink. Covering the sandbox, promptly picking up our dog’s poop and thorough hand washing after handling excrement (and before handling food), will keep us vertical and vigorous.

For those of us who do not want to share a bed with our pets, the best bet is not to invite them up there in the first place.

For the rest of us hopeless, dyed-in-the-wool, carte-blanche cuddle-muffins, a bit of common sense and limit-setting go a long way toward mutual good health and a good night’s sleep.

Hail to the sheet!