Is it healthy to sleep with your pets?

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Sharing a pillow with Fido? You're not alone.

Pets like snoozing in people's beds, and most U.S. pet owners don't seem to mind. Half of all dogs bunk down with their owners, while 63 percent of cats nap in an adult's bed, according to the latest APPA National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Association. Is co-sleeping with a pet safe and healthy? It depends. Young children should not sleep with animals, experts say, and certain medical conditions can make it harder for grownups to get a good night's sleep. But by using common sense and following these tips, many pet owners can share their beds with their warm, fuzzy companions.

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas?

A disease that animals can transmit to humans is known as a "zoonosis." Plague is one example. While rare in this country, cases have been linked to flea-bitten people who shared their beds with infested animals. Before you allow any pet to climb in your bed, make sure vaccinations like rabies shots are up to date. Keep up with parasite and pest prevention schedules so worms and ticks don't travel onto you, and both you and your pet stay free of fleas.

Cat-scratch fever

It's not just a song: Cat-scratch disease is a bacterial infection from flea-exposed felines. Kittens are more likely to carry the germ and spread it to people, usually kids, by biting or scratching. A few documented cases have been tied to people sleeping with or being licked by infected household pets. If a cat scratch or bite happens, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage, and call your doctor if the skin is broken or symptoms occur. The infection starts with a small bump at the wound site, followed by swollen lymph nodes, fever and other signs.

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Licking your wounds

From their tongue to your open wound or runny nose – pets show their love by licking, but they also spread germs. If you're recovering at home from surgery, even if wounds are well-bandaged, plan to keep pets out of your bed. Gross as it sounds, when you're suffering from pneumonia, flu or an ear infection, pets may try to "clean" the drainage from your face while you sleep, spreading the germs far and wide. And if your immune system is weakened from a medical condition, it's probably better not to cuddle at night with your pet.

No cats in the cradle

Safe sleep and SIDS prevention includes keeping stuffed animals and other toys out of babies' cradles, cribs and bassinets. It makes sense that live animals have no place in an infant's or toddler's bed. "Sometimes people think it's really cute for the baby to be in the crib with the dog, but it's not a good idea," says Dr. Corrin Cross, a Los Angeles pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. "Because the dog can smother the baby. The dog can just by mistake entrap the baby. It can roll on top of the baby." Whether it's with a pet or a parent, co-sleeping is considered unsafe for infants.

Kids, pets and supervision

"I definitely tell parents that no child should ever be left alone with pets," Cross says. And while cats scratch and carry more infections, she says, dogs can be more dangerous. Kids who are bitten, knocked over or rolled on by family dogs can be seriously injured. "We've had issues where the [family pet] is sleeping," she says. "If you touch the pet while they're sleeping, sometimes they have a bad dream, maybe they're not expecting to be touched, and they bite by mistake." If a pet dog wants to sleep on the floor in an older kid's bedroom, she says, that's probably fine.

Allergic but devoted

If you're not allergic to pets, no worries, says Dr. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis – you won't develop allergies by sleeping with them. But what if you're an adult with a pet allergy? "If you sleep with your pet, and you can take an allergy pill or antihistamine at night, and that keeps you from waking up sneezing, I don't see a problem," he says. However, side effects can arise. Some patients opt for allergy injections, he says, but there's an inherent risk to consider. Still, he adds, some will say, "I love my pet; I don't want to get rid of it. I'm willing to take the risk."

Dander-free dogs?

Hypoallergenic dogs might sound like the perfect solution for people who want pets in the bedroom, but non-shedding, dander-free, allergen-free dogs don't truly exist, research finds. Not surprisingly, Holbreich says, larger dogs who shed more seem to trigger allergies to a greater degree than smaller dogs who shed less. "But there's no hypoallergenic dog where you can say, 'OK, this is not going to produce problems,'" he adds. "Because people spend a lot of money for dogs being touted as hypoallergenic, and they have problems anyway."

Bedroom to emergency room

Sleep specialist Dr. Robert Rosenberg, the clinical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley in Arizona, previously worked in pulmonary critical care. "I had a lot of patients with very severe airway problems such as asthma, and they would refuse to take the pet out of the bedroom even if they were allergic to the pet," he says. "And they'd frequently end up in the emergency room with severe respiratory distress." His recommendation: "You really need to take the pet out of the bedroom and get a [high-efficiency particulate air] filter into the bedroom to filter whatever hair or dander does get in."

Warm, soothing companions

A 2015 study from the Mayo Clinic sheds light on why people continue to keep their pets close at night. Sleeping with pets gives many people a sense of security, the study found. Much-loved pets warm people's beds, keep them cozy and relaxed, and lend a soothing, comforting presence. "It's an individual issue with regards to insomnia and sleep," says Rosenberg, author of "The Doctor's Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress and Anxiety," to be released in October. "We find that people who live alone, or whose husbands or wives work different shifts, seem to benefit more."

Disruption downside

Larger dogs are more likely to hog the bed, Rosenberg says, but because cats are nocturnal, they're more disruptive. "They'll be awake at night; they'll want to play, and they'll rub the person's face," he says. But older dogs with bladder problems can interrupt sleep several times a night, he adds. Noise is another issue. "Dog tends to dig or forage at sheets," he says. "It's primitive." And snoring isn't just for humans. Pets snore and pant, and it can all be quite disruptive. Even so, he says, "in some cases, people find it harder to separate from their pet than from their spouse in the bedroom."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report


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