Is it Safe to Sleep With Your Pets?
Sleeping with pets isn’t unusual in this country. According to a survey of pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, 45% of dogs sleep in their owner’s beds and 62% of cats sleep with their owners.
The transmission of disease from pets to humans is called zoonoses, and the chance of contracting a disease from your pet is very low if your animal doesn't go outside. If your pet does go outside, the risk increases as they have a better chance of becoming infected with a parasite, virus, or bacteria from another animal from being in a fight, eating a prey animal, eating the feces of an infected animal, or walking in a contaminated area. Most physicians won't tell you to not sleep with your pet unless you're part of the population at the greatest risk, which includes:
- pregnant women
- those who have a week immune system (such as those with AIDS, diabetes, cancer, or an organ or bone marrow transplant)
If you already sleep with your pet, it can be difficult to change the routine as they may consider the bed as part of their territory. They also probably enjoy going to bed with you. If you don't have a pet but are planning on getting one, it could be a good idea to establish the habit from the beginning that they don't sleep with you, but in their cage, their bed, or another area of the house.
Asthma and Allergies
If you're already allergic to animals or have asthma, you shouldn't allow an animal to sleep in your bed or even in your room. Pet dander circulates in the air of a home that has animals, travels throughout the house and accumulates on surfaces. It is therefore a good idea to keep your bedroom door closed throughout the day, and you can use a high-quality air purifier to reduce your exposure.
Lower Quality Sleep
There are a few ways that animals can reduce the quality of your sleep:
- Animals moving around, making noises (such as snoring, which isn't uncommon in dogs), and waking you up throughout the night. Cats especially are nocturnal, so they're programmed to hunt at night. It's not uncommon for them to make noise while you're trying to sleep. And many owners make the mistake of engaging with their animal if the animal wakes them up during the night, which will teach them to make it part of their routine.
- Your pet sleeping on you. Many pet owners have a cat or dog that sleeps on them. If you move, they may let you know, which can disturb your sleep, but the more common issue is that they raise your core temperature. Research has found that the optimum temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees, so having a warm body on you during the night can prevent quality sleep.
- Especially if you sleep with a smaller animal, it's possible that in the back of your mind you're worried about rolling over onto your pet while you sleep. Even slight anxiety can reduce the quality of your sleep.
- Though rare, animals can bite when woken from sleep, especially if they were having a nightmare. For this reason (along with disease prevention), it's important to not allow infants to sleep with animals.
Diseases You Can Get From Your Pets
Cat scratch fever
Also known as Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), CSD is a bacterial infection caused by a bite or scratch from a cat that has Bartonella henselae bacteria. You can also get it if the saliva of an infected cat gets into an open wound or touches the whites of your eyes. It can also be contracted from a flea or tick that carries the bacterium. Cats who carry the bacteria don't usually get sick from it, and they usually get it from fleas. It's also more common in kittens than older cats. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that each year, around 12,000 people in the US will be diagnosed and 500 will be hospitalized.
Symptoms of CSD include a low-grade fever, headaches, aches, swollen lymph nodes near the scratch or bite area, and a bump or blister at the scratch or bite area. In more serious cases symptoms can include, abdominal pain, chills, backache, joint pain, and a rash. Those infected with CSD can get better over time without treatment as long as their immune systems aren't compromised, and for those who need treatment, antibiotics will get rid of the bacterium.
Rabies is also a rare disease in humans, with the CDC reporting 1 to 3 cases annually. It's more common in cats, with more than 250 cats reported per year, whereas in dogs it's between 60 and 70. Pets contract the rabies virus from wild animals such as raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes.
If you allow your pet to go outdoors and they get into a scuffle with a wild animal, call your vet immediately. Animals won't show symptoms immediately after infection, it may take up to a month for symptoms to develop. This is why it's important that your pet have the rabies vaccination. If they're bitten or scratched by an infected animal, they will need a rabies vaccine and be kept under observation for 45 days.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that comes from the gondii parasite, which can occur from exposure to infected cat feces. It can also be contracted by eating undercooked meat that's contaminated, most commonly lamb, pork, and venison, and occasionally unpasteurized dairy products.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you're healthy and you get infected, you probably won't notice any symptoms as your immune system will keep the parasite in check, though it can remain in your body in an inactive state. However, if your immune system ever becomes weakened, the infection can be reactivated, leading to possible serious consequences. Those who do show symptoms often have body aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, and fatigue.
Those who have weakened immune systems may have more severe symptoms, including confusion, seizures, poor coordination, lung issues, and blurred vision.
Pregnant women should be especially careful with cats as they can pass the disease to their unborn child (called congenital toxoplasmosis). Pregnant women, therefore, shouldn't clean litter boxes. The earlier in the pregnancy that the infection occurs, the more serious the consequences for the baby. Many infants don't show signs of the disease, but it can show up in their teens or later as hearing loss, mental disability, or serious eye infections.
Also known as tinea, this is a highly contagious fungal infection. According to MedicineNet, it's passed from animal to human, or human to human through direct contact or by contact with contaminated items such as a contaminated shower, pool, toilet articles, or clothing.
Cats are more affected than dogs, though dogs can be affected too. Other animals that can transmit the fungus are pigs, horses, guinea pigs, and cows. As with humans, infected areas of an animal may show raised, circular areas that often are associated with hair loss, although cats may carry the fungus without showing any signs.
Studies have shown that in houses where a cat has ringworm, 30%-70% of the time humans will also contract the fungus. The treatment for ringworm is usually a topical ointment. If it isn't effective, an oral antifungal is usually prescribed.
Commonly known as salmonella, salmonellosis is a group of bacteria that can live in the intestinal tract of:
- frogs and toads
- rodents such as mice and rats
Humans can contract the bacteria after not washing their hands after handling an animal or anything that the animal has had contact with.
According to the CDC, symptoms for humans can include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. Salmonella infections in humans often go away after 5-7 days and don't require anything more than drinking more fluids.
Many animals may have salmonella and have no symptoms, though pets that are sick will often have diarrhea that contains blood or mucus. Treatment for pets can include fluids, antibiotics, and in more serious cases, hospital treatment.
Campylobacter infection is an infection of the digestive tract caused by campylobacter bacteria. It can be contracted by handling pets, as well as eating contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk, eating other foods that have been cross-contaminated from handling infected meat, person to person contact, or contact with a surface that has been contaminated.
According to the Government of Western Australia Department of Health, symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. If you've been infected, visit your doctor and don't go to school or work for 24-48 hours. Treatment usually involves lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that can live in the intestines of animals and humans. It's the most common waterborne disease in the U.S. Both animals and humans can carry the parasite and not have symptoms, yet they can still pass it on.
According to Andrew Weil, M.D., giardia is more common in dogs and symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and greasy-looking stools. Human symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, gas, and belching. Without treatment, symptoms can last from 2 to 6 weeks. Treatment is usually with the drug metronidazole.
Cryptosporidium infection is an illness caused by cryptosporidium parasites. It can be transmitted through contact with infected animals or their feces, infected humans, contaminated water or food, or by contact with a contaminated surface. The parasites travel to your intestinal tract and settle into the walls of the intestines where they reproduce and are shed into feces.
According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from the infection aren't life-threatening, but if you have a weakened immune system, they may be more serious and can include:
- malnutrition due to poor absorption of nutrients from your intestinal tract
- severe dehydration
- wasting (significant weight loss)
- inflammation of the bile duct, gallbladder, liver, or pancreas
Roundworms (toxocariasis) are a parasite found in the intestines of dogs or cats that can be passed to humans. It's most commonly found in puppies that contracted the parasite before birth or from nursing. It's most commonly passed to children who play in sand or dirt that has been contaminated by dog or cat feces.
Most roundworm infections aren't serious, with most people not having any symptoms. The most serious cases are usually in young children playing in contaminated dirt or sand.
Hookworms are similar to roundworms in that they're parasites that live in the intestines of a dog or cat. Hookworms live on the blood of the animal and are a serious threat to them as they cause blood loss. Puppies often don't survive them, while older dogs will have weight loss and diarrhea.
Hookworms can be passed from animals to humans. Hookworms produce eggs that end up in the animal's feces. Humans can also contract hookworms through walking barefoot on a beach or soil where an infected animal has relieved itself.
According to Pets & Parasites, it's very important that puppies are treated for hookworms at weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8 because of the high incidence of hookworm at that age, and adult dogs should be treated every 6 months to 1 year.
When humans are infected, there will be itching where the hookworm entered the skin and it will leave visible tracks. It's easily treated but can include intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, and inflammation.
What You Can Do to Prevent Getting Sick From Your Pet
If you're already in the habit of sleeping with your pet, you may not be willing to stop letting them share your bed. And if your animal is used to it, it can be really difficult (if not impossible) to retrain them not to sleep with you. Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of contracting any diseases from your pet:
- Get them their own bed.
- Keep your animal indoors.
- Keep their nails trimmed.
- Wash your hands after petting them.
- Wash your hands after working in dirt or outdoor activities.
- Make sure your children aren't eating dirt or sand.
- Check them for fleas with a flea comb.
- Vacuum frequently.
- Keep litter boxes away from the kitchen and areas where you store food.
- Clean litter boxes daily, use disposable litter box liners and dispose of them daily.
- When discarding litter, don't dump it out, as you take the risk of inhaling an infectious agent; instead, pour the litter slowly or wrap it tightly and always use disposable gloves when handling it and throw them out after each use.
- Monitor your pets for changes in behavior and if you have any concerns, speak to your veterinarian.
- Don't feed your pet undercooked meat as they can become infected with parasites if the meat is infected.
- If you adopt a wild animal, take them to the vet as soon as you adopt them to get all of their required vaccinations, especially before you allow them into your bed.
- Cover sandpits that children play in because animals can defecate in them and pass parasites, bacteria, and fungi.
Advice for Cat Owners
If you already allow your cat to sleep with you, it can be very difficult to train them to not sleep in your bed. If you try to change the routine, it's likely that you will get howling or banging on the bedroom door throughout the night.
A better alternative is to set up a spot for your cat that they'll enjoy more. A very popular spot for cats is a perch attached to the window, so they can see outside, or anything high up on the wall. Cats have an ancient instinct to have a high vantage point for hunting, and to avoid becoming prey themselves. According to PetMD, height is a sign of status, and the cat who holds the highest perch in a multi-cat environment is the "top cat."
Advice for Dog Owners
Dogs can more easily be trained than cats if you want them off of your bed. Be careful of dogs however, as they can start to believe they're dominant by sleeping in the bed. Petful recommends that you buy your dog their own bed and do the following:
- When they jump on your bed, tell them "no" and "go to your bed." If they continue, you can try squirting water on their face.
- Train your dog to go to their bed by taking them with their leash to their bed and telling them "go to your bed." Give them a treat when they lie down. To make it more appealing, leave their favorite toy in the bed. Every time they get out, say "nope" and lead them back to their bed.
Eventually, if you're consistent, they will learn the command "go to your bed" and follow it.
Advice for Bird Owners
It's not recommended that you sleep in the same room with your bird because according to the CDC, you risk several issues: cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis, mycobacterium avium complex, and parrot fever. Fecal matter can become aerosolized and airborne and inhaled. For these reasons it's recommended that the birdcage stays in another room, you clean the birdcage daily, and you wash your hands after handling the bird or the cage.