You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 10:45 a.m.

Is sleeping with your dog or cat really unhealthy? Researchers at the CDC say so

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo courtesy of IRRI

I frequently highlight the relationship between pets and their people and in so many ways, everything is so intertwined. We not only live under the same roof, we play together, sometimes work together — and some of us even sleep together. Yes, in the same bed.

In our home, the dogs are not allowed on the furniture and definitely not in the bed. Much to the chagrin of our two large-breed pooches, the cat will hop up on the couch (he's the alpha, you should know) and chill out on my lap, and occasionally sleep at the foot of the bed. He actually prefers to snooze in an out-of-the-way area, like under my desk, where there is a heat vent or in his kitty bed. I will note, though, that if I take a rare nap, he's right there with me!

But, in many homes, it's very common for people — in different cultures even — to have their pets in bed with them at night, especially with kids.

According to “Zoonoses in the Bedroom,” a study published in the February issue of the CDC Journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, there is serious cause for concern for this practice, especially for children and the immunocompromised.

Zoonoses, or diseases transmitted between animal and human — have long been focused on and are a real cause for concern. Whether it be hookworm, Bartonella or other parasites, or fungal infection like ringworm, the inherent risks are endless, but in most cases rare.

The paper, published by co-authors Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California-Davis school of veterinary medicine and an expert in zoonoses and Ben Sun, chief veterinarian with the California Department of Public Health give a stern warning: pets don't belong in bed with humans.

And, you have to understand, these researchers study these diseases and possible risks for a living, so before you scoff at their recommendations, take note.

The main risks of pets snoozing with their people? Contracting diseases associated with flea bites, cat scratches and getting face-licked by dogs.

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Stapylococcus aureus) is on the rise with pets, too.

Contracting a zoonotic disease is always possible, especially if you have a chronic illness, or if you're a little kid. Children do not have immune systems that are as sophisticated as an adults are, which can put them at risk.

The good news is that zoonotic disease transmission is a rare occurrence.

All in all, the bottom line is this: If your pets are healthy, you have a much better chance of staying free from zoonotic disease, too.

Here are a few tips, whether you sleep with your pets or not:

  • Regular wellness check-ups by your veterinarian are a must.
  • Ensure that your pets have their shots updated. This includes rabies, of course, and leptospirosis. My dogs get the Lyme vaccine as well. Lyme disease is transmitted via tick bites.
  • Employ great handwashing habits. It's good for too many reasons to say. Be sure to do so after picking up after your dog and after cleaning the litterbox. Handwashing is especially important in those with reptiles, to guard against Salmonella infection.
  • Be sure that your pet is on heartworm as well as flea and tick preventative. Many diseases are transmitted via flea and tick bites.
  • Don't let your pet lick your face.
  • Cover sandboxes when not in use.

All in all, there is no need to be germ-phobic, only mindful of the risks.

Lorrie Shaw is a regular contributor to's pet section and wrote Plan for your pets' safety and care in the event of an emergency. Follow her adventures as a owner of Profession Pet Sitting on Twitter and reach her via e-mail.


Lorrie Shaw

Mon, Feb 7, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

Thanks for all of your comments - they are appreciated!


Sat, Feb 5, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

This is definitely people-biased research and should be exposed for what it is! The danger is definitely the other way around: my cat used to sleep at my feet for years. It is she who is dead, alas! Perhaps humans should be kept off the bed ....


Sat, Feb 5, 2011 : 6:45 a.m.

Information put out by the CDC may one day save all of our lives. But on this issue they've got an uphill battle. Dogs particularly have become so involved with humans they are considered natural partners in most domestic activities, including sharing bed space. Only an outbreak of dog-vector disease would cause people to change their behavior regarding their dogs. I do recall one fellow who slept with his pet raccoon. The 'coon had a bad dream one night and tore this fellow up pretty badly. So... we should refrain from sleeping with raccoons, possums, wolverines, etc., I guess. ;-)

sun runner

Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

I've had a series of cats with me at night for my entire life (even when I was an infant/toddler...OMG!). My current pair are super-cuddly (though I like to joke that they only really love me when it's cold outside). One of them loves being nestled under the covers with me and the other likes sitting on me. They have been exclusively indoor for years and are fully vaccinated so my risk of zoonotic disease is absurdly low. This is a non-issue for me. My kitties will always be welcome on my bed.


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 6:32 a.m.

I actually fall asleep faster with a warm furry friend curled up next to me. If I fall asleep alone, I'm sure to wake up wedged between two of them. Sure is warm on these cold nights, though!


Fri, Feb 4, 2011 : 1:27 a.m.

Happiness is my 8 year old seven pound rat terrier curled up next to me at night (under the blankets in cold weather), with her big little brother (1 year old ninety pound Doberman Sharpei mix) sprawled out on top of the blankets. When they determine its bedtime, both demand and direct my attention to the bedroom. Both expect their good night pets before we all doze off. I guess we just share our germs.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

"The good news is that zoonotic disease transmission is a rare occurrence." heh, must be sweeps week here at! "rare occurrence" translates to "there is serious cause for concern" I agree with the others, the payoff to waking up with my husky doing a soft little "wooo" instead of an alarm clock is well worth the risk...


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

I carefully safeguard my dog with the proper vaccinations and regular checkups. She is my best friend and deserves nothing less. In the winter she is always welcome in my bed. Happiness is a warm Malamute! In the summer, she prefers the colder downstairs leather sofa, or the floor.

Bill Sloan

Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

None of these posts so far express any concern for children, who are the most vulnerable. I hope that this article serves to caution parents regarding contact with animals. A cat's paws are never very far removed the dirty litterbox, and a person who lets a dog lick their face soon after licking it's rear end is way up there on the nausea list.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

So, let's see here - there are data to suggest that an excess of cleanliness and anti-bacterial usage may actually be responsible for increases in allergies and auto-immune disorders in the population. Now, the CDC suggests that we ought to get all worked up about the "in most cases rare" dangers of cuddling up with our pets. Really?? That's one of our biggest disease concerns? Note that they mention worms as a possible problem - I think I read recently about "worm therapy" for allergies... This sounds to me like another scare tactic. Note to CDC - let's focus on real problems like our national epidemic of obesity!


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 9:49 p.m.

Our Jack Russell thinks his night time sleeping spot is at the foot of our kids' beds. Under the covers , that is. They love the extra warmth. I don't think we'll worry too much over the zoo- stuff. We're more concerned about flea infestation, which happened last summer. Boy what a lot of fun that was. On a more serious note, I believe most of the bad flues that come from the Orient originate from farms where the family lives above the animals. Mostly pig farmers, unless I'm mistaken. Just can't quite imagine having Wilbur living in the basement....


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Zoonotic? Wow what a new word to learn for today. Yes it is very hypnotic to sleep with your pet. If it comes from the zoo? I'd watch out for that too. Unless you get a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Just a thought. Food for thought? The Emperors of China slept with their dogs all the time. Which is where the phrase beware of the dog comes to mind. Don't step on my dog less you loose yours.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

some of the hazards of sleeping with at least cats are minimized if they simply don't go outside...which they shouldnt anyway since it's hazardous to THEIR health...and also birds'. Having the run of a house is plenty of space for a cat, and having 2 or 3 cats is stimulating for them and less trouble for the owner, re scratching and other boredom -related activities.... and they can be really relaxing to sleep with.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

Considering that I have had my cats sleep with me at night for YEARS I think it's had the effect of impacting my immune system positively. #1 they are 100% indoor cats so they have never had fleas or exposure to other outdoor issues. Also I very rarely even get colds and never the flu so it's all good.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

I keep asking my cat to cover her sandbox when she's not using it, but she is very, very inconsiderate about these things. She also keeps threading the toilet paper on the roll the wrong way.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

I'm willing to take the tiny risk to my physical health in exchange for the enormous payoff to my emotional health that comes from sharing our bed with our two cats. What a great way to sleep - one cat warming my legs, the other curled up next to my chest. And what a great way to wake up! - a cat lying on my chest, looking at me, touching my chin with her paw to get me to pet her.

David Briegel

Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 5:30 p.m.

eyeheartA2, I heard that same tale about Alaskans and their sled dogs.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

Yep, I thought that was the way I heard it as well. I was surprised to see the reference to the Australian aborigines.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

It's more like we sleep in our dog's bed. We are at work 8 hours a day and our dog lounges on our bed while we are gone. So come nite time she thinks she owns the bed when we are ready to go to sleep. We have to coax her to get in the actual "doggie bed". She is nice and warm though on these sub zero nights.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Regarding &quot;other cultures&quot;, here is a bit of trivia from the way-back machine: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> &quot;The now-famous name came from a story about Australian aborigines who, on cold nights in the outback, sleep with their dogs for warmth. The coldest evenings are known as &quot;three dog nights&quot;.&quot; So, I think the weather we have now qualifies. By the way, don't be so sure about your dogs staying off the furnature. Our dog wouldn't even go on the furnature if we invited him - when we were around. But the furnature was always covered in dog hair. So one day I slip in through another door after work and look in the window to see Rover all comfy on the couch. Smart dog.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

Actually, the Aboriginals gutted the dogs and slept inside the dead carcasses. I'm not kidding.