Is sleeping with your pet really dangerous?

By Amber James |

They lounge in your favorite chair. They track muddy footprints on the freshly cleaned floor. They even steal your food right off the table if you don’t watch them. And all they leave behind as payment for your love and hospitality is fur on your black clothes.

They’re pets. And we love them.

About 78.2 million people own dogs in the United States and 86.4 million own cats, according to the American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.

In a new study published earlier this year, 60 percent of cats sleep in or on their owners’ beds while 33 percent of dogs sleep in or on their owners’ beds.

Sleeping together might seem like another way for owners and pets to bond, but the study says that this behavior could be dangerous because it can cause bacterial, viral and parasitic zoonoses, or animal diseases that can spread to humans.

As a proud new puppy owner, I was intrigued by the recent headlines about how “dangerous” it is to sleep with my pet. After all, my boy, Riley, is spoiled as can be and will only sleep on the Tempur-Pedic pillow next to mine.

Was the media blowing another medical study out of proportion?

After finding the study and doing a little digging, I found that the study was more dramatic than the media.

Besides using old cases such as plague cases from 1974 and 1983, which were only located in the American Southwest, the study even admits repeatedly that the cases it cites are rare or uncommon.

The study outlines cat scratch disease, mainly transmitted to humans when they are scratched by a cat that harbors Bartonellahenselae, infected fleas and flea feces. But there are only “a few documented cases [that] have been associated with sleeping or being licked by a household pet,” the study says.

The study also admits that Staph “is a common commensal bacterium in dogs and cats and has rarely been identified as causing human infection.”

Another disease the study analyzes is rabies where “in many developing countries, being licked by dogs that are rabid or suspected to be rabid is considered to pose a major risk.” That’s hardly breaking news.

Overall, the study pointed out some unique and almost freakish cases of diseases caught from sleeping with animals, including ones involving Norwegian missionaries, two newborns and a man with a hip replacement as well as one completely irrelevant trend of dying a pet’s hair radical colors in Japan, Korea and China.

In order to keep yourself safe, the study advised age old information every pet owner knows. “Pets should be kept free of ectoparasites,” which means give them a bath. Pets should be “routinely dewormed, and regularly examined by a veterinarian.” How profound.

“Although uncommon with healthy pets, the risk for the transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real,” the study says.

Yes, this is a real concern, but a reason to hide in fear? No. I think not.

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