Pets in bed – is it a good idea?
Millions of people have a co-sleeping arrangement with their four-footed friends — about 60% of cat owners and well over half of dog owners have their pets in bed. This is nothing new: Ramses the Great even had a dog with the official title of Bed Companion to the Pharaoh.
There are pros and cons, and the answer may depend on individual pets and humans, and in some cases, the number and size of the pets.
Many surveys say pet owners feel less lonely. Allowing their pets to sleep on the bed can make them feel safer, calmer, and less alone. Being in the right mindset for rest is an important component of falling asleep, so this can be beneficial for some people.
Even small pets can take up a lot of room if they position themselves in the middle of the bed. Pets may also monopolize the covers or move around frequently, which can significantly disrupt their owners’ sleep.
If there is more than one dog in the bed, there can be disruptive jockeying for position or dominance, which is clearly a problem for sleep quality.
Heat can also be a problem. Dogs have a higher body temperature than humans, which can make them a source of heat when it’s cold. If you already tend to feel hot in bed, your dog can add to that, making it hard to get comfortable.
Keep in mind that a temperature drop in the body is a significant component of falling asleep.
What Science Says
Cats are thought to have been domesticated about 10,000 years ago. Dogs and people have shared a partnership for approximately 15,000 years.
Given the long association of cat and dogs with humans, it’s not surprising that people consider pets part of the family. In fact, anthropologists theorize that children have to be specifically taught to keep dogs off the bed because human-canine co-sleeping is encoded in our DNA.
That said, pet co-sleeping isn’t always a good idea. People with an allergy to pet dander should not only NOT allow pets to sleep in their beds; they should consider using an air filter and keep their dogs and cats out of the bedroom altogether.
Spending the night in a relatively allergen-free sanctuary can give allergic pet owners a much-needed space to recover.
A Mayo Clinic study explored how co-sleeping between humans and their dogs affected the quality of sleep. Dogs and their owners were fitted with devices to detect movement:
- People whose dogs slept in the same room but not on the bed fared the best.
- Owners whose dogs slept on the bed were sometimes awakened by their pets’ movements.
- Both groups got sufficient rest by scientific standards.
So while pets in bed definitely affect sleep quality, there is no definitive answer about whether or not to have them in bed.
What about risk of disease and infection?
The biggest hazard from sharing your bed with your dog or cat comes if you suffer from allergies or asthma. In such cases, keeping your furry friends out of bed is recommended to give your respiratory system a chance for rest and recovery.
Those who do not suffer from allergies have little to worry about – just make sure to change your bed linens frequently and wash them at a high temperature to get rid of bacteria.
How to get your pet out of the bed
While the science on co-sleeping with pets might be mixed, there’s no ambiguity about the importance of getting a good night’s rest.
Sleep is essential to maintaining health and wellbeing. The hazards of sleep deprivation are well-documented and include memory impairment and/or loss of focus, immune deficiencies and greater susceptibility to developing chronic illnesses like diabetes.
For the family who decides they need to get their dog out of their bed to get a good night’s sleep, dog training expert Victoria Stilwell recommends a gradual technique:
- Put a dog bed on a platform that is at approximately the same level as the bed.
- lower it over time, little by little.
- When the platform is finally on the floor you’ve succeeded.
Since cats are territorial, it can be harder to banish a cat from the bedroom, but new toys or a special place to sit with a view of an outside light might give the cat other ways to stay amused.
As with many sleep-related issues, the ultimate answer on pets and sleep may come down to individual needs and preferences.
Pet owners who don’t lose sleep due to allergies or their pets waking them up during the night can continue co-sleeping with their four-footed friends with little or no risk.
Pet owners who aren’t getting adequate rest because of their pets should rethink their co-sleeping arrangement and find a new solution that works.