Pets in Your Bed

WebMD discusses the health implications of your pets sleeping in your bed with you and how you can keep your bedroom healthy.

By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM

When Ingrid and Shea Armour brought their new Weimaraner puppy, Cooper, home, they were determined to keep him off their bed. So they bought a dog crate, with a bed and fluffy blankets to ensure he had a warm, comfy place to sleep.

Cooper, however, had other ideas.

The first night he whined, yelped, howled, and cried. The Armours made it six hours before their resolve broke and little Cooper was out of the crate and in their bed, where he remained for the next two years.

"He'd sleep between us, under the covers, with his head on the pillow," Ingrid Armour says. "He thought he was human."

Who's Sleeping With Their Pets?

Sleeping with pets isn't unusual in this country. According to a recent survey of pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, nearly half of dogs sleep in their owner's beds. The survey found that 62% of small dogs, 41% of medium-sized dogs and 32% of large dogs sleep with their owners.

The survey also found that 62% of cats sleep with their adult owners, and another 13% of cats sleep with children.

Is It Healthy to Sleep with Pets?

So is it healthy to have your dog sleeping in your bed? Derek Damin of Kentuckiana Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Louisville, Ky., says people who suffer from pet allergies or asthma should not sleep with their dog or cat or even allow them in the bedroom.

"Use a HEPA filter and keep them out of the bedroom to give your nose a few hours a day to recover," Damin says.

But Damin says most pet lovers won't kick Fido out of bed, even if they discover their pets are causing allergy problems. For those people he recommends allergy shots to build up a tolerance to the pet dander that causes allergic reactions.

"But if you're not allergic, there's really no big issue with having a dog in the bed," says Damin, who for years shared his bed with his miniature dachshund. "It's fine as long as it doesn't disturb your sleep."

Snoring, Kicking, Cover-Hogging Pets

Which brings up another problem with sharing the bed with a pet -- they can disturb your sleep. A study released by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that about half the patients in the study had a dog or cat, and 53% of those pet owners said their pets disturbed their sleep in some way nightly.

"I've had patients that I've spent visit after visit going over their insomnia problems, trying to figure out what's happening, then I find out they have a dog that's scratching all night," says Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine, a sleep center outside Chicago,

Shives recommends that people who have difficulty sleeping consider keeping pets out of the bedroom.

Can Pets Help Sleep?

But for people with no problem falling or staying asleep, Shives says it's fine to allow a dog or cat in the bed.

"There are all kinds of medical benefits to having a pet," says Shives, who sleeps with her 45-pound dog. "And some people might feel safer or calmer with a dog in their bed."

Candace Hunziker of Kennesaw, Ga, says that's exactly why she sleeps with her Labrador retriever mix, P.

"She sleeps against me and she has very rhythmic breathing and it just puts me out," Hunziker says. "I have insomnia, my whole family does, and we all sleep with dogs. She puts me to sleep better than an Ambien."

What About Sex?

And then there's the whole matter of intimacy, with a pet in the bed. Can it interfere with your sex life? That depends, say Elizabeth and Charles Schmitz, love and marriage experts who wrote "Golden Anniversaries: The Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage."

"Many, many of our successful couples have pets and many sleep with them," Elizabeth Schmitz says.

But how they deal with the issue of intimacy varies, she says.

"Some put them outside the bedroom because they don't want them to watch," she says. "Some give them a treat to distract them. Some don't mind if the pet stays on the bed."

Charles Schmitz says the biggest issue is how both people feel about the pet being there.

"If one person is fine with the dog, but the other isn't, then you've got a problem," he says. "You absolutely have to talk about it and make sure both people are comfortable with the situation."

And it's also important that pets don't physically come between a couple at night, they say.

"The snuggling and the holding and the touching is critical," Elizabeth Schmitz says. "It's one of the seven secrets of a successful marriage. It's more important than sex."

Getting a Cat Out of Your Bed

And even when people finally make the hard decision to eject their pet from the bed, most find it's not an easy task.

Ingrid Johnson, a veterinary technician and consultant on feline behavior at a clinic in Marietta, Ga., says she advises clients to never let their cat in their bedroom if they don't want to sleep with the cat. She says for cats it's all or nothing, so the door must always be open to them, or never open to them.

"If you suddenly shut a cat out of the bedroom, they can get very frustrated and start displaying destructive behavior," Johnson says. "Cats don't react well if you take away territory."

But if a cat that sleeps with its owner must suddenly be banned, Johnson recommends giving the cat something else to do at night. Try giving kitty foraging toys to play with that feed her kibble, or put a cat condo by a window with a light outside.

"All the moths and bugs flying around the light right outside that window is like reality TV for cats," she says.

Getting a Dog Out of Your Bed

Internationally known dog trainer Victoria Stilwell says if your dog has no behavioral problems then it's OK to let him sleep in your bed. In fact, from the dog's standpoint, it's a compliment.

"Dogs only sleep with people or dogs they trust," says Stilwell, star of the TV show "It's Me or the Dog."

But, she says, aggressive or dominant dogs should not be allowed on beds. And if pets become a problem, they have to get off the bed.

That was the case with a couple that Stillwell worked with who slept with three giant, male mastiffs. One of the dogs started lunging at their toddler when she approached the bed, so Stilwell bought three extra large dog beds and taught the dogs to get off the bed on command.

"Make it a game to get off the bed, using lots of praise and petting," Stilwell says. "They get no attention on the bed. Only on the floor."

After a while, when the dogs were ordered off the bed, they got down, although Stilwell says it was at least two weeks before the dogs didn't attempt to get back on the bed.

"You're going to have a few sleepless nights," she says, "but you've got to stick with it."

Cooper and Otis

That was the case with the Armours, whose dog, Cooper, had slept with them since he was eight weeks old. When Cooper was two, they adopted Otis, another Weimaraner. Ingrid Armour said two 90-pound dogs just weren't going to work in their bed. So they placed two dog beds on the floor at the foot of their bed and put the dogs in them.

For Otis, it was fine, Ingrid Armour said. Not so with Cooper.

"The first night, he just sat in his bed and gave us the evil eye," Armour says.

For the first three nights, Cooper tried to get into their bed every 10 minutes. After that, for at least a month, he'd wait until they fell asleep, then climb into bed with them.

"We finally got a water bottle and squirted him when he tried to get into bed with us," Ingrid says. "It was a three-month process to get them to sleep in their own beds, but we're worthless unless we get eight hours sleep, so we had to get this under control. Now we all get a good night's sleep."

SOURCES:

Ingrid and Shea Armour, owners of Weimaraners Otis and Cooper, Panama City Beach, Fla.

Ingrid Johnson, veterinary technician and consultant on feline behavior, Marietta, Ga.

American Pet Products Association, a not-for-profit trade association of pet product manufacturers and importers, 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey.

Derek Damin, MD, allergist at Kentuckiana Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; assistant clinical professor of medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Ky.

Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine, Evanston, Ill.

Candace Hunziker, owner of P, a Labrador Retriever mix, Kennesaw, Ga.

Elizabeth Schmitz, PhD, president of Successful Marriage Reflections, LLC; co-author of Golden Anniversaries: The Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage and Building A Love That Lasts.

Charles Schmitz, PhD, dean and professor of counseling and family therapy, University of Missouri-St. Louis; co-author of Golden Anniversaries: The Seven Secrets of Successful Marriage and Building A Love That Lasts.

Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer, star of the television show “It's Me or the Dog” and author of It's Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet.

Reviewed on April 29, 2012

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