We have long known that contact with pets can have wonderful benefits in our lives. There are studies that show that people with pets live longer, recover from illnesses faster, have lower blood pressure, help our hearts, and pets can help people with things like depression. But now comes a study from the U.S. suggesting that if you allow your pet to sleep in your bed it could increase your chances of becoming ill. Could that possibly be true?
According to the study, conducted by Drs. Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ben Sun, chief veterinarian for California’s Department of Health, most U.S. households have pets, and more than half of those cats and dogs sleep in their owners’ beds. The authors are experts in zoonoses, or diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans. They say that while it is very rare that something can be transmitted from a pet to their owner, it is sometimes a possibility.
“We wanted to raise the attention of people, as sleeping with a pet is becoming quite common, and there are risks associated with it, even if it is not very frequent,” Chomel told AOL News. “But when it occurs, especially in children or immunocompromised people, it can be very severe.”
The authors mention such possibilities for life-threatening infections as the plague (yeah, really, talk about rare), internal parasites, and other things.
In the U.S., according to surveys, about 56 percent of dog owners say that their dogs sleep in their beds. Most of these dogs are small dogs, but 41 percent are medium-sized dogs, and one-third are large dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, women are more likely than men to have their dogs sleep in their bed.
According to the authors, cats are even more likely to carry diseases than dogs and their diseases can be more serious. Plus, more cats are sleeping in their owners’ beds.
The authors cite the following cases of health problems from allowing pets to sleep in your bed:
- A 9-year-old boy from Arizona got the plague because he slept with his flea-infested cat.
- A 48-year-old man and his wife repeatedly contracted MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which their physicians eventually attributed to their dog. The animal “routinely slept in their bed and frequently licked their face,” the California experts reported.
- Kissing pets can also transmit zoonoses. A Japanese woman contacted meningitis after kissing her pet’s face.
- A 44-year-old man died of infection after his German shepherd puppy licked open abrasions on his hands.
Your pet’s food can also be a source of disease. A study published last August in the journal Pediatrics tracked an outbreak of salmonella in 79 people between 2006 and 2008 that was caused by contaminated meat in dry cat and dog food.
This seems like very flimsy evidence to me. Based on a relative few cases in the entire world, these experts are going to suggest that millions of people stop letting their pets sleep with them?
The researchers point out that fleas are one of the biggest concerns. Your pet can pass them to you, and the fleas can spread disease. Your dog may also enjoy eating or rolling in something foul or dead, which it passes back to you. If there are diseases present, you can be infected.
I doubt that people are going to stop allowing their pets to sleep in their beds. I know that I won’t be deterred. However, if you are concerned about diseases that could be transmitted by your pet, there are some precautions you can take:
- Young people and people with a compromised immune system should use caution in sharing their bed with a pet or in regularly kissing pets.
- Any area licked by a pet, especially an open wound, should be immediately washed with soap and water.
- Pets must be kept free of parasites, especially fleas. You should regularly de-worm your pets and they should be examined by a vet on an annual basis.
- Puppies should be given preventive measures for flatworms and drugs for tapeworms and other parasites in the first few weeks of life. Their mothers should be wormed during pregnancy.
Most of the concerns about contracting a disease from your pet can be eliminated if you keep your pet free of parasites and up-to-date in terms of good veterinary care.