How the Media Exaggerated “Sleeping With Pets” Disease

Recent articles have “exposed” the dangers of sleeping with pets, but I have some facts to share that prove otherwise.

Use common sense and bathe your dog regularly if you’re going to let him sleep in your bed. By: 5nap

A glut of articles have come out recently about the supposed dangers of sleeping with pets. Most of them make the case that sleeping with your pet is a bad idea for health reasons.

An article in the Los Angeles Times, “Sleeping With Pets Exposes Owners to Nasty Diseases,” by Amina Khan, even goes so far as to cite an outbreak of bubonic plague in New Mexico in 1974 that was, apparently, the result of sleeping with a dog.

Other supposed dangers of sleeping with pets range from serious illnesses to parasitic infections.

I tracked down the original Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report [PDF] that the L.A. Times and other publications are using as a primary source for their articles. The CDC does cite a case of bubonic plague and all the other problems that the L.A. Times mentioned; however, the article — and others like it — lead most readers to believe that sleeping with your pet is the problem.

In reality, the CDC study examines intimate behavior with a pet — including cuddling and kissing. There was even a woman in the study who was transferring food from her mouth to her dog’s mouth.

The Truth

Most families live in close proximity with their pets, who are cuddled and played with throughout the day and evening. From a disease perspective, your dog sitting next to you on the couch isn’t much different from your dog sleeping next to you in the bed.

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Precautions to Take

Bubonic plague is spread by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis. It is most often found in rats, but other animals carry it occasionally. It is transferred to humans through infected flea bites. So what is a pet family to do?

Take the same basic precautions with your pet that you already (I hope) take with yourself:

These simple acts will significantly minimize the risk of disease transmission between pet and humans.

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Overblown Facts

In a separate report, the CDC sats that there are only 10 to 20 cases of bubonic plague in the United States every year, which means this: The average pet family’s chance of contracting bubonic plague is very low.

All the cases occurred in isolated rural areas, so there’s no need to avoid the city dog park.

Watch a Great Dane pup take over his human’s entire bed in this video that went viral:

The average pet family’s chance of contracting a disease from another human is far greater than from their pet. Consider these statistics:

  • There are between 200,000 and 300,000 cases of hepatitis B every year.
  • By age 35, about 90% of Americans have contracted mononucleosis, the “kissing disease.”
  • The dreaded H1N1 — better known as swine flu — is responsible for as many as 86 million cases between April 2009 and April 2010 in the United States.

So I, for one, will continue to enjoy cuddling with my cats and my dog at night and in the morning. The media should find other ways to scare people.

Sarah Blakemore

View posts by Sarah Blakemore
Sarah Blakemore has been researching and writing about pet care and pet behaviors since 2007. She has cared for many pets over the years and has volunteered with several animal shelters around the world.

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