It was with interest I read of a Medical News Today article looking at how pet sleeping habits impact people.
On the plus side, those people who allowed a canine companion into the bedroom experienced better-quality sleep. But on the minus side, those who let the dog under the duvet tended to have poorer sleep (no mention of those who let the dog sleep on the bed but not under the covers).
All of this set me to wondering about the health implications of snoozing with your dog. I know some people throw their hands up in horror, while for others it’s perfectly natural. Is there a right and wrong answer? Let’s weigh the arguments.
Dogs and Disease
Could close contact with a dog expose you to disease? Potentially, yes, but the risk is tiny. An infection passed from pup to person is called a zoonosis. Fortunately, these are relatively rare in the grand scheme of things.
But what if a pet is a carrier of a disease, which means they excrete the bug but don’t themselves become sick? With no outward warning signs, someone might not realize the pet is potentially infectious, and therefore snuggling up is risky. Here are some of the theoretical risks your dozing dog could pose.
No one wants to wake up covered in flea bites or to see a tick crawling across their pillow. Both of these parasites are common pests for dogs and do require control if you’re to avoid becoming a flea buffet.
One of the unpleasant things about fleas is the success of their lifecycle. An adult flea only feeds on the dog and then jumps off to lay eggs in the environment. If the dog happens to snooze on the sheets, then it’s the bed that becomes a flea breeding ground.
Oh, and if you want to feel especially grossed out, there was a case back in 1974 of a man who contracted bubonic plague after being bitten by fleas infected with Yersinia pestis (the plague bacterium). However, for the doggy peeps among you, know that it was a cat who brought the fleas in — not a dog.
Of course, the ultimate solution is easy: Make sure your dog is treated regularly against fleas with an effective de-fleaing (and preferably anti-tick) product.
Parasites aren’t limited to the outside of the dog. Intestinal parasites such as tapeworm, roundworm and hookworms are also a theoretical risk. However, in the context of the bedroom, it takes a relatively unusual event to occur, such as a person eating or swallowing a live flea, to become infected with tapeworm.
For a person to be infected with hookworm or roundworm would require them to ingest (a polite way of saying
“eat”) infected dog feces. Yuck! Hopefully you’d notice if the dog’s fur was soiled with feces before allowing them in the bedroom.
Other internal parasites such as Campylobacter and giardia can spread from pooch to person by contact with soiled fur. But again, this requires the bugs to be ingested (that word again). A sensible precaution would seem to be not eating in the bedroom and always washing your hands after stroking the dog.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) caused quite a stir when it first came to light several years ago. This bacterium is resistant to many common antibiotics, which makes clearing infections tricky.
There have been cases of people becoming infected after a dog carrying MRSA licked open sores or healing wounds. Of course, this isn’t a bedroom-specific issue, since dogs love to lick, but I guess when lying down, the dog has easier access.
However, there’s an interesting twist in the tail. When news of MRSA first broke, pilot studies looked for how the bug spread. They discovered people with regular contact with hospitals were far more likely to contract MRSA and pass it on to their dog rather than the dog infecting them.
It won’t have escaped your attention if your dog has bad breath. However, a dog’s dirty mouth is more than an inconvenience, because it’s also home to lots of bugs — some of which are potentially nasty.
Take Pasteurella as an example. P. multocida can cause some pretty unpleasant human infections, including meningitis. Again, zoonosis is rare, but cases have occurred of people being kissed or licked on the mouth by their dog and becoming severely ill as a result.
Another potential problem with letting pets on the bed? They may not want to leave:
What to Do for the Best
Is there a right and wrong answer to whether it’s unhealthy to sleep with a dog? No — and yes. While a canine companion offers a sense of security and helps you relax, it can have its drawbacks. However, most of the disease implication can be worked around.
If you follow certain basic rules, such as keeping the dog’s coat clean, brush their teeth and use adequate parasite control, then the risks to your health are minimal. However, those with a weak immune system need to be more cautious, so for them, having a dog under the duvet is not such a great idea.
Dogs in the bedroom? I personally think it’s a great idea, as long as they don’t destroy the room while you sleep — but that’s a different story for another day.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 27, 2017.