Should You Let Your Pets Sleep in Bed With You?

Should You Let Your Pets Sleep in Bed With You?
03.02.2024
  • Choosing to share a bed with your pet comes down to preference, your pet’s behavior, and any personal health considerations.
  • Experts say co-sleeping with your pet can have some downsides, including allergies, the risk of getting parasites, and potential sleep disruptions.
  • However, sharing a bed with your pet can provide emotional benefits, such as added security or comfort.

For many people, pets are part of the family. But is snuggling up with a furry friend at night the best thing for your health?

Research has shown that sharing a bed with a pet is a popular practice. In a 2015 study, 56% of pet-owning participants said their pet slept in their bed, and in a 2022 survey, 46% of respondents said the same.12

There are a number of risks and benefits associated with sharing a bed with a pet, experts say. However, there is no rule or one-size-fits-all answer for whether you should allow your pet to sleep in bed with you, Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, veterinarian director at Senior Tail Waggers and director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, told in a statement.

The practice can come with some health risks, such as the transmission of parasites, said Whittenburg. On the other hand, there may be bonding and mental health benefits for both the pet and the owner as well.

The decision essentially comes down to personal preference, as well as the pet’s behavior and any health considerations, she explained.

“Each pet parent needs to consider the situation and make the best decision for them and their pets,” Whittenburg said.

Here’s what you need to know about the potential risks of co-sleeping with a pet, and what you can do to mitigate the risks, according to allergists and veterinarians.

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Co-Sleeping With a Pet Could Pose Health Risks

Regardless of how much we love our pets, sharing a bed with them isn’t always the healthiest choice, Purvi Parikh, MD, clinical assistant professor and allergy and infectious disease expert at NYU Langone Health, told in a statement.

This is especially true for people with certain pre-existing health conditions or concerns.

Worsened Allergy Symptoms 

In the U.S., millions of people live with pets despite having allergies. If someone with pet allergies does decide to co-sleep with their pet, Parikh said, it can trigger allergic reaction symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, or hives.

“This will make their allergies and asthma significantly worse due to constant exposure [to pet hair and dander] throughout the night,” said Parikh.

Even if someone isn’t allergic to pet dander, sleeping with a pet could still cause these issues, Michelle Yasharpour, MD, an allergy, immunology, and asthma specialist, told in a statement.

Pets can expose their owners to other allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, and mold that collect on their fur. And being exposed while sleeping could, again, trigger allergy symptoms.

Exposure to Parasites and Zoonotic Diseases

Sleeping in the same bed as your pet could also expose you to parasites—these can be external, such as fleas or ticks, and internal, such as worms, Whittenburg said.

Pets can also carry certain zoonotic diseases, such as leptospirosis, salmonellosis, and bartonellosis, which they can pick up from other infected animals or contaminated environments.

An infected pet can “carry bacteria in their mouths and on their fur that could potentially be a danger to some individuals, especially those that are immunocompromised,” Whittenburg explained.

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The risk of coming into contact with unwanted bacteria is more pronounced with pets that roam outside, as opposed to indoor pets, she added.

For example, if there was any chance that a dog’s fecal matter could get anywhere near your pillow or mouth, “you might get transmitted a parasite,” said Tanya Laidlaw, MD, director of translational research in the division of allergy and clinical immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“In general, pets that are appropriately treated by vets and have received all of the appropriate medical attention should have a very low likelihood of carrying parasites that can be transmitted to humans,” Laidlaw told. “But it’s not zero.”

Nighttime Disruptions 

At night, pets may move, lick, scratch, or take up too much space in the bed, potentially causing disruptions in their owner’s sleep, Whittenburg said.

“Some owners may find that the presence of the pet can negatively affect their sleep, due to motion or other disturbances,” she explained. “Therefore it may not be the best choice for their household.”

In fact, research has shown that pet ownership tends to be associated with worse sleep quality. A 2023 survey found that a third of pet owners “often” or “always” experience sleep disruptions because of their pets.

Sharing a Bed With a Pet Can Be Beneficial, Too 

Although sleeping with pets has some downsides, it also comes with some benefits, including increased mental health, self-esteem, and less depression and anxiety, Whittenburg and Parikh said.

“Many pet parents find comfort through allowing their pet to sleep near them at night,” said Whittenburg. “Having pets in the bed may lower anxiety and give the owners a sense of protection or comfort.”

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Because having a pet in the bed can increase this sense of safety or comfort, some research has suggested that pets may even have a positive or simply neutral effect on sleep quality.

For dogs in particular, a small 2017 study found that when dogs sleep in certain positions on the bed, they don’t seem to have a negative effect on their owners’ sleep.

Mitigate the Risks of Sharing a Bed With a Pet 

If you are unsure whether you’ll be willing to continue allowing your pet to sleep in the bed, it is better to never start, Whittenburg recommended.

However, if co-sleeping with your furry friend has become a habit, there are things you can do to reduce health risks and boost sleep quality for everyone.

If allergy symptoms are a concern, people can reduce the accumulation of dander or other allergens by frequently washing their sheets, using a HEPA air purifier, and bathing their pet often. Pet owners can also consider taking over-the-counter antihistamines or trying allergy shots or immunotherapy to decrease the effect of allergy symptoms.

Diseases and parasites are a bit more challenging to control, however, people should keep their pets up-to-date on vaccinations and vet visits to make sure they’re protected from any potential infections.

And if you’re still unsure of what to do or need help managing any co-sleeping issues, contact your veterinarian, who can provide insight and help you make an informed choice.

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