How to Safely Sleep With Your Pet

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By Sophia Yin, DVM

This week newspapers and television news have splashed an alarming headline for those pet owners who love to share their bed with their pet. The headlines warn that sleeping with your pet can make you sick and even prove life-threatening in a few rare cases. These headlines are based on an upcoming February 2011 article in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases entitled “Zoonoses in the Bedroom.” In this peer-reviewed article, the authors, veterinarians Bruno B. Chomel, a professor of zoonoses at the Universityof California, Davisand Ben Sun, the state public health veterinarian for the California Department of Health, provide evidence that contracting illness from our pets can be a real issue. The article is not out yet so I am unable to provide a specific review; however, a media release sent by the Universityof California, Davis details a few points.

During their review of potential cases of disease transmission from pet dogs and cats to humans, the co-authors found a number of cases in which seemingly healthy pets were carrying parasites, bacteria, or viruses that they transmitted to humans.

In one case, a man whose dog slept under the covers with him and licked his hip replacement wound came down with meningitis. In another, a 9-year old boy whose flea-infested cat slept with him got the plague.

Regardless of the potential risks, I’m guessing most people who sleep with their pets aren’t going to give up this habit just yet. So what are some precautions you can take to make sleeping with your pet less of an infectious disease safety issue?

Safety Tips for Sleeping with Your Pet

  • Avoid letting your pet lick any wounds or surgical incision sites you may have. If they do, wash the wound out with soap and water immediately. In many cases, such as if you are immunocompromised, it’s best to avoid letting your pet lick you and to avoid kissing your pet, especially on the lips. No telling where your dog’s mouth and tongue have been—possibly in the kitty litter box?
  • Keep your pet clean and the litter box and potty areas picked up so that your pet is less likely to track in tiny poop particles on its feet and fur.
  • The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPCvet.org) recommends that puppies and kittens have fecal examinations 2-4 times during their first year of life and 1-2 times a year thereafter depending on their lifestyle. Puppies should also be dewormed every 2 weeks starting at 2 weeks of age.
  • The CAPC also recommends deworming year-round with a broad-spectrum parasite control that is effective against heartworm and intestinal parasites particularly those with zoonotic potential.
  • Use flea and tick control as needed to keep your pet flea and tick free.
  • A third recommendation by the CAPC is that pets not be fed raw food diets since pets fed raw meat are known to shed zoonotic (transmissible to humans) bacteria such as salmonella. This is a much more serious threat when there’s an immunosuppressed individual in the household.
  • Perhaps the safest recommendation is to be sure your pet is examined by your veterinarian every 6-12 months so that you can benefit from recommendations that are tailored to your pet and your household situation.

The upcoming February 2011 article in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases entitled “Zoonoses in the Bedroom,” will be out within a week or so. Stay tuned for more specifics on my blog or on Dr. Scott Weese’s Worms and Germs Blog (http://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/).

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6 responses to “How to Safely Sleep With Your Pet

  1. Thank you for taking the time to counteract some of the fevered reporting that has dominated the discussion of this article. It’s a shame that not only has the popular press chosen to sensationalize it, but Dr. Chomel appears to be providing them with quotes that encourage such reporting. And it’s odd, since the conclusions in the paper are more restrained and sensible than his soundbites (though I still think that the article goes too far in extrapolating from extremely limited data).

    By the way, the article still isn’t linked from the main EID page, but I found that a copy is available as part of a CDC continuing medical education program: http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/17/2/pdfs/167.pdf

  2. I had a client once that was on chemotherapy. His oncologist called me to see if he could have gotten Pasturella multocida from his cat…. and wanted his patient to get rid of the cat. After talking with my client, turns out he had a chemo port, and he was letting his cat lick the port between changing needles…… Seems like lack of commons sense more than a life threatening zoonoses.

  3. I agree with this article. If you keep you pet clean and healthy you are better off. I always let my dog sleep on the bed, usally at the end on a body pillow.

  4. I have two cute puppies living and sleeping with me. I always maintain good grooming measures. The hard part is cleaning their poop but the best part is that they always make me smile before we all sleep. But I always make sure they’re clean before going to bed. Nice pic.

    Maddy Morley
    College Assistant Professor

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