Sleeping With Pets

Whether they are brought into bed or just invite themselves in, pets frequently sleep in the same bed as their owners. Surveys have estimated that as many as 62% of cat and dog owners share their bed with their pets.

Given the close bond that can develop with a pet, for many pet owners, co-sleeping may seem like a forgone conclusion. However, there are a number of considerations that may influence whether to snuggle up with a furry friend.

In this guide, we’ll give you the low-down on sleeping with your pets. We’ll address the potential benefits and risks, including health concerns that can arise for both adults and children. We’ll review what science tells us about how different types of animals sleep and offer tips on how to share the bed with a pet as safely as possible.

Should You Sleep With Your Pets?

The decision about whether to sleep with a pet is not as simple as it might sound. The truth is that it depends on your health, the type of pet you have, and how you choose to balance the potential benefits and downsides of co-sleeping.

Snuggling up with a beloved pet can be one of the most coveted experiences as a pet owner. Just looking at the adorable face of your favorite animal may make it seem impossible that you wouldn’t share the same bed. At the same time, bringing your pet into bed comes with risks, and those risks can be higher for certain adults and children.

In this section, we’ll go over the main benefits and risks of sleeping with a pet to help you make an informed choice about where your pet spends the night.

Benefits of Sleeping With Pets

dog sleeping in bedThe benefits of sleeping with pets are notable but difficult to quantify. Most pet owners find that having their pet nearby offers an extra dose of comfort and coziness. The closeness and touch that comes from having a pet at your side can release oxytocin, a hormone that can promote affection and be an antidote to depression. A soft animal within arm’s length may bring a sense of calm that can relax people who suffer from anxiety. Overall, for many people sharing a bed with a pet can help create a sleep environment that combats insomnia.

Another positive to co-sleeping with a pet is how it can enhance bonding. For people and pets, sharing the place where they sleep is a sign of profound companionship and trust. More time spent together in close quarters can add another level of familiarity to deepen the relationship with a pet.  

Some people may appreciate a sense of protection that comes from having their pet share the bed. Especially for dog owners, many of whom value the security that comes from owning a dog, this protective role can take on added significance at night when they may feel more vulnerable. Knowing that a dog is there to alert them if anything is amiss can provide the peace of mind needed to sleep easily.  

Health Concerns When Sleeping With Pets

Sleeping with a pet can raise certain health risks, but as with the benefits of co-sleeping, these downsides can be difficult to quantify. Pets can carry pests, such as fleas, mites, lice, ticks, and even bed bugs, into your home and into your bed. Purging these pests can be a time-consuming and expensive chore, and their bites are annoying, uncomfortable, and potentially disease-transmitting.

Humans can become infected by bacteria or parasites carried by pets, and the chances of exposure are higher when sharing a bed. This risk is elevated in people with weakened immune systems or open wounds. Infection risks are higher, too, for people who kiss their pets or allow their pets to lick them.

Allergies are another risk of co-sleeping. People who have even mild allergies may have flare-ups as a result of the close exposure from dander that comes from sharing a bed or from dust or pollens carried in by a pet that spends significant time outdoors.

Beyond health issues, there are other possible downsides to co-sleeping. If not done properly, it may induce bad pet behavior, including a negative reaction if your pet is later not allowed in bed. Many pets can interrupt sleep through their movement or by taking up valuable real estate on the surface of your mattress. Similarly, a pet that is accustomed to being in bed may get in the way of sexual activity. Lastly, claws and pet accidents can be a source of damage to your mattress.

Some of these risks can be reduced but not completely eliminated. Sleeping with a pet may be safe, but it could be safer to not have a pet in bed. As a result, the decision about whether to co-sleep with a pet boils down in large part to your own risk tolerance and how you view the potential benefits.

Is It Safe for Children to Sleep With Pets?

In many cases, it is safe for children to sleep with pets, but there are circumstances in which it is not advisable.

Infants should generally not share a bed with pets. Soft items can block an infant’s breathing and lead to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For this reason, experts frequently advise against keeping things like blankets, toys, pillows, and yes, pets, on the same sleeping surface as an infant.

Toddlers and young children are typically not well-suited for sleeping with pets. They may have less awareness of how to appropriately interact with pets, and sleeping animals, especially dogs, can be prone to bite or scratch when startled awake or touched in a way that they find uncomfortable.

In addition, many younger children have less-developed immune systems that can make them susceptible to the bacteria that pets can introduce to their environment. Parents of children of any age that have a suppressed immune system should think twice before bringing a pet into their child’s bed.

Regardless of the age of a child, allowing children to sleep with pets can be problematic if a pet is known to pose a greater risk. This can be the case if a pet has a known behavioral issue or a tendency to be anything other than completely welcoming of human attention. The risk is exacerbated if a pet has a heightened ability to inflict harm because of their size, claws, and/or teeth.

How Much Sleep Do Pets Need?

Just like people, animals need regular sleep in order to be healthy and active, and below is an overview of how much sleep different types of pets need. Remember that every pet is different and may have some variance in their sleep based on their size, breed, age, and daily activities.

If you notice that your pet is sleeping much more or much less than these amounts, it may be time to take them to see the vet, especially if they are also exhibiting any other signs of serious fatigue or abnormal behavior.

Dogs

Typical daily sleep for dogs is in the range of 12-14 hours, but this can vary quite a bit depending on age, breed, and daily activity.

Puppies can need up to 20 hours of sleep a day, and older dogs that tire easily frequently sleep more than 14 hours as well. Though there are exceptions, bigger dog breeds usually require more sleep and may spend up to 18 hours a day resting. Although it might seem like working dogs, because of their significant daily activity, need a great deal of sleep, in fact, they tend to need less sleep than dogs that are mostly sedentary.

Cats

Cats have a reputation for being dedicated sleepers, and that reputation is based in reality as most cats sleep from 12-16 hours per day. That time is frequently broken up into many smaller naps that adds up to well over half the day spent snoozing.

Like with dogs, there are cats that may sleep more or less especially based on age. To support their rapid growth, kittens frequently sleep nearly 20 hours a day. Once cats reach age 7, they often start sleeping more, and their total sleep can continue to increase with age.

Birds

It is challenging to estimate the amount of sleep that birds need. The wide variety of bird species complicates the ability to say how much sleep they require in general.

In addition, it is believed that birds sleep largely based on the conditions of their environment. Their sleep cycle is only a few minutes long (compared to around 90 minutes in people), so they can get rest in a much shorter time period. Birds are also capable of unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, which means that half of their brain stays awake to help stay alert to predators.

Fish

The majority of household pets are mammals whose sleep tends to resemble that of their owners. Fish, on the other hand, have a different biological approach to sleep that has more variance based on the type of fish and their environment.

Some fish may burrow or sink to the bottom of their tank to sleep. Others may drift or simply slow their movement. Regardless, it’s normal for fish to stay very alert when resting, so it may not be clear at all to pet owners that they are sleeping.

Reptiles

The length of reptile sleep can be highly variable depending on the type of reptile, its environment, and its recent activity and amount of sleep.

For many years, scientists did not believe that reptiles had REM sleep or dreams. Recent research has demonstrated that the reptile sleep cycle is more complex although in general, it is very short, lasting only around 80 seconds. A reptile may sleep for several hours or just a few minutes while moving rapidly through this sleep cycle. Very large reptiles, such as pythons, may sleep for as much as 18 hours a day after a big meal.

Other Animals

Virtually any pet will need some downtime, but exactly how much can be hard to say. Rabbits and bunnies often sleep around 11 hours a day. Guinea pigs may sleep for up to 9.4 hours a day, and rodents like mice and rats can sleep for 12-14 hours each day.

Remember that every pet is different and that things like their diet, their daily activity, and their environment can all influence when and how much they sleep.

Tips For Sleeping With Your Pet

Tips For Sleeping With Dogs

For adults, there is no strong recommendation for or against sleeping with dogs; it’s a matter of personal preference. If you do let Fido into your bed, there are some ways to improve the experience.

  • By invite only: to encourage proper behavior, only allow your dog into bed when invited. Make it clear to your pooch when they are allowed in bed and which part of the bed is their spot. Be consistent in establishing rules and a routine to better maintain order with your dog in bed.
  • Keep them vaccinated and clean: to reduce health risks associated with sharing the bed with your dog, make sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations. Keep your dog well-groomed to reduce the risk of pests hitching a ride on their fur and into your house, and wipe down their paws when they come into your home. Try to keep them from drinking from the toilet or having other exposure to dangerous bacteria.
  • Have a large and durable mattress: to make sure there’s enough space, have a mattress that is large enough to share, and choose a durable mattress that won’t be damaged by letting your dog sleep on it.

Tips For Sleeping With Cats

As with dogs, it’s a personal choice about whether to sleep with your cat. That decision must be based on your own assessment of the potential benefits and downsides. It may be possible to sleep with both cats and dogs if they generally get along well and can share space without making noise or fighting.

Just like with dogs, you’ll want to make sure that you have a big enough mattress to ensure that everyone can stretch out comfortably. You also want to establish your role as inviting your cat into bed because they can be very territorial. Give your cat regular visual examinations for any signs of pests, especially if they spend time outdoors. Brush your cat frequently to reduce allergen exposure and try to keep their paws clean if they’ve recently been outside or in the litter box.

Tips For Sleeping With Birds

It is not recommended to sleep with birds or to allow pet birds into your bedroom.

Though birds can be a great pet, they aren’t well-suited to sharing your bedroom. Birds can contract bacterial diseases, and when they do, the bacteria will be shed by the bird in their feces and other secretions. Some of these bacteria can infect humans through inhalation. These are not common infections, but avoiding spending the whole night in the same room can reduce your risk of contracting them.

Keep your bird in its own cage in a dark place where it can get plenty of tranquility and sleep, but that dark place should be away from your bed. Overall, the best bet is to keep your bedroom a bird-free zone of your house.

Tips for Sleeping With Other Pets

It is typically not recommended to sleep with other pets including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, lizards, snakes, and other rodents. Sleeping with these animals in a way that is safe and comfortable for both you and the animal can be a tremendous challenge. The risk of animal waste in your bed is enough to make sleeping with these pets inadvisable.

It is also frequently not recommended to keep these pets in cages in your bedroom. While the health risks may be minimized if cages are kept clean and the bedroom well-ventilated, there may be disruptions either to your sleep or that of your pets given that you are likely to have different daily schedules.

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