Feeling guilty about leaving your fur babies in a crate at night? (They’re called puppy dog eyes for a reason, folks). Or are you secretly hoping you’re doing the right thing by keeping them out of the bedroom? Even if you fall in the category of trying to justify snuggling up to your shaggy best friend at night, among pet owners, we tend to stand divided, especially those of us with human sleeping partners.
So what are the pros and cons of sleeping with pets in your bed? You can probably find the answer you want to hear depending on the links you choose to click, which is why we dug deep into the research to find out the real answer for better human rest because call us selfish, but that’s what we’re all about.
We should clarify that when we refer to pets in this article we are largely referring to cats and dogs. If you want to know if you should be cuddling up with your pet python, iguana, or parakeet, our gut instinct is to say no, but we’ll get to that later.
An American Pet Products survey from 2019 found that 41 percent of medium-sized dogs and 62 percent of cats sleep with their owners. For smaller dogs and larger dogs, the percentages were higher and lower respectively. So if your cat has been taking up more of your pillow than your actual head, know you aren’t alone. Whether there is hope for change largely depends on the size of your cat and your willingness to get scratched.
If you’re feeling better or worse about your situation after hearing those statistics, don’t jump to any conclusions just yet. Just because almost half of all owners sleep with their animals doesn’t mean they should.
Having a pet is a different experience for everyone depending on the type of animal, size, age, and whether you have allergies.
For most owners, however, research shows there are significant health benefits. One study found that pet owners get significantly more exercise than non-pet owners especially when the owners had dogs. Additionally, these owners were significantly more positive about the neighborhoods they lived in and had more diverse social circles.
A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows having a pet is also associated with benefits like lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, less stress, and loneliness. These benefits mean cats and dogs make great therapy or service animals when they’re well-trained, and that they can improve our health in a variety of ways. But does this mean they should share our beds?
While there are hundreds of opinions circulating the internet, we are more interested in what the experts think.
“We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets.” – Lois Krahn M.D. of the Mayo Clinic
The University of Alberta found that for patients with chronic pain, sleeping with their dog helps regulate their sleep patterns by lowering their stress, exposing them to the sun early in the morning when they take them out and providing comfort when they are in pain.
According to a Mayo Clinic study, adults who slept with a pet in the room achieved an above satisfactory sleep efficiency percentage, meaning they spent even more time asleep throughout the night than necessary to receive the important benefits. For those who slept with their cat or dog in their bed with them, the number was a little lower but still satisfactory.
When it comes to your relationship with your pet, allowing them to sleep with you may strengthen your bond. A study in Hungary shows that dogs feel an attachment to their owners similar to the way a child feels toward their parents. In some dogs, separation even for the night may cause anxiety. When you allow them into your room to sleep, they may rest better knowing you’re nearby.
However, you may want to consider the effects of reinforcing behavioral issues like separation anxiety before caving on this one.
For those with allergies, sharing the bed with Fido could seriously aggravate your symptoms, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While continuously taking allergy medications may help you deal with the day to day symptoms of allergies, some studies show this might not be great for your overall health, and sleeping with your pet might cause you to increase your dosage or see fewer results.
Some allergists recommend allergy shots to improve your body’s reaction to the allergens, but these aren’t always available for everyone. If you’ve noticed your allergies getting worse since snuggling with your pets, you might consider taking a break and seeing how you feel after.
In some rare cases, it seems diseases such as cat-scratch disease can even be transferable from pets to a human when sleeping in close together.
Dogs are the most widely researched animal when it comes to the effects of bunking up together, and most of the research seems positive. However, your personal experience will likely depend on the disposition of the dog, it’s size, your sleeping partners, and personal preference.
According to the organization for US Service Animals, dogs can be specifically trained to keep owners with narcolepsy safe by waking them up, stopping sleepwalking, and getting help if they are injured. Additionally, according to the Journal for Sleep Specialists, dogs can be trained to help with obstructive sleep apnea, nightmares, and other sleep disorders.
For the average pooch, however, be aware that some studies show dog owners tend to be more lenient when it comes to their sleep disruptions than they should be. While you may love their warm presence, if they constantly move or groom themselves while you’re trying to rest, consider letting them sleep in your room but on their own beds to minimize disruptions.
Learn more about pros and cons here: Sleeping with your dog in bed at night?
Sorry cat owners, one study examining the effects of women sleeping with their cat, dog, or partner found that while dogs tend to increase the quality of sleep, sense of safety and comfort, sleeping with a cat largely increased sleep disturbances and lowered the sense of security while sleeping. Anyone who has ever had their face kneaded by a hungry cat at four in the morning probably isn’t surprised by this fact.
However, that’s just one study. If your cat doesn’t sleep on your head, aggravate your allergies, or decide to play floor hockey with a piece of lint at 2 am each night, you could benefit from a warm snuggle with your little buddy.
One study at the Mayo Clinic found that the results of sleeping with a pet may vary depending on the owner and how well-behaved an animal is. A calm, purring cat or a well-behaved dog may provide a comforting presence while others may keep you up.
If you're curious to learn more, read: Sleeping with cats in bed – list of pros and cons
When it comes to your python, rabbit, bird, or hamster, take into account the possible risks to you and your pet. Snakes and other small animals have fragile bones that are easily breakable if you were to roll over in your sleep. Additionally, they could transmit diseases to yourself.
Ultimately the decision is yours, but we encourage you to err on the side of caution. While you may love your pet enough to snuggle up with them, letting them have their own sleep space might be the safest option for both of you in some cases.
For children and infants, allowing an animal to sleep with them increases the risk for SIDS and suffocation, according to the American Association for Pediatrics. The report specifically mentions that the dangers are increased when cats are allowed into children’s rooms because of their tendencies to try to sleep on a child’s face or chest and obstruct breathing.
While your children's immune systems are still developing, allowing an animal to sleep with them can put them at a serious risk for diseases like staph and even the plague according to an NBC report. While the plague might be rare enough to not feel like a valid concern, there are even specific reports of domestic animals passing along diseases from using a pacifier as a chew toy, or licking their owner's wounds or mouths.
You may be right, as an adult, your immune system may be strong enough to fight off these diseases, but you probably want to give your kid a fighting chance when there is even a small chance that they could get meningitis from sharing toys with animals. As some cats and dogs can carry these diseases without showing symptoms, the risk could be higher than you think.
However, some reports show sleeping with a pet can help you rest, rather than detract from it by reducing anxiety and stress. While a little later in life your animals could make good sleeping companions, at least for the first few years of your child’s life, it seems like a good idea to keep them out of the nursery. Later on, your child may benefit from snoozing with their favorite pooch.
For small dogs and kittens who are still growing, a fall off of a high bed or being rolled over in their sleep could be enough to break a bone or possibly suffocate them. Additionally, just like animals can get you sick, you can pass along viruses to them too. While it may be difficult to say no to your cuddly puppy, it could be the best thing for them in the end, especially if you have the sniffles.
According to the American Kennel Club, separation anxiety is one of the leading reasons owners get rid of their animals. If you sleep with them from a young age, you could help them develop the troublesome issue. To make the most of your relationship, crate training your young animal could be the best thing for them even if it means you can’t snuggle at night.
Deciding whether to sleep with your fur baby is an individual decision that in some cases can help keep you safe, strengthen your bond, and help you sleep more soundly. In other cases it can be dangerous for both you and them, reinforce bad behavior, or disrupt your sleep.
The best option seems to be to judge the decision on a case by case basis. Just because your childhood pet slept at the foot of your bed, doesn’t mean your new kitten will have the same effect. But the good news is your fur baby will likely still love you either way.