Drs. Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ben Sun, chief veterinarian for California’s Department of Health, say in a study to be published in next month’s issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases that sleeping with your pet includes an inherent risk, even a fatal one. “The risk of contracting something is rare, but if you’re that person who gets a disease from a pet, rare doesn’t matter that much,” says the paper’s co-author Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California-Davis school of veterinary medicine and an expert in zoonoses, the transmission of disease from animal to human. “I know this will make me unpopular, but pets really don’t belong in your bed.”
This is just one more reason why I’m proud to have attended the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. Were they that desperate to publish a study that this was the best idea they could come up with? Let’s use some common sense here. The authors worked hard to find examples of people who have suffered, some dying, as a result of their pet sleeping in bed with them. These researchers combed through medical journals to find examples of pets making people ill after sharing a bed. Many of the cases cited are decades old. There is no epidemic. There never has been. The risk is phenomenally overblown and exaggerated.
I’ve personally been in practice for 30 years (15,000 office visits yearly x 30= almost half a million) and I have never encountered a single client that has become seriously ill as a result of sleeping with their pets. I believe that the human-animal bond and the positive effects pets can have on humans outweigh any risk, whether you sleep with your pet or not. I would bet many of the dogs and cats entering my veterinary hospital are a lot cleaner than a many of the humans I come in contact with during the day. The message these doctors would like to send is get your pets off the bed and you’re safe from intestinal parasites or zoonotic disease. That’s simply not true. The truth is that it’s far more likely to get a disease or illness from your human sleeping partner than from a pet who happens to share your bed. You just have to trust me on this one.
So what is a pet owner to do? Take the same basic precautions with your pet that you already (we hope) take with yourself. Common-sense approaches include regular wellness exams for pets, parasite control, vaccinations appropriate for your geographical area, regular bathing and dental care. These simple acts will significantly minimize the risk of disease transmission between pet and owner. If people would remember to wash their hands, that would help, too. So, obviously scrub up with soap and running water if you’ve handled feces, and do it again if you’ve handled your pet and plan on preparing food. It goes without saying that extra precautions are necessary if you or someone else in the household is debilitated or immune-compromised.
As a final note, I’ve been sleeping with dogs and cats for my entire life, let alone being kissed and slobbered on by thousands of my clients’ pets throughout the years and I have never contracted any disease or illness. As a matter of fact, I’d rather have my dogs kiss me than some random person; at least I know where my dogs have been- if you know what I mean.