Is Sleeping Together Healthy?
There was a time when Eliska, a three-pound Prague ratter, would curl up and sleep next to owner Krista DeAngelis, and most of the time, she and the dog enjoyed a peaceful night’s slumber.
Then DeAngelis married, and her husband banned the dog from the bed for fear of unintentionally squashing Eliska in his sleep. After enduring a few sleepless nights of canine whining and barking, the Salt Lake City couple successfully curbed their pet’s protests by simply spraying Eliska with a misting bottle every time she acted up. After two nights of this routine, the pocket-sized pooch was fully trained to sleep by herself in another room.
“I originally thought letting my dog sleep in my bed was a good idea,” says DeAngelis, a communications director at Westminster College. “But I realized that they can keep you up when they rustle around, wake you up if they have to go out and sometimes go to the bathroom in the bed if you don’t wake up.”
Make a Good Choice
“Having your pet sleep in the bed with you is a personal choice,” says holistic Veterinarian Patrick Mahaney, of California Pet Acupuncture & Wellness, in West Hollywood. By discouraging this behavior, “Your pet will be less likely to confuse your bed with theirs, and therefore prevent potential territory-related problems.” By failing to discourage it, “You not only face the possibility of behavioral problems, you could also face adverse effects to your own sleep and health,” he notes.
~ Roger Valentine, holistic veterinarian
According to results published in a survey of 300 sleep disorder patients conducted by Dr. John Shepard, then medical director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, in Rochester, Minnesota, nearly 60 percent of the pet owners in the study slept with their pets inside the bedroom. Twenty-two percent of the patients were likely to have pets sleeping on the bed with them. Plus, 53 percent said their sleep was disrupted to some extent every night. Twenty-one percent and 7 percent of their dogs and cats, respectively, snored.
Yet, a British study of 420 UK cat owners conducted by the nonprofit Cats Protection revealed that 44 percent of respondents (including 51 percent of women polled) said they enjoyed a better night’s sleep with a cat in bed with them than with a human companion. Benefits listed included an absence of snoring, more space on the bed and soothing purrs.
~ American Heart Association journal, Hypertension
“The advantages of letting your pet share your bed include companionship, warmth and a sense of security,” advises Mahaney. Among the drawbacks, he notes lack of space for people to sleep, interruption of normal sleep patterns and the pet’s confusion about its expected place to sleep.
Nip Problems in the Bud
To break a pet of a bed-sleeping habit, Mahaney recommends applying persistence, consistency and the following tips:
• Establish a separate area or bed for the pet to sleep. A cat or dog bed can be as simple as a clean, soft blanket placed nearby.
• Use positive reinforcement techniques. Offer a tiny training treat, “gooddog” clicker noise or praise when the animal is comfortably resting in its own bed, to reinforce this desirable behavior.
• Immediately address any territorial aggression when co-sleeping with a pet, such as growling or nipping. First, authoritatively say, “No!” Then put the pet on the floor or into its own bed and give the command to sit and stay.
• If problematic behavior persists, seek consultation with a veterinary behavior specialist.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
If a family member decides to share a bed with a pet, Mahaney offers the following recommendations:
• Let it sleep on top of the covers, instead of under them.
• Be aware of the need to remove environmental debris, including fecal material, on its coat before bedtime.
• Give the dog an opportunity to void itself within a reasonable timeframe before going to sleep. A typical healthy dog should not have to get up in the middle of the night to urinate or defecate.
• Allow a cat the opportunity to exit the bedroom throughout the night to play, eat, drink and use the litter box. Cats are nocturnal animals and are more likely to be active during lights out.
Erik J. Martin regularly contributes to WebVet.com, from which this was adapted.