For pet owners, it’s a tough question - one not made any easier by a pair of soulful, pleading eyes peering at you from the bedroom floor. Where once pets might have been relegated to their own bed for the night, our furry friends have since found their way into our hearts - and sometimes under our duvets: in fact, studies show that around half of pet owners share their bed with their dog or cat. But should you sleep with your pet?
While snuggling with your dog or cat is undoubtably a sweet way to bond with them, there’s a range of pros and cons you might wish to consider before letting them clamber in:
- The practice of co-sleeping with pets dates back centuries, to times when they were needed for pest control, security and warmth. For modern-day pets and their owners, not much has changed. Although most homes are (thankfully) pest free, we now know more about what the other two factors entail.
- That warm fuzzy feeling isn’t just your cat - studies show that simply being near your pet can help to release a hormone called oxytocin, which bonds us to others and helps us (and your pooch) to feel grounded (research also shows that dogs heartbeats also tend to synchronise with their owners, helping you to feel even more bonded. Awww.
- Other chemicals released by co-sleeping with your pet help to encourage theta brainwaves that occur during REM sleep, helping you to sleep more deeply and well. Studies also show that dog co-sleepers tend to stick to a regular bedtime routine better - possibly because they had to organise it around their pet as well.
- A study from the Journal of Behavioural Medicine suggests that because dogs help lower blood pressure, hypertension - and anxiety levels - even more so if they are tucked up with you. The same study also reports a reduction in nightmares and CPTSD or PTSD symptoms in owners who share their bed with a pet - on a similar note It also promotes a sense of security - more so when you know you have an actual guard dog slumbering next to you - no matter how big they are (even chihuahuas are especially loyal and protective despite their diminutive size!)
- While there is some debate about this, some research suggests that sleeping close to your pet early in life could help prevent a tendency towards allergies later on, so this is something to consider. The health and wellbeing benefits of having your pet around during the daytime also translate to how well you sleep at night - but co-sleeping with them also has it’s downsides...
- From a hygiene standpoint, snoozing with your pet is not particularly healthy - especially if you or your furry friend have pre-existing health issues. As a general rule most dogs and outdoor cats spend a decent portion of time outside during the day - raising the possibility of them tracking in pathogens like e-Coli that could make you unwell. Drool, pee and other unpleasant soggy messes are also an unwelcome possibility, particularly with younger, un-housetrained pups and breeds of dog prone to salivating - so if that sounds unpleasant, it’s probably best to show them to their own bed.
- It’s a given that if you have severe allergies, you probably shouldn’t let your pet sleep with you, as pet dander can result in poor sleep and worsening symptoms. Immunocompromised people, such as those recovering from injury, transplant patients, cancer patients and HIV positive people should avoid sleeping with their dogs due to a higher vulnerability to infection and illness.
- While we’re sleeping, we’re generally not aware of where we are or what we’re doing, which can make safety an issue. While large dogs could roll over, making for an uncomfortable night’s sleep, tinier breeds are at risk from being crushed or even suffocated in the night, so this is worth serious consideration.
- A tendency to overlook the more natural tendencies of our pets can sometimes make us humanise them. Pets aren’t people, no matter what type of bed they sleep in - so behavioural problems can be a mitigating factor when co-sleeping. Your pet might start to see your bed as theirs, while introducing a new pet could make them even more territorial - resulting in unpleasant marking behaviour! As a side note, pets don’t tend to occupy much of their own space in our households - so having their own spot (like a bed) is important to their happiness and wellbeing.
- If you’re a particularly light sleeper, you may want to let sleeping dogs lie - in their own bed, that is. Dogs - like humans also snore (some more loudly than others) - and while this might be cause for investivagtion by a vet - depending on the volume of snorer, it’s also reather disruptive. Fidgety or very active dogs (again, much like humans) can also disturb sleep, so while there’s evidence that co-sleepign with your dog can help with conditions like insomnia - it’s not for everyone, so bear that in mind.
The decision of whether to let your dog sleep on your bed is really at your discretion - but being aware of the risks as well as the benefits should help you to make an educated choice. In general however - due to the risks posed to health and hygiene, it’s probably a better idea to find a dog bed that supports their physical needs (such as joint support) and keeps the both of you safe and healthy. And - if you simply cannot bear to be parted at night, putting a dog bed in your room is always one option (consider placing it somewhere away from your usual route to the bathroom though, so you don’t trip over it in the night). That way, you’ll both have the benefits of being near to each other, while enjoying a peaceful night’s rest.