A furry dilemma: Sleep with your pet, risk catching his bugs
January 22nd, 2011
05:41 PM ET

A furry dilemma: Sleep with your pet, risk catching his bugs

Cuddling with pets puts you at risk of catching some icky bugs, warns a report published in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the public health journal of the Centers for Disease Control.

Some pet owners sleep in bed with their animals as a “source of psychological comfort,” but the report warns that “pets can bring a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our environment.”  Zoonotic pathogens are infectious agents that can be transmitted between animal and humans. We'll just call them icky bugs.

The probability of getting sick from sharing your bed with your pet is extremely rare, said lead author, Bruno Chomel, a professor of zoonoses at University of California Davis. But he warned that children and people who have compromised immune system should be aware of the risks.

“It can happen,” he said.  “It’s rare when it happens and it can be bad. It’s not told to panic people or scare people, but to be aware there are things that can happen.”

Chomel and co-author Ben Sun looked through published literature about cases in which people's illnesses correlated with sleeping, kissing or being licked by pets.

Some of  examples are startling:

- A man had a dog sleep under the covers with him.  The dog licked his hip replacement wound and the owner got meningitis.

- A 9-year-old boy slept in bed with a flea-infested cat and got the bubonic plague in 1974 in New Mexico.

- A newborn was sickened with meningitis.  The pet cat had stolen the baby’s pacifier and had been toying with it.

- A 44-year-old woman developed meningitis and admitted that she was “regularly kissing the dog’s face and feeding it by transferring food mouth to mouth.”

In a survey from the American Kennel Club, 21 percent of dog owners said they regularly slept with their dogs.

Chomel said he’s not trying to overstate the risks.

“It’s a matter of common sense,” he said.  “I never said, ‘Don’t have the pet in the bedroom.’ I’m saying, if you put the pet on the bed or in the bed, there are consequences.”

He said that cats and dogs catch fleas- that owners don't always catch.

“If you have a pet that’s well taken care of and sees a vet on regular basis, is properly dewormed, properly vaccinated and well-taken care of, that lowers the risk quite a lot,” Chomel said.

Take precautions like washing your hands especially before meal times and consider whether you want your pet to sleep with your child, he said.

The paper mentioned that having pets have been shown to bring psychological support, friendship and health practices like walking and reducing stress.  But the report is not balanced, said Patricia McConnell, a certified animal behaviorist and adjunct professor in zoology at the University of Wisconsin.

“I think it’s important to read this particular report keeping in mind a balance,” she said.  “We’re always balancing the benefits of social interactions -  whether it’s four-legged or two-legged.”

If you sleep with a flea or tick-infested animal - sure, there are risks.

“It’s common sense to all of us that there are dangers associated with the world around us from sleeping with a human to kissing your dog, to tripping on your bedroom slippers which is a common cause of emergency room visits,” McConnell said.

Pets have a therapeutic effect on humans. Some research suggests children who grow up with pets can build more robust immune systems.  Being around animals, petting and touching them increases levels of oxytocin – a  feel-good hormone.  It can lower stress-causing hormone like cortisol, she said.

“In that sense, there is value in being reminded there are dangers in interacting with our pets,” she said.  “I’m troubled by the report, as written. It’s not comprehensive. I don’t want people to panic- when they see this - this would be a disservice.”

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soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Rhonda

    I think this entire article is total hogwash!! I think someone needs to do a little more research before being allowed to publish this crap.

    January 24, 2011 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrew

      I would have to read the entire study to form a conclusion ,but apparently, this Professor needs to improve his research and communication skills. He offers zero evidence that simply sleeping with a pet "in bed" versus on the couch, sitting next to you on a park bench, or where ever increases chance of transmission. His "grand conclusion" is there is slightly more than a snowball's chance in hell that you can catch a serious disease from a dog or cat. Yet, I suspect there is a greater chance of catching a serious illness from a person, or a tick on a hike in the woods. This study seems to be a marketing opportunity for this Professor making a superficially counter-intuitive claim, but upon closer examination, offers little more trivial conclusions. I think his next study is folks are more likely to be injured by cars if they drive a car. What an apparent hack!

      April 26, 2013 at 02:20 | Report abuse |
  2. r

    My dog told me that he prefers to sleep in his own bed because I move around too much.

    January 24, 2011 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. spfld

    My aunt died less than a year ago of "complications". Her brother died 3 years ago from "complications". They both at one point lived in the same house with over 75 animals of different types. After both autopsies it was determined they died from the bubonic plague. I personally grew up on a dairy farm (including chickens and the occasional pig) and currently own 3 animals. I keep my animals clean and vaccinated. The dog goes out to do his business and then comes in and the cats don't go outside but their litter box is cleaned at least 4 times a day. All my animals get baths on a regular basis and checked for fleas and ticks. My children wash their hands and stay clean as best they can. I clean my house every day from top to bottom.
    I used to have a friend with 9 cats and 3 dogs. Her house was so foul smelling that when they gutted it for a remodel the workers refused tocome back in to finish the job. Many of her cats didn't even use the litter box and the dogs were only let out once a day. She was always complaining of respiratory problems and how her co-workers would complain of the smell of her clothing. Whenever we visited I would make my family come home and shower and immediately wash our clothing to remove the smell.
    I don't think its the animals so much as the environment that we allow ourselves and our pets to live in. Obviously if you don't exercise common sense when cleaning or vaccinating then things are going to happen that will affect us as humans.
    Sorry for the long post.

    January 24, 2011 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. duffey

    This articial is such a crock. I have slept with my pets for over 40 years and never had a pet related illness. I agree with one commentor. Dogs (and cats) tend to snore and hog the sheets.

    January 24, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James

      I can't say I've ever heard a cat snore, they sure do hog the blankets though!

      January 24, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
  5. lovemypets

    having a picnic in the park is also dangerous for bugs and disease Geesh Louise! what a stupid article!

    I have only caught illness from people who are far more dirty then my dogs!

    January 24, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Booger Sandwich

    BAH!! All you selfish know it alls and doo gooders think your pets are people. NEWFLASH...they are animials and animals sleep outdoors or on their doggy bed ON THE FLOOR.

    You are all just selfish and weak.

    January 24, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SugaMartini

      no wonder your name is Booger Sandwich everything you are saying is nasty and disgusting.

      March 16, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
  7. Paula Hurst

    My cat has slept on the bed with me for over 17 years. She is an indoor only cat and I have kept up with all her shots, etc. I have never caught anything from her, but I managed to give her a respiratory infection once. Turns out they can catch bacterial infections from us. I had poured her some water from a glass I had been drinking out of and later found out that I had a respiratory infection. A few days later, she developed one. The vet said that she had gotten it from me.

    January 24, 2011 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. marTin

    I would rather sleep with my dogs then Abdullah The Butcher.

    January 24, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Meh

    Dear Author,
    Seriously? meningitis from an animal? Maybe a few times thru human history but dont say it like it will happen for sure. You know what...enough said
    Author = DUMBA$$

    January 24, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tralvase

    I have slept with my dog's for year's...They do not have flea's and I have never gotten ill.....It tends to get crowded..but that's it.

    January 24, 2011 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. AnaHadWolves

    I've had many cats during the last thirty years. Some slept or sleep on my pillow, many slept or sleep on my bed and almost all of them wanted to be in my lap getting petted. Sure, I wash my hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter pan and they eat from their own dishes, but, if one of them gives me a kiss on my face or nuzzles me to show affection, I don't panic and I surely haven't gotten sick from the contact.

    Frankly, I worry more about any germs I might catch from my girlfriend. (Kidding, sweetheart!)

    January 24, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. James

    OMG, everybody panic!!! Sheesh, yeah and trees can fall on your house and kill you while you sleep too, it happens, that doesn't mean we need to chop down all the trees or live in reinforced concrete bunkers. Living is risky, it's amazing any of us even survive to adulthood. Enjoy life and don't sweat the little things.

    January 24, 2011 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Interested

    Where are the percentages? What's the chance of all of this happening? Like .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 out of 1,000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000?

    January 24, 2011 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Cat Person

    Imagine how awful this list would be if it detailed everything that you can get sleeping with other people.

    January 24, 2011 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. patty

    Ridiculous. People and animals have been sleeping together forever and we are still here.

    January 24, 2011 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Billie

    I am pretty under-impressed with this article all the way around...

    Half way through the list of "what happens when you sleep with your pet" I forgot I was reading a "serious" story and was laughing. It's just too much. It sort of reminds me of the following statistic:
    You have a better chance of getting kicked in the head by a camel and dying than you do of dying in a plane crash...

    Hey, maybe you guys should do a story on people who got kicked in the head by camels!

    PS- my husband once got ringworm from sleeping with our dog, but not meningitis; but he was fine. Why didn't you include anything realistic in your article????

    January 24, 2011 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Leslie

    This person got paid to write this article. THAT is what makes me sick!!!!!!!!!!
    I just want my life back with a decent job that pays enough to cover my bills. And this Jack ball gets paid for this BS. THAT is disgusting.

    January 24, 2011 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Deanna

    It's rare...so why is this news...
    What a stupid article....

    January 24, 2011 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. soaring softly

    I'm not keen on kissing my dog on the mouth, but he was always kissed on the head a lot. Plus he was allowed in my bed whenever he wanted to be. I never thought he had any more cooties than some people. Go to the mall some time and sit and people-watch. You might change your mind about how clean people are. At least we know what dogs do, but with people, there is no end...ick...

    January 24, 2011 at 21:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tot

    I think sleeping with Charlie Sheen carries the same risk, but people do it.

    January 24, 2011 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. mj

    I agree this article is completely useless. All it takes is some common sense. My family has pretty much had 1 or two dogs and while the dogs were physically able they slept on my parents bed. My one dog would get up and roll around up by my parents pillows. As a result my mom would lay a blanket over them that was removed at bedtime and the dogs slept at the bottom of the bed and did not sleep under the covers. I have always kissed my dogs and let them kiss me, but I have never let them kiss me on the mouth nor do I kiss them on the mouth. I also do not give them licks of my food and then continue to eat it myself and I am careful of washing my hands after touching them. This is common sense! As for fleas and ticks, there is a reason we have supplements for pets that kill them. Also, if your pet is in an area exposed to ticks chances are you are too and humans don't have Frontline and Advantage (and the deer tick which is a major carrier of lyme disease can be about the size of the tip of a pen- I worked at a camp by my house in the heart of lyme disease country)

    January 25, 2011 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. MW

    Ok, now this story has made it to our local news here in Carmel, CA. Just about everybody living here has a dog or two. If there was any merit to these claims, we'd all be a pretty sick bunch of people. Actually, the opposite is true. It's one of the happiest and healthiest places I've ever lived and there are dogs EVERYWHERE. They're even allowed in the stores and banks. Going to the mall? Take little FiFi along to help you do your shopping. My little MIni Schnauzer and I LOVE it here.

    January 25, 2011 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karl

      dogs everywhere? that's nothing to brag about – what if some of your fellow shoppers are allergic to dogs? Although it is always framed in terms of caring for a pet, there is something very self-centered and indulgent in pet ownership today. What other time in human history did people get so bananas about pets, for crying out loud? I guess people today are so bad a socializing with real people they have to turn to an animal that will love them unconditionally. Again, that's nothing to brag about.

      January 25, 2011 at 09:23 | Report abuse |
    • mj

      Karl- are you a pet owner? Pets bring such joy to life. I have plenty of friends and family that I love and socialize with, but there is something about coming home to my shaggy, goofy, quirky dog who is so happy to see me. As a child when my family moved states and I had to make new local friends, if I had a bad day at school my dogs were there to offer love as soon as I walked through the door to our house. One dog who has since passed used to come right up to anybody who was upset wagging her tail and offering kisses almost as if saying everything is going to be ok, and that dog was not the dog who liked to be hugged or normally give kisses. Pets should not replace all interaction with other people, but they are a great supplement. My family treats our dog like family because she is family- she's made the move between 3 states with us, went through the loss of her sister with us, and has been here to offer comfort while there has been illness in the family. There is a reason why pet owners are happy, healthy and tend to live longer than non-pet owners.

      January 25, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse |
  23. Kathi

    If you use practice flea/tick prevention, you won't have to worry about them getting in your bed. This article is a waste of space. How about reporting on something more useful? Seems the risk would be higher getting some disease from sleeping with another person.....

    January 25, 2011 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Fido


    January 25, 2011 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. styymy

    Forget sleeping with pets, what about having the pets sitting at and one the dinner table? I know at least 3 couple who's pets have the run of the mill. Walking past and over uncovered food on the dinner table and also on kitchen counter tops while food is being prepared. Can you say super ickk! When I see that you have no regard for cleanliness by letting your pet roam around where you eat, I'll pass every-time on the invite to dinner.

    January 25, 2011 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Katzenwoofers

    Becca, as a dog trainer and an owner of multiple deaf dogs, I disagree with you that they're harder to train. I've found they're actually easier to train because if you have their attention focused on you, they're not distracted by the sounds of things going on behind or around them. You can't yell at them if they're across the room and into something they shouldn't be (at least, not if they have their backs to you) – but then, yelling at a dog is not effective training, anyway. The same training methods that are effective with hearing dogs are also effective with deaf dogs.

    As for this article, much ado about nothing. Anyone who already doesn't like pets now has one more reason to justify not having one. Anyone who loves their pets, or loves animals in general, is not going to be bothered by this report.

    January 25, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Lovemydogs

    We have 2 dogs that I love dearly. They are family members. My husband always wants them to sleep in our bed. He even fights with me about it. I love my dogs, but article or not, I don't want them in my one sanctuary that is set aside for my most intimate things. I let him try it out for a few months and in that time my comforter got peed on twice and one of my dogs passed gas along with some leakage on my sheets another time. (my dogs are house-trained) Those accidents along with the hair and dirt crumbs on everything, the crowding, and my intimate life (from snuggling to everything else) falling to an absolute minimum during those months made me go out and buy them their own beds. My 8 and 10 year old sleep in their own beds. My husband still complains about it but I'm sorry I just can't do it. So all my kids can sleep in their own bed and I'll see you in the morning sweet peas!

    January 26, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Gloria Neira

    JEJEJE this is a very fool article. People who don't have any a very friendly relation with animals do not know what precious beings are they. I think is most dangerous contamination. Most dangerous some dirty people who damage the world

    January 30, 2011 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Lauren

    Ridiculous! Take care of your pet like you would take care of yourself and neither one of you will have bugs. If you dog has "bugs" then DO something about it so the dog isn't miserable!

    January 31, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. www.2travelingdogs.com

    I love my dogs. They need somewhere comfy to sleep too!

    February 10, 2011 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Kris Mullery

    I've never known anyone that has caught something from their pet due to sleeping with them...however people frequently contract many illnesses from sleeping with another person. In fact I'm sure we catch far more from the people we come in contact with than our animals.

    February 13, 2011 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Amber

    The "specialists" are only trying to find something else to blame when it comes to humans getting sick. Put this article where it belongs – in the trash.

    February 19, 2011 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Karenna

    Your bedroom and most of all YOUR bed should be YOUR throne not your animals. Yes, I have animals and love them with all my heart, however I also love my clean, without dog hair bed. Not to mention the dandruff and odor. No matter how much personal hygiene you give your pet, there is still an animal odor, may it be from their eyes, ears, rectum, paws, mouth, or coat. Most animal lovers will deny this til then end, but bring a true friend or your hairstylist to the table to answer that for you and you will be shocked. GROSS...
    For the ones who will say their animals are cleaner than they are, try taking your animals bed and using it as YOUR comfy pillow tonight. ENJOY =)
    By the way.... GREAT ARTICLE!

    March 1, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kacie

      If you don't want your pet in your bed, no problem. But what's it to you what other people do. And vise versa, if you want your pet in your bed, more power to you. But what's it to you if other people do not. Can't we all just get along? I guess not.

      March 22, 2011 at 02:44 | Report abuse |
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