A while back there was a front page article in USA Today with this headline: “Letting pets sleep next to you can make you ill, experts say.”
Headlines do make people look and read. Yes that is true. And this was one of those headlines.
There are two issues I'd like to address about this article:
1. Was it irresponsible of the press to run this type of headline and to report this information?
2. Is it true? Are pets dangerous to have in your bed?
As you may know, I'm the Irreverent Veterinarian. I speak the truth on topics without concern of hurting anyone's feeling (owners, other vets, industry experts… and as you will see that obviously includes the media).
Let's look at the first issue here.
Was This Article Irresponsible?
I think it was reckless and yes, a bit irresponsible, because this is not really true. Saying “letting pets sleep next to you can make you ill” is like saying “you should not drive because you could be in an accident”… or “you should not walk down the street because you could be struck by lightening”… or “you should not interact with any other humans because you could catch a cold from them”. That kind of advice is both stupid and impractical.
But these “sensationalized” headlines sell newspapers - and unfortunately, they can also make stupid people do stupid things. For example - I heard about a family that wanted to get rid of their dog because of this article.
For goodness sake - don't do that!
Now let me explain the next issue.
Is It Dangerous for Your Dog to Sleep in Bed with You?
The USA Today article goes on to cite that anywhere from 14 to 62% of owners let their dogs or cats sleep with them. They warned that this is potentially dangerous due to a “hair-raising list of possible pathogens”. They cite diseases such as cat scratch disease and the plague - also known as the “bubonic plague” or “black death” - (by the way I have NEVER diagnosed this disease).
Not only is allowing your pet to sleep with you dangerous - so is kissing your pet. So is walking outside. So is interacting with other people. Everything can be dangerous - but does that mean that we should isolate ourselves from the world? This can be dangerous, too!
The article does go on to say that the risk is rare. But often by the time this is said - the damage is already done. Some people don't even read the whole article. Some only scan headlines or get part of the story. And sometimes the media grabs hold of those headlines and totally blows them out of proportion.
It is true that pets can spread disease. Zoonosis is a term used to indicate diseases spread from pets to people. For an article about all the possible diseases pets can spread, go to: Zoonosis in Dogs.
The chance of diseases spreading from pets to people is possible - but it is VERY rare. In fact, I don't know anyone that has ever gotten a disease from a pet - especially while sleeping. And as a veterinarian, I've never contracted a disease from a pet. Millions of pet owners sleep with their pets in bed with them and live to be a ripe old age.
My Final Thoughts on “The Danger of Dogs Sleeping in Bed”
I'm not trying to criticize the press but sometimes the way they say things can cause unnecessary panic and concern. I understand that they want to get different views and they want to sell newspapers, but some things (in my opinion) just aren't necessary. Blowing something like this out of proportion is one of them.
So is it dangerous for pets to sleep in bed with you? For me - the answer is no. I allow my pets to sleep with me and have for years - and I'm just fine. In fact, I'm better than fine.
Please get more information before you make any rash decisions.
The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to . The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can't always say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of and are not endorsed by .