Pet Connection: Pros, cons of sleeping with your cat or dog

I’m always amazed at how much space two small dogs can take up on a queen-size bed. And it’s surprising how immoveable a 12-pound and a 6-pound dog can be. Once Gemma is latched onto my left side and Harper is snuggled into the crook of my knees, it’s almost impossible for me to move for the rest of the night. And when they aren’t snugged right up against me, they are sprawling in a way that also makes it impossible to move.

So why let them on the bed?

A survey of 150 people by the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona found that 56 percent of those surveyed who were pet owners allow their animals to snooze in the bedroom. More than half of the pets slept on the bed with their people. The presence of their pets made them feel safe and comfortable and helped them get a better night’s rest, the respondents reported. Only 20 percent described their pets as disruptive to sleep.

Of course, that’s a small sample size – only 74 pet owners. But I’m willing to bet that many other pet owners feel the same way. I’m one of them, and I know other people who share bedrooms and beds with their pets, despite allergies, snoring (by the pet) and early-morning head butts from a hungry cat or dog.

Should you allow your pet to sleep on the bed? That’s been a bone of contention for years. Some people argue that allowing a pet to share the bed can make a pooch pushy or a cat cheeky. Allergists recommend a pet-free bedroom for people who suffer the coughing, wheezing, itchy eyes and sneezing associated with allergies to pets. Researchers at University of California, Davis, warned of zoonotic diseases – those that can be passed between animals and people. And, as with my own dogs, pets can make a bed downright uncomfortable when there’s little freedom of movement.

But for many with pets, their comforting presence on the bed or in the room outweighs the disadvantages. A survey participant reported feeling more content when her small dog slept at her feet, and another described her cat sleeping on her chest as “soothing.” One person I know falls asleep hand in paw with her cat. Spending a long stretch of time with a pet – even if you’re both asleep – strengthens the human-animal bond. If you’d like to have a more pleasant sleeping experience while still keeping your pet on or near the bed, the following tips may help.

▪ Place a heating pad on the spot where you want your pet to sleep. The warmth may draw him there and make it his favorite area.

▪  Lay a blanket or pet bed at the foot of the bed. Pets often like to have their own extra-soft sleeping spot and will adopt the place with the blanket or bed.

▪  Put a tall cat tree in your room. Cats love heights and may find this to be a safe and secure sleeping area. (Of course, then you have to worry that they will dive-bomb you in the morning.)

▪  Keep pets clean. Nobody wants a stinky bedmate. Brush and bathe frequently, keep them on parasite preventive and wash the sheets in hot water two to three times a week.

▪ Set boundaries. If you don’t want your pet on your pillow or under the covers, establish that rule right from the beginning -- and don’t yield.

▪ If all else fails, do what I’m doing – anxiously awaiting delivery of a king-size bed.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with