Pros and Cons of Snuggling Up With Fido

By Lisa Cleary
|  Thursday, Feb 24, 2011  |  Updated 10:15 AM EDT
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Pros and Cons of Snuggling Up With Fido

Lisa Cleary

Sure, Fido can promote sweeter dreams, but he can also bring about a nightmarish sleep. Experts advise to weigh your options before cuddling up with your pooch.

One of the great pleasures of being a pet owner is when my dog curls up with me at night.

Missy, my three-year-old Bichon, is an adult version of a childhood stuffed animal - she brings me an unexplainable, comforting feeling when she’s nestled up on my pillow, making for an all-around, sweeter night’s sleep.

For some, sleep was never better than with a pet by their side.  But for many others, sleeping next to Rover means a restless night.

“Pets offer people a level of security, comfort and companionship,” said Helene A. Emsellem, M.D., director of The Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase and author of Snooze...or Lose! Ten “No-War” Ways to Improve Your Teen's Sleep Habits.

Like in my case, Missy creates a calming night-time routine with the warmth of her body and rhythmic beating of her heart, alleviating any tension brought on by the day and ultimately reducing any levels of stress. 

On the other hand, Denise Iannatuono, former editor-in-chief of Baltimore Dog Magazine, thinks that when dogs sleep with their owners, it's the canine who is more comfortable.

“While there is obviously an emotional bond that is established while sleeping with your pet, I can profess to never having had a great night’s sleep with any of my canine counterparts,” she said.  “My six pound Yorkie, Tyson - also known as 'Bedwarmers' in Europe - must sleep to the left of my shoulder and can produce enough heat to prompt a hot flash to an already menopausal woman.”

Even though Missy generally promotes sound snoozing, I’ve got to admit that she does wake me up from time to time, especially when she barks and whines in her sleep.  (And, let’s not forget about that one time she wouldn’t stop wagging her tail in the middle of the night.) 

Dr. Emsellem explains that it’s remarkable how much patients will tolerate when it comes down to their pets—especially when down to sacrificing a solid night’s sleep.  A dog owner herself, she admits to the fact that the family pet and her children often fight over space in bed.

“I have a gigantic Irish Setter, and he loves to sleep in the bed with them.  They spend the whole night fighting for turf,” she said.

Along those lines, I’m not going to lie—I’ll often find myself in the mornings, curled in a tight fetal position, so that Missy can have full rein of the bed:  in her normal belly-up, sprawled out position and always, oddly enough, with her head on my pillow. 

Your four-footed, furry friend can give you more than a restless night’s sleep, though—an article by TIME Healthland said that snuggling with Fluffy can potentially transmit illnesses. 

In particular, the study reported that from the 250 known zoonotic diseases, over 100 diseases are carried by domestic animals, like Fido.  That means that diseases like meningitis, hookworm, roundworm, ringworm and so on can be transmitted to owners when sharing close quarters, such as the bed.

Iannatuono adds that the mere act of walking a dog along the streets of D.C. can pose as a health threat to both dogs and therefore to owners. 

“Unfortunately, we live in a society where not everyone is a thoughtful pet owner and forgets to scoop the poop. This, along with visits to the dog park, is one sure way for your pet to pick up parasites and bring them in to your home and on your bed,” she stated.  “A dog that drinks from water fountains at dog parks, accumulated rain from the gutters or community water bowls is subject to bringing home a communicable disease.”

To avoid the potential of Fido bringing in the unwanted to the home, take extra care to supervise him in play areas, and also wash off dirty paws on a daily basis. 

In addition, Dr. Emsellem advises upon establishing firm sleeping boundaries for pets that sleep in the bed. 

What’s that mean?  Well, probably that your 80 pound yellow lab should sleep near the foot of the bed and not spread horizontally across the middle of it.

That all being said, experts answer that it’s really up to the relationship established between owner and pet to determine whether or not Fido should be allowed in bed.  So, use a little common sense to ensure tonight’s not a nightmare but, instead, a sound night of corralling sheep.

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