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Do I Have to Pitch My Pet?

We have two dogs, Mabel and Wolf, and three cats at home, Charlie, George and Chairman. We have two cats on our farm, Tom and Little Sister, two horses, and two mini horses, Hannah and Tricky. We also have two cows, Holy and Madonna. And those are only the animals we let sleep in our bed. –Ellen DeGeneres

Headlines about pet-borne plague and parasites are overblown, says one psychologist. Yet it’s also true that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that rare but serious illnesses can result from intimate contact with pets. The CDC concludes: “….persons, especially young children or immunocompromised persons, should be discouraged from sharing their bed with their pets or regularly kissing their pets.”

That prescription may be hard to follow for the 70% of American pet-owner persons who sleep with their pets.

Sharing Our Dreams

Why do many of us find it hard to give up tucking in with Fido or Fluffy? Because it means trading off a special kind of comfort. When co-sleeping parents curl up with a child, it’s to offer closeness and protection. With our pets, the comfort may be flowing in the other direction.

Dogs and cats give themselves over to sleep so completely that just being near a sleeping animal can be soothing. They are naturally modeling for us what it’s really like to de-stress. The warmth of their bodies is relaxing, and their presence is a steady reminder of unconditional love and protectiveness. (Well, a dog’s protectiveness. Cats seem a little, ummm, less helicopter-parentish. This is why we respect them, of course.)

Researchers have found that overall, people lose only a few minutes of sleep to their furry bunkmates. Sleeping with children, by contrast, makes insomnia and next-day fatigue much more likely. (Though in their defense, your kids aren’t potential plague-carriers.)

You might not catch us with a teddy bear after a certain age, but many of us still will say, move over, Rover, we’ll make room.

Bed-Buddy Strategies

If banishment just isn’t happening, how can you make sleeping with your dog or cat a healthier and more comfortable proposition? The top priority is to be certain your pet remains free of fleas and is regularly checked for parasites. A healthy pet is much less likely to carry illnesses that pose risks to humans. (And a clean pet is much less likely to, well, stink.)

Other measures include choosing a natural mattress made of material that absorbs motion well, or a customizable divided-core one that isolates movement from one side to the other. If your pet snores like Grandpa, a sound machine can help. Remember to offer a bathroom outing right before bed—or if you have a securely fenced yard, consider adding a pet door.

If you’d rather not share, just treat your pal to a cozy natural pet bed. Most pets will adapt readily to a new sleeping spot. You might get stared at mournfully for a few nights, but once you tough out the transition, everyone will be sleeping happily—and healthfully.

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