When I was a kid, I longed to have my dog sleeping in bed with me. But the rules were firm.
No sleeping with dogs. In fact, no dogs allowed upstairs.
Now I am grown up, I share my bed with a man. And make my own rules!
But I have four pomeranians
So bed sharing would be very crowded!
In the intervening years, attitudes towards bed-sharing with dogs have changed. And more of my friends are owning up to snoozing the night away with a pomeranian or two for company.
Not everyone is admitting it of course, but the truth is, a lot of people spend the night, every night, with their dogs.
Just how many people are sleeping with dogs?
This is not a minority pass-time! A massive 45% of people surveyed by the AKC sleep with their dogs.
A Harris Poll conducted in 2012 reportedly put this figure even higher.
And it isn’t a new phenomenon.
Humans have been sleeping alongside their dogs for thousands of years. Stone age man almost certainly snuggled up to his dogs on cold winter’s nights.
More recent studies of the relationship between indigenous Australians and their dogs and dingos notes that these four legged friends were more than just hunting companions and were valued for their bed warming qualities.
Dog co-sleepers – why do they do it?
Modern homes present some barriers to co-sleeping with dogs. Barriers that were not an issue for our cave dwelling ancestors – doors for example.
However it seems that co sleeping has persisted, and even increased in recent years.
And those who don’t co sleep with their dogs may wonder why.
It’s likely that some cases of co sleeping arise from separation anxiety in pets, or in a failure on the part of the dog owner to establish an alternative night time routine.
In other words, some people just ‘give in’ to a whining dog or a dog that scratches at the bedroom door.
But in many cases co sleeping with dogs is arising out of an active choice on the part of the human in this partnership
The fact is that many people form very deep attachments to their dogs, and co-sleeping is a natural consequence of those attachments.
And there is no doubt that there are benefits to both parties, especially in situations where the human partner lacks a significant human support network.
Let’s look at some of those benefits now!
Dog sleeping in bed – the benefits
Numerous studies going back many years, have demonstrated health benefits for people who share their lives with companion animals.
Whether or not having your dog sleeping in bed with you increases that benefit has not been proven but it is certainly an interesting idea.
It’s likely for example, that close contact enhances that bond between man or woman and their dogs. And with many people working long hours during the day, co sleeping is one way to notch up those hours spent together.
Studies have long shown that petting and close contact with animals has a positive effect on health. Improving survival rates after life threatening surgery for example.
This isn’t just about relief from loneliness, decreases in blood pressure have been observed in people talking to pets, compared with people talking to other humans.
We don’t know exactly how close the contact between man and dog has to be to have a beneficial effect but it makes sense that that contact would require a physical presence.
A dog kept outdoors in the kennel is probably not going to improve your chances of surviving that heart attack, but a dog to cuddle up to in the wee small hours of the morning might very well do so.
While we know that close contact with dogs has beneficial effects, there can be no ignoring that there are some risks to bringing dogs into our beds. Let’s take a look at those now
Dog sleeping in bed – the risks
There are three main areas of concern that have been raised over bed sharing with dogs
- Sleep deprivation
- Behavioral issues in the dog
Concerns about infections being passed from dogs to humans were highlighted in report published in 2011.
Examples of people being infected with plague after sleeping with flea ridden dogs and cats are given.
Various other, mostly rare or very localized, diseases are also described. At the time of publication this paper did cause some concerns, but it’s fair to say that the risks of infection from sharing a bed with your dog are probably no greater than the risks of infection from simply living together
Most of these infections could have been acquired in the course of any close contact with one of these pets, rather than being dependent on co-sleeping and the authors do state that “Zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon”
Some of us, after reading a report like this are likely to wash our hands a bit more carefully after handling our pets, and then forget the whole thing in a day or two.
Unless you have a compromised immune system it probably isn’t worth worrying about. People with allergies to hair are probably better off keeping pets out of the bedroom, though to be honest, pomeranians shed so much that unless you have a team of elves keeping your bedroom clean, there will probably be dog hair and dander in it anyway.
So, if bed sharing with dogs isn’t a direct health hazard for most of us, could it influence our health indirectly by reducing the quality of our sleep?
Should you sleep with your pomeranian?
If your pomeranian is already resource guarding or aggressive bed-sharing is a bad idea. But if your dog does not have these issues, and you want to share your bed, this is unlikely to cause problems.
Bed sharing with a dog can be a great comfort to people that are lonely and may help to deepen the bond between the dog and his carer.
Yes dogs are dusty and your bedroom may get hairy.
But a certain amount of hair and dust may be a small price to pay for companionship during the hours of darkness.