On countless occasions, you've seen your friend doze off with his trusty Labrador, Bella, by his side. Nestling up to her furry body works better than a Tylenol PM after a long day, he says. On the other hand, you've also heard your friend speak of Bella traipsing through—and possibly eating—a particularly gnarly gutter pizza (or was it vomit?) on their evening walk. Now he’s questioning whether their co-sleeping arrangement is, uh, a cleanly one.
We’ve heard for years that snuggling with a pup puts you at risk for a rough night of sleep, but a recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that a dog on the bed isn’t actually all that disruptive. The research found that people who allowed dogs in their rooms, but not in their beds, had an 83-percent sleep efficiency level, while those who let dogs in the beds had an average sleep efficiency rate of 80 percent—in other words, still pretty satisfactory. And aside from a few terrifying case studies (like when seriously ill or injured people catch something like a staph infection from sleeping next to—or worse, kissing—their pets), there haven’t been any large-scale studies that spell out the risks of an otherwise healthy person snoozing alongside his or her pup.
The Worst That Could Happen
“If your dog hasn’t had the proper parasite treatments, it could bring fleas and ticks into the bed,” says microbiologist Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago. (Fleas might just leave you with itchy red bites, but if a tick jumps on to your body, you could be at risk for Lyme disease.)
Otherwise, so long as you and your dog are vaccinated, it would be nearly impossible for your pooch to pass along a serious infectious disease: He’d have to step in poop, keep enough of it on his paws to bring it into the bed, and then somehow transfer it to your mouth for you to possibly get sick, Gilbert says. “You’d be the unluckiest human alive to pick up an infection from a dog this way—that would be like getting hit by an asteroid,” he says. What’s more: “Most of the major diseases we worry about in fecal contamination no longer exist, anyway.”
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What Will Probably Happen
Nightly cuddles. And allergies, if you suffer from them. All that pet dander could leave your nose stuffed and swollen come morning—but odds are, you sleep in a fur-free zone if that’s the case. If you don’t have allergies, sleeping with a dog could actually protect you from developing them: “Research shows being around dogs can prevent the development of allergies and asthma in children. Meanwhile, we have evidence that the microbes on dogs can actually benefit you by stimulating your immune system to help you fight off disease,” Gilbert says.
What to Tell Your Friend
Bella isn’t bringing much more bacteria into the bed than you are. So long as she helps you sleep, she’s a solid snuggle companion. If you don’t want bad dreams about crumbs of crusty gutter pizza in your sheets, a weekly doggy bath—and a hot wash of the sheets—can cut down on some of that (likely harmless) bacteria.
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