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What to know about sharing a bed with pets

Pets provide companionship for thousands of people around the world, so it is understandable that pet owners want to be around their companion animals as much as possible - with many even welcoming them into their beds. 

According to PetMd, an online animal healthcare resource, around 80 percent of pet owners allow pets to share beds with human family members. Data from the American Pet Products Association has found at least half of all pet parents allow pets to sleep with them every night. Whether this is safe, healthy or wise is a matter of debate.

There are pros and cons to sharing a bed with pets. Understanding those pros and cons can help pet owners make more informed decisions.

• Pro: Get into a relaxed state. Companion animals can help relieve stress, which may translate into better sleep for their owners. Some people find that the rhythmic breathing of dogs or cats can help lull them to sleep.

• Con: Possible transmission of illness or zoonotic agents. Snuggling so close to a pet may put people at risk of acquiring illnesses that are transmitted from animal to human. In the past, MRSA skin infections and H1N1 influenza have been transferred from pets to people.

• Pro: Pets are warm. If the goal is to get cozy under the covers, animals can provide a little extra warmth, as their body temperatures run a few degrees warmer than their owners'.

• Con: An extra body in bed can disturb sleep. Just as individuals may have trouble with a spouse or a child being in the bed next to them, pets can bring about the same disturbances. In a study from the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, 53 percent of those pet owners surveyed said their pets disturbed their sleep in some way each night. Dogs that snore and cats that chase "prey" around the room can disturb their owners' sleep.

• Pro: A deeper connection forms between pet and owner. Many pets like to be around their owners because it gives them reassurance and comfort that they are loved. Animals that were rescued or are anxiety prone may be especially comforted by snuggling in bed with their owners. Happy pets often make for happy owners.

• Con: It may cause behavioral problems. Dogs in particular may mistake sleeping in their owners' beds as a sign of dominance. Some veterinarians suggest puppies that are more prone to issues with aggression may fully develop these behaviors if allowed to sleep with humans. At the very least, it is adviseable to wait until dogs are trained and exhibiting good behavior for extended periods of time before allowing them to sleep in their owners' beds.

• Pro: It's a sign of trust. According to Victoria Stilwell, an internationally renowned dog trainer, dogs only sleep with the people or dogs they trust. Therefore, dogs who like sleeping with their owners are exhibiting trust and recognizing the same from their owners.

Whether or not to allow dogs or cats to share personal spaces like beds is a decision pet owners have to make. It should be based on safety, comfort and mutual agreement with any other bed partners.

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