Are We Living Too Closely With Our Pets?

By Jessica Melman, VMD

Are we living too closely with our pets? This seems to be the hot topic of conversation lately. A veterinarian recently published an article showing that people who allow their pets give to them “”kisses”” or share their beds with their furry friends are at risk for several zoonotic diseases, which are diseases transmissible between animals and humans.

In my opinion, there are many positives and in most cases few negatives to allowing your furry friends into your home, heart, bedroom and sometimes (in my case) onto your pillows. Quincy, my middle-aged Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has slept in my bed since he was a puppy and has won over the rights to my pillow. He has conquered my heart and as a result my pillow!

According to statistics, it appears that most of us sleep in bed with our furry friends. In fact, it can be very hard to keep them out of your bed. If you own a cat, you know that trying to keep a cat out of your bedroom can be a losing situation. And if you have a dog that is already sleeping in your bed, it’s very hard to try and break the habit if you are concerned over the recent news. I tried to get Quincy to sleep on a dog bed recently and it was a miserable failure! He snores at night. Remember that he sleeps on my pillow? Needless to say, he wakes me several times every night with his loud snoring!

Medical studies have shown that dogs and cats may lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and even decrease feelings of loneliness for their owners. Additionally, a recent study revealed that petting a dog prompts the release of “”feel good”” hormones in humans. Clearly there are many pros to owning pets and sharing our homes with them. But should we be keeping them out of our beds and not kissing them?

What are these zoonotic diseases that were mentioned in the recently published article?

As most of us know, dogs and cats can carry fleas. Fleas can carry the bacteria that cause diseases such as Bubonic Plague (depending on the region of the USA that you live) and Cat-Scratch Disease. There have been few cases of Bubonic Plague linked to sleeping with pets that have fleas, including a young boy who slept with his sick cat and then got Bubonic Plague. Additionally, being scratched by a cat that harbors fleas infected with the bacteria that cause Cat-Scratch Disease can transmit this disease. If your cat(s) go outdoors, using the appropriate flea preventatives on them can drastically decrease the incidence of these already rare diseases.

There is also one documented case of meningitis linked to a pet dog that licked a baby’s face. Try to not let your pets kiss you on the face if you have a weakened immune system, and don’t allow them to kiss the faces of young children that don’t have fully developed immune systems either.

Finally, dogs can carry parasites, such as hookworms and roundworms, and ticks as well. Hookworms and roundworms, or their eggs, can sometimes be found on a pet’s fur and can infect humans. Bring your pets to the veterinarian for annual health exams. These exams should include checking them for these parasites and making sure that outdoor pets are on monthly worm preventatives. Ticks can also transmit diseases, such as Lyme Disease, to both humans and dogs. Our dogs can bring these ticks into our homes and beds. Dogs that live in regions of the USA that have ticks should be on tick preventatives during the appropriate seasons and be checked for ticks each time after they go outdoors.

In my opinion, if you are healthy, not very young or elderly and have a strong immune system, practice good hygiene, bring your pet to the veterinarian for regular exams and use the appropriate flea and tick and worm preventatives on your pets then the benefits of the human/animal bond seem to far outweigh the risks of the above mentioned rare zoonotic diseases-and even having our pets in our beds! You may not get uninterrupted sleep if your pets sleep in your bed and move around at night or if they snore like Quincy’s does. And you are kissing them with a little bit of risk. But aren’t the kisses worth it?


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