For the second time in two days, the AVMA’s Animal Health SmartBrief offers up a link to a story that I can’t resist. And, like yesterday’s story, this one is about a crisis. Today’s crisis: people are snuggling with their pets. Or, at least in the United Kingdom, a quarter of them are. Here’s a quote.
A quarter of British pet owners who took part in a survey said they allow their pets to sleep in bed with them.
The ICM poll suggested that pets in Scotland were most likely to sleep on their owner’s bed, with a dog or cat proving to be most popular.
Experts have warned of health implications for pet owners who routinely share their bed with animals.
I have seen many news stories in which experts discuss the potential dire consequences of snuggling with cats and dogs. What I have yet to see are any references to good scientific studies that indicate any link between snuggling and health problems. In other words, I have seen the theoretical arguments, but I have yet to see any evidence.
The story goes on:
Elaine Pendlebury, senior veterinary surgeon at the PDSA, said disease transmission, including salmonella, toxocara canis – a type of roundworm in dogs – and fleas, was a concern.
Pets could be suffering from disease without any sign of symptoms, she added.
“Obviously it’s nice that people are bonding with their pets and they are becoming part of the familiarity but there are lots of considerations,” she said.
“There are diseases that can be transmitted from dogs to people and this is something that needs particular consideration when you’ve got a dog sleeping in your bed.
“These diseases can range from the minor to the very serious.
“The other thing is dogs are dogs, they are not mini people”.
She said health implications were less important when sharing a bed with a cat but scratches or bites could be a concern.
I’m having trouble deciding where to start with all these juicy tidbits. But I have to start somewhere, so here goes. First, I have no idea what the PDSA is. Now let’s move into the meat of this.
Salmonella: comes from the anus. Which end of the dog are people snuggling with?
Fleas: a non-issue when Advantage, Frontline, or Comfortis is used.
Toxocara: very dangerous, but generally not likely if a pet receives a broad-spectrum heartworm preventative such as Interceptor or Heartgard Plus each month. Also, comes from the anus. See Salmonella, above.
Cat bites and scratches: use common sense when snuggling with a cat.
Dogs are not mini-humans: from a disease transmission standpoint, dogs are much safer bed-mates than humans. Asymptomatic humans also can spread Salmonella (ever hear of Typhoid Mary?). They also can spread worms. And influenza, rhinovirus, lice, norovirus, MRSA, chicken pox, anthrax, meningitis, typhus, plague, strep throat, hepatitis, leprosy, mumps, measles, rubella, whooping cough, some forms of pneumonia, scabies, tuberculosis, and many, many others. And heaven forbid that any person ever consider engaging in intimate behavior with a human bed-mate — the list of potential problems grows 30% longer!
When you snuggle, or share your bed with your pet, you are taking a (minimal, in my opinion) risk. Disease transmission is possible. But healthy dogs and cats do not frequently make their owners sick. Most zoonotic (transmissible from pets to humans) parasites are preventable, and snuggly pet owners should use the preventatives.
I can, however, think of two very real considerations that snuggly pet owners may want to make. First, pregnant women should be cautious about how they interact with cats. A cat parasite (Toxoplasma, which is not readily preventable) can cause serious problems in pregnancy — although in real life the problems aren’t super common. (Toxoplasma also is dangerous for people with suppressed immune systems.) Also, anyone whose dog, like my pal Buster, is a major bed hog, may want to consider the effects of sleep deprivation that can result from trying to share bed space with their pet.
Photo: head on the pillow, no less!