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Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog

A researcher who I’m guessing doesn’t have a dog says pets don’t belong in the bed, and that allowing them to sleep with us can lead to infections, parasites and diseases.

He further advises that anyone who is licked by a dog wash the area immediately.

To me, a guy who has spent the last eight months with my dog nearly constantly at my side during our travels across America — including in whatever bed we happen to be sleeping in at night — that seems a massive over-reaction.

Bruno Chomel, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that, while such cases aren’t common, people have contracted infections from sleeping with, kissing and being licked by their pets. Chomel and fellow researcher Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, express their views in the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

I don’t subscribe to that publication, because my theory is the surest way to get a disease is not from sleeping with your dog, but from reading about that disease.

Though I sleep with my dog nightly, I’m not so much concerned about Zoonoses, or diseases transmitted to humans by animals, as I am about Merckitis, a chronic case of which I’ve suffered from since childhood.

It stemmed from a big blue book called The Merck Manual, on my mother’s bookshelf, which allowed you to, based on your symptoms, diagnose your medical issue, read about the treatment and determine, in my case, if I was going to live to see 13.

I must have diagnosed myself with a dozen different diseases, many of them fatal, in the course of matching up my symptoms — usually those of a common cold — with the worst  possible maladies.

I remember one night that — congested, unable to breathe through my nose and worried that my throat breathing pipe (non-medical term) might close up — I gathered the necessary supplies to perform an emergency tracheotomy (bic pen, with the ink part removed, pocket knife, duck tape) and kept them under my bed, alongside the book.

The Internet has made it much easier to wrongly self diagnose — just a few clicks and you can jump to the conclusion that you have the most dreaded disease imaginable. The key word there being imaginable. In a way, those medical self-help websites, rather than lessen the need for doctors, only create more of one as we, fueled by our fears, rush to confirm our faulty self diagnoses.

Pulled muscle? I was sure it was a heart attack.

Of course, such concerns are not always entirely baseless, and many of them should be checked out by professionals. But often, they’re only in our heads — having been placed there by WebMD, yourdiagnosis.com, familydoctor.org and the like. Often they are really far-fetched, instilling a fear out of all proportion with reality, which is the case with Chomel’s study, or at least his remarks:

“I think pets can be very nice in the home environment, but certainly, they don’t belong on the bed,” Chomel told LiveScience.

Chomel says humans can contract bubonic plague from flea-infested pets, bacterial infections resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics, and various parasitic worms.

Since 1974, Chomel says, multiple cases of plague have been associated with people in the southwestern U.S. who allowed flea-infested cats to sleep with them. And in a  2008 outbreak, a study found that people infected with bubonic plague were “more likely to have shared a bed with a dog than uninfected counterparts.” (Despite that, I still don’t recommend sharing a bed with uninfected counterparts.)

The authors cite surveys conducted in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands that show up to 45 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

Several reports of bacterial infections have been attributed to sharing a bed with pets, and in “multiple” cases, they report, patients acquired various infections after allowing their dogs or cats to lick wounds or damaged skin.

That’s the total opposite of my philosophy. Whenever I get a boo-boo, the first thing I do is let Ace lick it. Then it feels better. If thousands of microscopic parasites enter my bloodstream by doing so, so be it … join the party, fellas.

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog, especially when it’s this cold. That’s like saying, because there may be some impurities in the air, I should stop breathing. I’m going to continue to engage in both risky behaviors.

And if worse comes to worst I can always, after consulting my Merck Manual, perform an emergency tracheotomy.

OUR FAVORITE READER COMMENT: “Pity poor Chomel. He has obviously not enjoyed the delight of a canine companion…I’ve spent the past 50 years sleeping with dogs – most of the canine persuasion – and if anything it must have strengthened my immune system … The plague? Only a plague of comfort and love. Poor Chomel.”

(For all the comments on this post, click the comment button below, and scroll to the bottom to leave one of your own.)


Comment from Bruce
Time January 24, 2011 at 7:07 am

The Bubonic Plague that killed 75 million in Europe in the 14th century was transmitted through fleas from rats, squirrels, rodents to domestic pets to humans.

Comment from sara
Time January 24, 2011 at 7:49 am

I imagine, just like when living with fellow human beings, you build up immunity to the things your pets happen to carry. Its like saying don’t touch your kids when they come home from school because they might be carrying something…duh – that’s what immune systems are for.

Comment from Tabetha
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:29 am

I’ve NEVER got a cold, flu or any other infections, parasites and diseases from my dog (fur child) Sophia and I can not say that for the humans I have been around!

Comment from Sue
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:32 am

Pity poor Chomel. He has obviously not enjoyed the delight of a canine companion. I suspect no dog has ever wanted to share a bed with him and he’s stuck in a misery loves company scenerio and wishes to deprive the rest of us. He needs to get a grip on reality. I’ve spent the past 50 years sleeping with dogs – most of the canine persuasion – and if anything it must have strengthened my immune system. These days we have 4 dogs and we always have at least one of them sleeping in the bed with us. Jeffie even has his own pillow and prefers to spoon. The plague? Only a plague of comfort and love. Poor Chomel.

Comment from Angie (Snoopy and Rummer’s Mom)
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:38 am

My mom actually told me about this and I had to laugh. Seriously? I have two dogs and one of them usually sleeps with me but right now he is sleeping in his bed because of a skin infection (the other one likes sleeping in her bed). People can get really ridiculous at times and this is one of them. If your dogs are in flea/heartwork preventive, vaccinations up to date, and healthy, I don’t see the need to worry. Notice that I mention that my dog has a skin infection, therefore he is sleeping in his bed. It is about taking precautions, so I “don’t get” a skin infection just in case. I am going to be blunt about something, and be people with kids be forwarned (this is not about your kids, but kids in general). How many adults a year get sick because they come in contact with sick kids? Hundreds, maybe more. But aside from that, do people get sick by coming in contact with kids? I chose not to have kids because I don’t like them (sorry, but they are not for me), kids are always touching their feces, touching everything, putting stuff in their mouth, eating whatever they find, hands dirty from mysteriously appearing sticky stuff…you get my point. Do you not sleep with them if they fall asleep in your bed because of that? What if you get sick? Do you care about that? I can assure you that my dogs are cleaner than most kids. It is about prevention people.

Comment from Barbara
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

What about all the people who have had pets save their lives? Dogs have found cancers,and in this case, removed dead tissue that could have given him blood poisoning?

Comment from Rachel
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:47 am

I sleep with my dog, (actually the bed is hers and she allows me to sleep there too). And I slept with my childhood dog when I was young. Never caught a thing.
I have worked with children for 10 years however and have caught a whole host of infectious diseases. And I don’t even sleep with them. Surely there should be an advisory against sleeping with other humans, especially children. They are walking diseases. In fact I am going to warn the family I nanny right now.

Comment from Peggy @Peggy’s Pet Place
Time January 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

My dog Kelly teaches me that dogs belong on the bed, the couch, and the best LR chair too. I am recovering from some surgery, and there is no better medicine than Kelly snuggled up with me. I posted pictures of Kelly over on my blog proving her pet therapy.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time January 24, 2011 at 11:32 am

It’s odd, because over the past couple of days I’ve stumbled into a nest of young(er) mothers who refuse to immunize their human children against the standard human plagues such as polio, diphtheria, measles, and rubella. I have genuine fears for the child-victims of such stupidity, and it makes the company of my well immunized dog seem a lot safer and more comfortable. I’ve been sleeping with one or more dogs all my life, and I don’t recall ever catching anything from a single one of them. In the old days before we had flea and tick meds, a dog who caught fleas was isolated until it could be “dipped” at the vet’s–during which time the exterminator visited the house. Before we had once a month parasite protection, the dogs were checked during their vet checkup and kept there to be wormed if necessary–a messy and disgusting operation that was better handled by professionals. The only qualms we have over sleeping with the dog involve the truly massive areas of a queen sized bed that can be monopolized by a 30 pound Beagle sleeping with two adult humans.

Comment from Carrol Stearns
Time January 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I have never gotten sick from having my dog sleep in my bed. I have however, suffered from Merckitis. Actually diagnosing myself with tongue cancer.Glad it was a misdiagnoses. Dogs are wonderful and comforting to have snuggled up in the bed.

Comment from Thorn
Time January 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm

My wife and I, over the past few years, have acquired seven dogs — five of them rescues, and all small breeds. My wife and I agree, going to bed is the best part of the day. There is nothing more peaceful than cuddling up surrounded by all that furry love. And, nothing more enjoyable than being awakened by a lick on the ear that tells me it’s time to start the day. Sleep without our dogs on the bed? I wouldn’t be able to sleep….

Comment from Kathy G.
Time January 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I totally agree with Anne’n’Spencer. As a dog lover/owner for more years than I care to count – I never caught anything from sleeping with my dog(s) except limited bed space. Now we have a rescue cat as well and I may have to upgrade from a queen sized to accommodate me, my 28 lb Boston, and the 10 lb cat – but it’s so worth it!

Comment from Foley Monster and Pocket
Time January 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Humans get far more diseases sleeping with humans than sleeping with dogs

Comment from Susan
Time January 24, 2011 at 6:58 pm

This makes me want to throw away the dog bed and invite Stella to join me in the bed. Bubonic Plague? Is he serious? Surely we’d ALL have it by now.

Comment from Anouk
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I for one sleep all the better for a dog head resting on my leg. The comfort that offers is immeasurable.

Comment from Kelly
Time January 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

The bed & an ottoman were the only furniture Bob was allowed use. He could have used everything if he hadn’t shed so much, not because of diseases. Sheesh, I wish he were still with me to keep me warm!

Comment from Lee
Time January 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Our dog(s) have always slept on the bed and the current one has also co-opted my recliner during the day (it’s hers, I just get to rent it). A few months ago I got a nasty staph infection on my chin, where I used to let her give me “kisses”. I’ve no idea whether that was the cause of the infection, but kisses are now restricted. (sob)

Comment from Pam
Time January 25, 2011 at 10:10 am

I don’t care if I get a disease – sleeping with my dogs is worth it. It’s one of my great joys in life.

Comment from KatLady
Time January 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm

As always, the problems in the original article (infections etc) stem from STUPID BEHAVIOR on the part of humans – factors in play here that are nothing to do with pets, but rather problems with humans who have lost brain cells somehow.

Come on, should you let anything/anyone touch, manipulate, lick the wound from a total hip replacement? HUH?

As a former orthopedic post op nurse, the first thing that comes to mind with any kind of bone surgery is the risk of osteomyelitis – nothing, no one without gloves should be touching that post op wound – NEVER! (and IMHO, a person recovering from any kind of bone surgery should get home as soon as possible after the surgery any way – out of the disease ridden hospital environment, but that is another rant)

And the child who became sick from fleas? Why was the infestation not treated by the adults before the infestation became so bad that a child was sickened by the fleas? Yes, occasional flea problems do happen, all of us know that and we deal with that – but an infestation that bad? Is anyone out there screaming “animal abuse” for allowing the cat to become that infested?

This article sounds like another way to destroy the human/animal relationship by vilifying the animals – does this sound like the thoughts of the dark ages, when cats were destroyed for the fear that they were witches (and then the rats brought the plague)

I know hundreds of people who sleep with their pets every single night with no problem. If one has a medical issue, such as a total hip replacement rational thought says to curtail the animal from sleeping in bed for that period of time. If an animal becomes flea infested, then treat the fleas!!

I cannot believe the stupidity shown by the people who wrote the first article.

However, to the author of “don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog” – well you sound like my kind of rational, fun loving human!!

Personally, I fear what I catch from a common hand shake more than what I could catch from my beloved pets.

Don’t read the Merck manual on what could lurk on the extended hand of a stranger (heck yourself for that matter) – it will make your head spin.

just my two cents worth

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time January 25, 2011 at 7:32 pm

All these comments about Merck-Itis have reminded me of the best epitaph ever. I believe it is on a tombstone in a cemetery on Key West:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/98616890@N00/428548205/sizes/m/ .

Comment from Meredith
Time January 26, 2011 at 12:54 am

Man! That’s one big-ass dog in bed with you.
I find that my dog’s snoring in the best medicine for sleepless nights.

Comment from RoastPuppy
Time January 30, 2011 at 11:53 am

I’ve always been highly suspicious of the relationship between a person and his/her mutt when they share a bed. Of course, they are usually the sort of people no human would want to sleep with so I suppose it’s the dog or nothing.

Comment from lee777
Time January 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm

There’s something wrong with people who prefer dogs to their own kind. There’s a word for it, but it’s probably not allowed on this site.

Comment from colleen
Time October 7, 2011 at 11:06 pm


Comment from Anonymous
Time December 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm

sleeping with animas is disgusting.

Comment from ed
Time April 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm

I have been a nurse for over 30 years and I am a dog lover I have 3 dogs and sleep in the bed with me. I have never attributed one illness I had cought from my dogs!!! ask your vet,I did he beds with his dogs also.people are strange so many opinions on the same subject!!! obviously the people who opposed are not dog people.