If you regularly wake up with your face nuzzled against a furry rump, it’s probably safe to say your bedtime routine includes beckoning a Fido or Fluffy into bed for a snooze. Dogs and cats are no strangers to the comforts of human beds, according to a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings,1 with around half of pet owners saying they allow their cat or dog to sleep in their bedroom. (It’s me, I’m pet owner.)
But all it takes is a what-the-hell-are-you-doing stare from a new partner to realize that not everyone feels comfortable inviting a furry friend into their personal sleep space. Whether or not to co-sleep with your animals is a controversial question that can set off all sorts of debates between bedfellows of the human sort. Some may even argue that sharing a bed with a dog or cat can be hazardous to your health.
So let’s settle this once and for all—with the help of an infectious disease specialist.
What could happen if you sleep with your pet?
Generally speaking, letting a dog or cat sleep in your bed is safe for most adults, Luis Ostrosky, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann UT Health Houston, tells SELF. In fact, dr. Ostrosky is a member of the dog-in-bed club himself. Grover, his family’s Airedale terrier, gets cozy under the covers at night. However, Dr. Otrosky cautions that there are a few things you should keep in mind if you do choose to share a sleeping surface with your pet.
The big one is harmful bacteria: Though it’s fairly rare, pets can transmit certain bacteria to their owners. There are a few to keep in mind so that you can see a doctor if you suspect something is up. If your pet licks a cut or scrape on your skin, you could get a pasteurella multocida skin infection,2 says Dr. Ostrosky. Pasteurella multocida will cause the injury to become swollen, inflamed, and tender. There’s also capnocytophaga, he explains, which can spread to your skin from close contact with a pet and may cause blisters around the wound, pus drainage, fever, and chills. People who have compromised immune systems due to cancer treatment or immunosuppressant medications are at a higher risk of complications from these types of bacteria—especially infections from capnocytophaga, which can quickly progress and even become fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ).
And even though Fluffy licking your arm might seem sweet, he could still be carrying the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be passed to humans. MRSA can cause deep, infected abscesses on your skin.
Last up is a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which could be an unwelcome gift to people who cozy up with their cats at bedtime. It’s actually a pretty common parasite—11% of people in the US over the age of six carry this parasite without having symptoms.3 However, this parasite can lead to an infection called toxoplasmosis, which causes fever, chills, headaches, and other neurological symptoms. Again, people with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of developing this kind of complication. And if you’re pregnant and a cat owner, you should talk with your ob-gyn about toxoplasmosis, as this type of infection can affect the fetus, says Dr. Ostrosky.