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What to Consider Before Letting Your Pet Sleep on Your Bed

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Letting your dog sleep in your bed can prove to be a bad decision down the road. There was a time when Eliska ruled her household- at least when bedtime rolled around. The 3-pound Prague Ratter dog would curl up and sleep next to owner Krista DeAngelis in bed, and most of the time she and the dog would enjoy a peaceful night's slumber.

Then, DeAngelis got married, and her husband banned the dog from the bed for fear of unintentionally squashing Eliska in his sleep. After enduring a few sleepless nights of her whining and barking, the couple attempted a harmless but helpful solution to curb their pet's protests: simply spray Eliska with a misting bottle every time she acted up. After two nights of this routine, the DeAngelis' pocket-sized pooch was fully trained to sleep by herself in another room.

"I originally thought letting my dog sleep in my bed was a good idea,'' DeAngelis, a communications professional in Salt Lake City, Utah, said. "But I realized that they can keep you up when they rustle around, wake you up if they have to go to the bathroom and sometimes go to the bathroom in your bed if you don't wake up.''

Let sleeping dogs lie?

"Having your pet sleep in the bed with you is a personal choice,'' said Patrick Mahaney, VMD, of California Pet Acupuncture & Wellness, West Hollywood, Calif. If you discourage this behavior, "your pet will be less likely to confuse your bed with theirs. Therefore, you may prevent potential territory-related problems. But if you don't discourage them, not only do you face the possibility of behavioral problems, but you could face adverse effects to your own sleep and health.''

According to results published in 2002 of a survey of 300 sleep disorder patients conducted by Dr. John Shepard, Medical Director of the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, nearly 60 percent of the pet owners in the study slept with their pets in the bedroom. Twenty-two percent of the patients were likely to have pets sleeping on the bed with them. What's more, 53 percent of pet owners considered their sleep to be disrupted nightly to some extent. Snoring was indicated in 21 and 7 percent of the dogs and cats owned, respectively.

Yet, a 2003 survey of 420 cat owners in Britain conducted by an organization called Cats Protection revealed that 44 percent of respondents (including 51 percent of women polled) said they enjoyed a better night's sleep in their bed with a cat than with a human companion. Benefits listed included an absence of snoring, more space on the bed and purring.

"The advantages of letting your pet share your bed include companionship, warmth and a sense of security,'' Mahaney said.

Among the drawbacks are lack of space for you to sleep, interruption of normal sleep patterns, and confusion among your pet as to an expected place to sleep, he said.

Nipping a sleep problem in the bud

If you want to break your pet of the bed-sleeping habit, Mahaney recommends persistence, consistency and the following tips:

  • Establish a separate area or bed for your pet to sleep in. A cat bed or dog bed can be something as simple as a clean, soft blanket placed near your own bed.
  • Use positive reinforcement techniques. For example, give your dog a training treat and positive verbal cues when it is comfortable resting on its own bed to reinforce this desirable behavior.
  • Immediately address any territorial aggression, such as growling when you move in bed or nipping at your heels.
  • If your dog growls or nips, authoritatively say "No!"
  • Next, remove it from your bed onto the floor or its own bed and give it the command to sit and stay.
  • Praise it verbally or with a training treat.

If problematic behavior persists, seek consultation with a veterinary behavior specialist.

You've made your bed...now sleep in it

If you do ultimately decide to share your bed with your pet, Mahaney offers the following recommendations:

  • Let it sleep on top of the covers instead of under them.
  • Your pet may have environmental debris, including fecal material, on its coat with which you could come into direct contact.
  • Give your dog the opportunity to void within a reasonable time frame before you go to sleep. A typical healthy dog should not have to get up in the middle of the night to urinate or defecate.
  • Allow your cat the opportunity to exit your bedroom while you sleep  to play, eat, drink and use the litter box. Cats are nocturnal animals and are more likely to be active during the night.
Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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