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Attachment Pet Parenting: Dogs and Cats in the Bed

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Attachment parenting is all the rage in the news these days, with Time's infamous breast feeding cover and Alicia Silverstone's mouth-to-mouth feeding methods. But as Trevor MacDonald of milkjunkies.net pointed out -- we might be even MORE vigilant about parenting our pets than our children.

He explained that despite one's over-the-top parental behaviors during daylight hours -- most still choose to have their child sleep in a crib in a room other than their own. When it comes to pets, however, a large percentage are granted prime real estate in the master bed.

According to MacDonald:  

"As an adult, I learned that dog trainers seem to agree that sleeping together (at least in the same room) is important for bonding with one's animal, and the practice is far from rare. As Cesar Milan, the "Dog Whisperer," notes, "It is perfectly natural for a dog to sleep with other pack members, and it is also a powerful way to bond with your dog." A 2007 survey by the American Pet Products Association of over 2,500 American pet owners found that a whopping 62% of small dogs, 41% of medium-sized dogs, and 32% of large dogs sleep in bed with their owners. In addition, 62% of cats sleep with their adult owners plus 13% sleep with children. When I adopted my current dog, she wanted to sleep with me and I obliged. This was the first time in my life that I slept with another living creature. I loved it."

How do pet-in-bed statistics compare to kid-in-bed numbers? A survey conducted from 1991 to 1999 by the National Centre for Health Statistics found that only 25% of infants always or almost always sleep with their parents and 42% do sometimes.

Pros and Cons of Pets in the Bed

"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.

4 Tips for Sleeping With Your Pet

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.
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