Domesticated bliss

A recent issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, warns that sleeping and cuddling with your pets could put you at risk for catching some bugs.

Chad and I have a ritual. Every night we watch television in bed. After we turn out the lights, I can hear the tippy tap of Hoffman’s feet on the hard wood floor as he makes his nightly journey into our dark and quiet bedroom. Then he leaps onto our bed, nestles in between us, and faces the door so that he can stand guard as he falls asleep. Every morning, he wakes us up to hugs and kisses as he shimmies his way up to our faces and rolls onto his back so that we can rub his tummy. It’s very cute and yes, even I would vomit if I heard this story from someone else, but he’s our dog and essentially our baby.

This report warns that “pets can bring a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our environment.”  Zoonotic pathogens are infectious agents that can be transmitted between animal and humans. “The probability of getting sick from sharing your bed with your pet is extremely rare,” said lead author, Bruno Chomel, a professor of zoonosis at University of California Davis. But he warned that children and people who have compromised immune system should be aware of the risks. Chomel and co-author Ben Sun looked through published literature about cases in which people’s illnesses correlated with sleeping, kissing or being licked by pets.

So now what am I suppose to do? Am I expected to simply throw my dog out of the bed without any explanation? Won’t Hoffman see this as rejection and then fall into a deep depression? Worse still, not having Hoffman in bed will likely throw me into despair.

Some of  examples included in the article were:

– A man had a dog sleep under the covers with him.  The dog licked his hip replacement wound and the owner got meningitis.

– A 9-year-old boy slept in bed with a flea-infested cat and got the bubonic plague in 1974 in New Mexico.

– A newborn was sickened with meningitis.  The pet cat had stolen the baby’s pacifier and had been toying with it.

– A 44-year-old woman developed meningitis and admitted that she was “regularly kissing the dog’s face and feeding it by transferring food mouth to mouth.”

In a survey from the American Kennel Club, 21 percent of dog owners said they regularly slept with their dogs. Chomel said he’s not trying to overstate the risks. “It’s a matter of common sense,” he said.  “I never said, ‘Don’t have the pet in the bedroom.’ I’m saying, if you put the pet on the bed or in the bed, there are consequences.”

Well Mr. Chomel perhaps it would be wiser not to be so cautionary and better to offer solutions for pet owners who want to sleep with their pets. For instance domesticated animals, particularly those who live in a city as opposed to a suburb, spend very little time outside compared to wild animals or those who live on farms or homes with lots of acreage. He said that cats and dogs catch fleas that owners don’t always catch. He goes on to say that “If you have a pet that’s well taken care of and sees a vet on regular basis, is properly dewormed, properly vaccinated and well-taken care of, that lowers the risk quite a lot.”

Most pet owners take very good care of their pets, and if you don’t care for your pet by seeing a vet regularly to have it dewormed and vaccinated, then you shouldn’t be allowed to own a pet. Who is this man speaking to? I mean what kind of person sleeps with their dog after they’ve had a hip replacement? Was he sleeping in the nude? It’s one thing to cuddle with your pet who sleeps on the covers. It’s another to invite your pet to sleep with you underneath them. Crossing this line could be confused as a form of bestiality.

So take precautions like washing your hands especially before meals. Bath your pet routinely. Wipe their paws and nose with a clean, moist towel if they’ve been to a dog park, sniffed a fellow furry friend’s butt, or if the weather is particularly nasty out. It’s common sense. There are dangers with sleeping and living with humans, no offense Chad. Heck, I bet we as individuals are more of a threat to ourselves than our mates or pets. More people slip in the shower then contract meningitis by kissing their furry little baby. I mean dog. And I would go on to bet further that some humans have dirtier mouths than my dog. Ever been to a cocktail party in Chelsea? Sometimes I feel like bathing in bleach or at least wiping my lips with Purell before, during and after.

“Pets have a therapeutic effect on humans. Some research suggests children who grow up with pets can build more robust immune systems.  Being around animals, petting and touching them increases levels of oxytocin – a  feel-good hormone.  It can lower stress-causing hormone like cortisol,” said one opponent of the article.

Plus it is a known fact that people who live with pets live longer lives.

So don’t worry Hoffman. Your not going anywhere.



  1. Posted January 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    My school principal, Sr. Mary Lou, had an innovative way to give “the strap”. A thick elastic band was applied like a bracelet, then pulled taut and snapped. Not that I ever received the punishment, but the fear remains. Great blog!

  2. Posted January 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    You didn’t mention Toxoplasmosis, thought I know it rarly happens with an immune system that is not entirely gone, however having a cat can certainly increase the presence of the parasite in your body. Cat boxes need to be cleaned on a daily basis.

    Also, Dr., I question that Bubonic Plague information.

    From my understanding is the the plague is specific to a flea specific to rats, which rarely bite humans but according to the book (Justinian’s Flea) the relationship between the cat and rat was put off balance causing fleas to turn to humans for sustenance.

    But considering where it happen, I don’t doubt the disease was present, just the mode of transmission.

  3. Posted January 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    why don’t websites that allow comments, allow editing of said comments?

  4. Posted January 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    that was horrible of me, I thought you said MEXICO, not NEW MEXICO..

    i doubt it even more, sounds like propaganda to me, or that the facts got a bit twisted… I’m no expert..

  5. Posted January 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I should have read this first. There was in fact an infestation of the disease in CATS in New Mexico in the 1970’s..

    Now you have my curiosity up again.

  6. spinellimd
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Jonathan

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