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Sleeping With Pets…Deadly Nightmare or Sweet Dreams?

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Transcript from this week’s episode of The Web-DVM:

Most pet owners don’t read or keep copies of the periodical, Emerging Infectious Diseases. But, when a newspaper cited this journal in an article describing the dangers of sleeping with pets, people took notice. When the same story was repeated hundreds of times, across all kinds of markets over 18 months, more and more individuals began to wonder if their pets should be on the floor instead of their bed.

It all started in 2010 when a professor at the University of California at Davis, Dr. Bruno Chomel, published an article stating that sleeping with your pets includes the possible risk of zoonotic disease. Zoonoses are illnesses that have the potential of spreading from animals to people.

Despite knowing that it would be an unpopular opinion, Dr. Chomel flatly stated that “pets don’t belong in your bed.” News outlets across the country took the opportunity to share this information with their audiences, generating headlines like “Sleeping With Pets Can Endanger Your Health”.

Make no mistake, the risks of contracting a disease or a parasite are very real. Fungal diseases like ringworm, bacterial infections like the plague and even certain parasites are all capable of transmission from our pets directly to us. The real questions, though, are just how common are these issues and what can pet owners do to prevent the diseases?

The good news is that it is not difficult to prevent or minimize the risks for zoonotic diseases. Dr. Elizabeth Bradt, a veterinarian in Salem, MA says that “maintaining good hygiene practices and always washing your hands after interacting with your pet goes a long way to prevent these sorts of problems.”

Beyond routine hygiene, regular preventive care for your pets is another great safety precaution that any pet owner can take to avoid zoonotic diseases. Pet owners should carefully consider their veterinarian’s recommendations in order to keep the whole family healthy.

As an example, fleas are the natural carriers of the bacteria causing the plague. Keeping pets on safe and effective flea medications can help prevent this deadly illness. In a case listed in Dr. Chomel’s article, a young boy contracted plague because he slept with his flea infested cat. If this cat had been on a flea preventive, the likelihood of the boy contracting this illness would have been greatly reduced.

Dr. Bradt also says that “the bottom line is that you can catch a disease from your pet whether you sleep with them or not. There is nothing inherently dangerous about sleeping with a pet.” Don’t let unfounded fears keep you from the unconditional love of a pet. Ask your veterinarian how you can keep your pet healthy and a part of your family.

So, what about those headlines? Keep in mind that any news media outlet has a strong desire to keep and build their audience. Controversial and edgy subjects will always draw or “hook”, more viewers and readers. The media was not purposefully misleading anyone; they simply were doing their job and encouraging people to “tune in at 11:00”!

This is Roger Welton reporting, for The Web-DVM.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website Web-DVM.net.

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