By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Sleeping alongside your pets can make you sick.
It’s rare, but it happens. That’s why good hygiene means keeping Fluffy and Spot next to the bed, not on it, two experts in animal-human disease transmission say in a forthcoming paper.
More than 60% of American households have a pet, and depending on the survey, 14% to 62% let their dogs and cats sleep with them. That can be dangerous, says Bruno Chomel, a professor at the University of California-Davis school of veterinary medicine.
“There are private places in the household, and I think our pets should not go beyond next to the bed,” Chomel says. “Having a stuffed animal in your bed is fine, not a real one.”
Chomel and co-author Ben Sun, chief veterinarian with the California Department of Public Health, did an extensive search of medical journals and turned up a hair-raising list of possible pathogens.
There’s plague (yes, bubonic plague, i.e. the Black Death); chagas disease, which can cause life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders; and cat-scratch disease, which can also come from being licked by infected cats.
Though many people love getting licked or planting a kiss on a pet, it may not be such a good idea, the authors say.
The researchers found several cases of various infections transmitted this way.
“The risk is rare, but when it occurs it can be very nasty, and especially in immuno-compromised people and the very young,” says Chomel, who specializes in zoonoses, the study of disease transmission between animals and humans.
Larry Kornegay, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, called the article “pretty balanced.” These cases are “uncommon if not rare,” but even so, pet owners should use common sense to reduce risks.
Washing hands after playing with pets and regular veterinary wellness visits are key, says Kornegay, who practices in Houston.
In general, he says, “the benefits of having a pet, whether or not you sleep with it, far outweigh the negatives, which are quite uncommon.”
The paper, in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, won’t be out for a week, but Chomel says his e-mail box is already filling up with people who disagree with it.
“They tell me they’ve slept with their pets for years and they never got sick,” he says.