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Should our pets sleep with us?

Are you tempted to cuddle with your furry friend on a cold winter night? You might have heard various conflicting opinions about that. For example, you might be worried that doing so will create behavioural problems in pets and health problems in humans, but the good news is that both these claims have been debunked years ago. 

One Australian study reports that half of all pet owners sleep with their pets, and, moreover, that people have been doing this since the dawn of time.

And for good reasons.

They are warm and cuddly

One big reason that people have been sleeping with their pets for ages is to compensate for the lack of advanced heating systems we enjoy today. The authors of an Australian study called “Should We Let Sleeping Dogs Lie… With Us?” report that the practice of sleeping with dogs was widespread among Indigenous Australians.

They write: “During cold nights, Indigenous Australians were often reported to sleep alongside their dogs for warmth. This practice is implicated in the common Australian expression ‘three-dog night’: the colder the night, the more dogs are needed to keep warm.”

Not just for warmth

Even now when you totally have the option of cranking up your thermostat to a toasty 22C (not that you should), you’re still tempted to have Rocky close to you so you could bury your nose in his fluffy ears.

Obviously pets are not just for warmth. They provide us with the sense of security, protection and general cosiness.

The closeness of pets helps reduce stress (a common cause of depression, anxiety and insomnia), and promote feelings of calm. Even just touching your pet causes the release of oxytocin (the love hormone) and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. 

Risks and how to mitigate them

So now that we’ve determined that there are numerous benefits to cuddling with Rocky, are there some risks? 

Dogs are active about 20% of the night, which might disturb some people. According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine that investigated 150 pet owners who slept with their pets, 20% said their pets disturbed their sleep, while 41% said they had no effect or a positive effect on their sleep.

What about health risks? 

After all, pets can carry bacteria and parasites which can be transferred to humans. According to the veterinary expert Dr Jane Heller, who spoke to ABC, if the pet has a good hygiene and regular vet checks, the risks associated with having them in your bed aren’t much higher than those associated with sharing a bed with another human. 

If you’re worried, Dr Heller suggests you can train your pet to sleep on a separate blanket at the end of the bed.

Of course, if you have asthma or allergies or if your immune system is compromised, you should not let your pets sleep with you.

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