Your pets can make life better but sleeping with them can sometimes expose you to horrible diseases



This is the kind of story that people love to hate and several hundred who read a longer version of this on AOL News today haven’t been shy about questioning my sanity, professionalism and lineage.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have two dogs.

Two top veterinary scientists who report that sleeping with your pets increases the chance of contracting everything from parasites to the plague.

© photo by Andrew Schneider

In their study which will be published in next month’s issue of the CDC’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the pet docs say that more than half of U.S. households have pets and more than half of those cats and dogs are allowed to sleep in their owner’s beds.

“We wanted to raise the attention of people, as sleeping with a pet is becoming quite common and there are risks associated with it, even if it is not very frequent…but when it occurs, especially in children or immunocompromised people it can be very severe,” Dr. Bruno Chomel, a professor at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told me yesterday

Chomel and his co-author Dr. Ben Sun, California’s chief veterinarian are both experts in zoonoses, which are diseases or infections transmitted from animals to humans.

They reported that “the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real and has even been documented for life-threatening infections such as plague, internal parasites” and other serious diseases.

How many of us admit to others that we sleep with our furry friends?

Many of us do, according to the study.

Among dog owners, 53 percent consider their dog to be a member of the family and 56 percent of those dog owners admit they sleep with their dog next to them, the researchers reported.

We’re not just talking about Teacup Yorkies and Chihuahuas here. Yes, the study says, most are small dogs, but 41 percent are medium sized, and one-out-of-three are large. Also, consider this fact. which the authors attribute to the American Kennel Club: women were more likely than men to allow their dogs to share their beds.

As strange as it may be to canine lovers, more people have cats than dogs, and these felines also carry disease.  This study and several others show that disease from cats is far more prevalent, and often more serious.

The CDC reports that pets may lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and decrease feelings of loneliness, while increasing opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and socialization.

Medical studies going back at least 30 years have documented the clinical value of the existence of pets to cardiac patients, those hospitalized with mental illnesses and the elderly.

Sharing our resting hours with our pets may be a source of psychological comfort, but because pets can bring a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our environment, sharing is also associated with risks, the authors of the current study reported.

For example:

A 9-year-old boy from Arizona got the plague because he slept with his flea-infested cat.

A 48-year-old man and his wife repeatedly contracted MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which eventually their physicians attributed to their dog which “routinely slept in their bed and frequently licked their face,” the California experts reported.

Kissing pets can also transmit zoonoses.

A Japanese woman contacted meningitis after kissing her pet’s face.

But disease can easily be transmitted by your pet kissing you.

The study sighted cases where a woman died of septic shock and renal failure after her cat, with which she slept,  licked open sores on her feet and toes.  In another case, a 44-year-old man died of infection after his German shepherd puppy licked open abrasions on his hands.

Where do our pets they pick up these disease?

Fleas are a likely starting point.

Most of your pets will eat the droppings of other animals.

Take a dog to any beach, park or trail through the woods almost anywhere and watch the speed at which they’ll find something really foul-smelling and dead in which to roll.

Cats usually do their own killing for food and fun and just think about the infectious bugs which laced the dead and dying rodents, birds and other critters they eat to try to bring into the home.


What can be done

The two senior veterinarians say several things can be done to reduce the threat of disease, and the main one is to ensure the health of their pets by seeking regular professional checkups and care. Other points include:

  • Persons, especially young children or immunocompromised persons, should be discouraged from sharing their bed with their pets or regularly kissing their pets.
  • Any area licked by a pet, especially an open wound, should be immediately washed with soap and water.
  • Pets should be kept free of parasites, especially fleas, routinely dewormed, and regularly examined by a veterinarian.

The risk of getting sick from being close with your pets is real, but most of the disease they pass on to humans can be identified and eliminated by regular veterinary care.

Meanwhile, start practicing saying “Get off the bed.  I mean it this time.”

Here is a link to a longer version on AOL News.

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