Cuddling up at night to a loved one can be one of the most comforting things in life. It can provide warmth and a feeling of nurture, which is why so many parents allow their small children into their beds at night. When the 'loved one' has warm fur it can be even cozier. These days, many people now sleep with their pets.
Let's be honest, do you let your pet sleep on, or even in, your bed with you? On average 25% of people in the UK have allowed their pet to share their bed at one time or another, while one-in-six said they would always allow it, figures from an ICM poll suggest. I have a confession to make: I do, and have done for the past several years since Sophie, my calm and wonderful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was seven months old.
I had barriers at first. Sophie wasn't allowed on the sofa but could be on the leather armchair and she also wasn't allowed upstairs in the bedroom. Throughout her puppyhood, she had her bed downstairs and she seemed to grow used to it. But, Sophie, being intrinsically a pack animal, wanted to sleep with her 'family'. And so, over the course of several months, once she got past her puppy stages of hyperactivity and was properly housetrained, she was allowed upstairs and on to the bed.
I don't quite remember how it happened but she somehow persuaded me that it would be a good idea. My bed has become her bed, even when partners have stayed over the years. My current boyfriend has a minor allergy to fur and so will not sleep with her on the bed, which means that he never stays over at my house. It would be too disruptive to boot Sophie out of the bedroom after, after all! Do I feel guilty? Well, perhaps a little. But I love her on my bed, and find sleep more difficult if she is not there.
A lot of polls, including one by Associated Professional Sleep Societies, suggest that letting dogs and cats sleep on your bed can lead to a disturbed night's sleep. Many dogs are their owners' alarm clocks and cats scratch leaving the potential for people to suffer minor injuries while they slumber. However, Sophie is bliss in that she will rise when I do and will never intentionally wake me. At any rate, this only happens when she is having a particularly animated or noisy dream.
Dogs must inhabit a similar dreamscape to us as they are sometimes active and emit a mellow bark in their sleeping state. Chasing a shadowy rabbit across a darkening landscape or finding themselves staring into the jet eyes of a cat, their dreams must vary like ours between pleasant and nightmarish. Earplugs do help to drown out any dreamy barking from Sophie and she is much quieter than most people! A quick poll of friends sleeping habits suggests that I am not alone in preferring to sleep with a furry friend on the bed.
Even celebrities have been known to sleep with their pets. BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil confesses that he and his girlfriend, Swedish IT engineer Susan Nilsson, share their bed with their two-year-old white retriever, Molly. The late Brian Sewell even wrote a book called 'Sleeping With Dogs' about the 17 canines who'd kept him company in his slumber over 80 years.
In advance of conducting a wider survey via Twitter's brand new polling feature, I did a straw poll of ten people, asking firstly whether they slept with their pets and whether they'd prefer to sleep with their pets. Four out of ten do and a further three wanted to sleep with their pets on the bed. Two of the former group were single and two slept in a separate bed to their partner with their pet(s). The final three were adamant that a pet's place was not on their bed. They cited nocturnal disturbance as the main reason followed by 'germs'.
While it's certainly true that there have been cases of pets causing infections in people, the chances are minimal for animal lovers in the UK. Among the more serious medical problems animal lovers risk by snuggling up to their pets are 'chagas disease', which is endemic in South and Central America and which can cause life- threatening heart and digestive system disorders. Cat-scratch disease is another problem. It can come from being licked by infected cats, and can cause lethal damage to the liver, kidney or spleen. A nine-year-old boy from Arizona even caught the plague due to sleeping with his flea-infested cat, according to one report.
However, most of us can sleep soundly in the knowledge that we're highly unlikely to catch disease from our pets. We're more likely to get woken up in the wee small hours or scratched, either accidentally or purposefully, if we choose to share our bed with a feline. Dogs, on the other hand, are usually well behaved and will love to snuggle up to their human pack member, even if they do get a little animated while chasing a shadowy rabbit or fox through their dreamscapes.
Marie Carter is the Editor and Publisher of Pets Magazine (www.petsmag.co.uk), a unique leading lifestyle magazine for pet owners, with a monthly readership of 24,000.
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