Sleep Care

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Pets In Bed

When Mina first took in Sheba, a mixed-terrier from the local pound, the dog slept in a cage with comfortable bedding down in the basement while recovering from some health problems. Once she was feeling better, Sheba quickly made her preference apparent: as a lap-dog who enjoyed cuddling, she sought out Mina’s bed to sleep in at night.

“We tried setting up a pet bed on the floor of my bedroom for her to sleep on,” Mina says. “But that wasn’t Sheba’s idea. She wanted to be closer to me, usually down at the foot of my bed.”

Of course, having the dog sleep with her led to some adjustments for Mina. “I accidentally kicked her off the bed while asleep a few times at first,” she remembers. “After getting used to her being there, I probably didn’t move around as much in my sleep as I had before.”

A Common Trend

Compared to the outdoor pets of generations past, some might be surprised to learn that it’s fairly common for modern pets to sleep in bed with their owners. A 2007 survey of nearly 8,000 people done by VPI Pet Insurance found that 56% of respondents have their pets sleep in bed with them during the night. A 2009/2010 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association adds more detail: 46% of dogs and 79% of cats sleep at least some time on a family member’s bed during the night. The size of the pet makes a difference: for example, 62% of small dogs sleep with their owners, compared to only 32% of large dogs.

Benefits of an Animal Bed Partner

There are a variety of benefits from having a pet in bed during the night. They can be a source of extra warmth if the air in the bedroom is cold. Some people—such as children afraid of the dark—appreciate the security and comfort that the presence of an extra “body” provides during the night. For those who have difficulty getting their minds to settle down for sleep at bedtime, listening to a pet’s steady heartbeat or breathing can have a sedating effect.

Potential Problems

Of course, there are some potential problems that can develop when sleeping with a pet as well—and sometimes these can occur even without them in the bed. A study done by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that half of their participants had a dog or cat, and among those, 53% reported their sleep being disturbed on a nightly basis because of their pet.

For people with allergies, sleeping with a pet can cause significant congestion problems during the night that can impair their sleep. Like humans, pets can also snore and twitch or jerk in their sleep—noises and movements that can cause arousals from sleep for their owners.

Setting the Rules

The most effective way to ensure your pet doesn’t disrupt your sleep is to keep them out of your bed. Set boundaries in the bedroom from the start by giving them their own bed to sleep in and placing it on the floor next to yours. Reinforce this boundary until a routine is established.

For those who enjoy having their pets in bed in spite of the restless sleep, there are some solutions. If the pet tends to be hyper-active in the evenings, most veterinary experts agree that the best way to approach the situation is to make the rules very clear: turning off lights and laying down in bed signals it is time to go to sleep, not remain active. Be sure that the pet has been fed, given water, and had the chance relieve itself before settling down for the night. If owners keep a regular routine for themselves to get ready for bed (for example, brushing teeth), it will provide cues to their pet it is time to wind down and get ready to sleep as well.

To help the pet be sufficiently tired to sleep at night, make sure it doesn’t sleep through most of the day, as many often do. Having toys or other objects of interest to keep the pet sufficiently active and engaged is particularly useful for households where they are left alone for long periods of time, such as when the owner is at work.

If allergies are a problem, regular

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grooming of the pet is essential, especially for long-haired animals. Having an air filter in the bedroom can also be beneficial. If symptoms persist, and the owner does not want to train the pet to sleep outside the bedroom, then the owner may consider getting allergy shots or taking medication on a regular basis.

While owners often will make accommodations because of pets in their beds, sometimes the animals will find a solution that’s acceptable as well. “Sheba started sleeping on the pillow next to mine, so she wouldn’t get kicked off the bed,” says Mina. “It was some measure of comfort knowing that if my alarm failed to wake me up, it would wake Sheba up—and then she’d make sure I was up by licking my face!”

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