If you’re a pet-parent, there’s probably nothing as nice as the idea of waking up on a cold winter morning with your human companion cuddling you on one side while your animal companions keep your chest or legs warm on the other side.
It’s a natural instinct, both human and animal, to gather together in groups at night in order to stay warm and protected. If you have everyone facing a different direction, it also turns the sleeping group into a very effective alarm.
But is this necessary in our modern world, where we mostly sleep inside of secure, locked buildings, often with effective physical alarm systems?
It probably depends upon whom you ask.
Do your pets sleep with you?
A few years back, a mattress company took a survey and found that almost 75% of American pet parents let their dogs or cats sleep in the bed with them. A more scientific survey found the allowed small dog and cat percentages, while lower, to be almost equal at 62%, with the dog percentages dropping by size — 41% medium and 32% large.
Then again, cats are not quite as variable in size as dogs are.
I took my own very informal survey among friends, and was surprised that their answers — whether they had dogs, cats, or both — were mostly “Yes.” Ironically, the most emphatic “No” came from my brother and his girlfriend, both citing allergies, and the only other definite no was a case where one dog had become aggressive about not allowing the other on the bed.
From my own experience with dogs, I’d have to say that I’m batting 67% myself, sort of. That involves a brief tale of three very different dogs that were all about the same size — perfectly medium.
A tale (tail?) of three dogs
Dazé was originally the family dog, so she started out sleeping in her own bed in my parents’ room. Of course, in her mind, I was always her human because we both met as puppies and I trained her. Eventually, after I graduated from college and moved out on my own, she came to live with me, albeit as a senior who nonetheless lived for a long time.
In her case, it was a mutual decision. If I invited her to sleep on the bed, she did. If I didn’t, she had no problem sleeping in her own bed. And if there happened to be another human in mine on any particular night, she would definitely stay on her own.
After Dazé passed, I rescued Shadow, and she was the one I could not keep off of the bed. She was my needy and dependent girl, and she was just not happy without being curled up and snuggling behind the back of my legs.
That was okay with me when I was alone. Not so much when I wasn’t. But whereas Dazé got it and would stay away, it was a very common thing to suddenly feel the bottom of the mattress depress as Shadow tried to sneak back onto the bed after lights off and at the most inopportune times. Awkward!
When Shadow was five, I rescued Sheeba, and she never slept on the bed except when I was not at home. In fact, I could not even get her to come up on the bed when I was in it with any form of bribery or invite. I could have offered her steak and she would have just “Noped” out.
This might have been because Shadow had put such a claim on the bed and me. Or maybe it was just that Sheeba wasn’t cuddly, although Shadow passed away a number of years before Sheeba did, and still she never claimed the bed once she was the only dog.
In hindsight, as we’ll see, Sheeba was the only one I accidentally got it right with.
Cue the cats
Generally, dogs will just plop down after making some circles, flop against you, start snoring and having doggie dreams. But as anyone who’s had both will tell you, a dog in the bed and a cat in the bed are entirely different experiences.
For one thing, cats, unlike dogs, can be nocturnal animals, meaning that they are active at night — exactly when we (and our dogs) would prefer to sleep instead of hunt, So they may not exactly settle down for a good night’s sleep, preferring instead to suddenly scamper away to murder some phantom menace, or run up and down the bed — and you — in search of imaginary prey.
Unlike dogs, cats can also be very particular about which human they prefer to sleep with, and this can be problematic if they take to one half of a couple, but aren’t so thrilled about the other.
One friend of mine who lives with both dogs and cats responded to my question thusly. She never had a problem with the dogs sleeping in the bed, even both times she’s been pregnant, but when it came to the feline companion, she said, “I would never sleep with my cat. He might see my feet move under the covers overnight and then attack me. Or just attack me for fun. Who knows?”
Another friend used to let the dog sleep on the bed until he (the dog, not my friend) became aggressive, so they kennel trained him. Meanwhile, they had to do likewise with the cats, explaining that, “Our kitties sleep in their own room at night. They would terrorize us and drive [the dog] batty if we let them roam the apartment...”
To sleep or not to sleep?
It can be really tempting to let our beloved pets sleep on the bed with us and, as I’ve noted above, I’ve been guilty of allowing it, and so have most pet parents and almost all of the friends I asked.
But what do the experts say?
For the most part, “No.”
There can be adverse effects all around, including allergies and disturbance of sleep cycles. Not to mention — have you ever been kicked in the stomach by a medium-size dog with strong legs having a sudden and vivid “chasing something” dream?
I have been, several times, and it’s not a fun way to wake up in the middle of the night.
It’s the same with cats, but worse — you risk disrupted sleep, allergies, and fleas and other parasites. You definitely shouldn’t let them sleep with young children, and there’s no telling what happens if their claws come out in a dream, especially if they’re sleeping next to your face.
So, really, the best thing all around, despite all of our human instincts, is to make sure that our furry friends have their own personal beds to sleep in, comfortable and warm and away from our own, tucked under their cozy blankets that will remind them of our love while keeping them, and us, safe from the unexpected dangers of piling up together on a common mattress.
Pleasant dreams at night, after all, make for much more pleasant days together.
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