By: Erin Wunderlich – Agricultural Communications Student at University of Illinois and Vice President of National Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow.
Please note, that I received compensation in exchange for this blog post
Most cat owners wake up to a face full of fur in the morning – or if you’re like me, a cat paw pushing on your nose exactly at 6:00 am every day. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate about half of pet owners — mostly dog or cat owners — allow their animals to sleep in their bedroom.
The question of whether one should let their pet sleep in their bed has been asked by animal lovers since humans began to domesticate cats. As a child, I watched countless cartoons that showed dogs sleeping outside in a doghouse or cats sleeping next to their owner’s closed bedroom door. Yet, I let my cat sleep on my bed today.
But whether sleeping with your cat is controversial to you or not, the age-old debate has raised some important health questions and concerns. So let’s take a look at both sides of the argument and settle this once and for all.
Potential Downsides of Your Cat Sleeping in Your Bed
According to the National Library of Medicine, letting your cat sleep in your bed is safe for most adults — but there are some things you should be aware of:
- Parasites and Bacteria
If your cat is an outdoor cat, or if you let your indoor cat outside for small periods of time, there is a likely chance that they could contract a parasite called toxoplasma gondii. This parasite is most commonly contracted by humans when they cuddle up with their cats during bedtime.
When infected, this parasite leads to an infection called toxoplasmosis which can cause headaches, chills, a fever, and even neurological problems. Those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.
In order to avoid contracting this infection from your feline friend, it is best to practice healthy washing habits after each outdoor visit. Make sure to wipe your cat’s paws, their sanitary areas, and any open wounds or skin breaks.
If you have severe allergies to cats and/or their dander, it will be very uncomfortable to sleep next to one all night. My sister, bless her heart, is very allergic to pet dander but still sleeps with our cat Cosmo because she loves him. But no matter how much she wants her symptoms to ‘go away’ or ‘get better with time’, she still wheezes and sneezes all night long.
- Less Quality Sleep
Finally, having your cat sleep with you can lower your overall sleep quality and therefore affect your daily function. Using data from the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bIoimage Study scientist found that cat’s crepuscular behavior, i.e., they are primarily active at dawn and dusk can cause disruptions to their owner’s sleep.
Upsides to Sleeping with Your Cat
Now that we’ve discussed some of the health risks with sleeping with your cat, let’s also look at the benefits — because in my opinion they mostly outweigh the bad.
One of the most commonly used therapy methods for people with mental health issues is behavioral management. For example, assigning a therapy cat or dog to someone struggling with depression drastically decreases depressive episodes. And individually tailored interventions, such as having a cat sleep with you while you feel anxious or sad, has been shown to increase the overall mood of people with depression.
Back before when we got our cats in 2017, I had very high anxiety levels and some low points of depression. And I noticed that after we had our cats for about a year or so — with one of them consistently sleeping with me every night — my overall mood had improved drastically, and my anxiety was at an all-time low when I was around them.
Finally, I would say that the biggest benefit of letting your cat sleep with you is purely for the fact that it creates a constant schedule. Ever since I let my cat sleep with me, he knows exactly when bedtime is and when it’s time to wake up. This greatly reduces the Zoomies he gets at night – and greatly reduces that amount of times I wake up because of them.
So, will you let your cat sleep in your bed?
Before you blindly say yes, make sure to take into consideration your personal health risks (especially if you are immunocompromised or have bad allergies). My personal recommendation is that if you absolutely can’t kick your cat off your bed at night because you feel too bad, train them to sleep at the edge of your bed instead. This way they are off your chest, not right next to your head, or laying over your legs. This will prevent you from consuming as much pet dander and you won’t have direct contact with your cat’s body.
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van Egmond LT, Titova OE, Lindberg E, Fall T, Benedict C. Association between pet ownership and sleep in the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bioImage Study (SCAPIS). Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 2;11(1):7468. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-87080-7. PMID: 33811252; PMCID: PMC8018946.
Brooks H, Rushton K, Walker S, Lovell K, Rogers A. Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Dec 9;16(1):409. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1111-3. PMID: 27931210; PMCID: PMC5146817.