They say that dogs are man’s best friend, but those who say that have clearly never had solid feline companionship.
While every cat is different, they do have some common traits. In addition to being able to scale any object with super-kitty abilities, cats can sneak into our hearts, bringing comfort and joy to anyone they choose to adopt.
That can include cuddling up in bed at night. While some cats might not be interested, others want to be as close to their human counterparts as possible. And many humans seem to prefer it that way.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 50 percent of pet owners in the United States allow their pet to sleep in bed with them.
Bill Fish, cofounder of Tuck.com, says, without question, there are positives to allowing your cat into your bed each night, including giving both of you a sense of security, emotionally and physically.
“Having a guest in bed with you also reduces stress as well as brings warmth and comfort,” he said. “As you feel your cat’s rhythmic breathing, it soothes you and helps you get to sleep more quickly.”
But whether your cat sleeps calmly through the night is another question. They can interrupt your sleep and bring a number of other health risks into your bed as well.
How cats can affect your sleep
Dr. Steve Weinberg, founder of 911 VETS, said it can feel nice and comfy to have your cat sleep on a bed with you — some literally on your head — potentially calming anxiety and night terrors.
“The downside is that cats are nocturnal animals,” he said. “The human sleeper may have their sleep interrupted in the wee hours of the night or be woken up at a very early hour.”
Because of this, Weinberg says, sleeping with a cat can be counterproductive to a person’s typical wake-sleep patterns.
“Many cats like to play and will scratch at or even bite at the human feet moving around under the covers,” he said. “[There are] other problems, such as allergy to cat dander or, if fleas are not under control, the human may receive flea bites.”
Cats may also want to cozy up to babies and infants — taking on their own caregiver roles in the house — but experts say cats shouldn’t spend the night with the littlest ones in your home.
Dr. Jennifer Maniet, a staff veterinarian at Petplan Pet Insurance, says it’s not safe for cats to sleep with babies because there’s a risk a cat could unintentionally suffocate a baby by sleeping on its chest or face.
“If the cat is startled or frightened, the baby can get bitten, scratched, or trampled on as the cat tries to run or jump away,” she said. “Cat scratches and bites are common ways that the cat can transmit diseases to a baby.”
You can consult your veterinarian for ways to keep the cats out of the nursery, Maniet says.
Then there’s the issue of whether your cat shares the bed with any other animals besides humans. Some cats won’t care, but others could view them as a threat and that could create some unwanted chaos in the bedroom.
“Having your cat in your bed can also promote dominance within the animal,” Fish said. “They begin to feel like it is their territory and could get agitated if anyone else enters the bed.”
Indoor vs. outdoor cats
While some cats are perfectly content with never going outside and reigning supreme over their indoor kingdoms, other cats live duel indoor-outdoor lives. This can pose different threats.
Maniet says outdoor cats are exposed to more disease carriers. This includes other outdoor cats, feral cats, prey, worms, fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and a plethora of other insects.
“All of these carriers have the potential to transmit diseases such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and many other infections,” Maniet said. “Also important to note is that the litter box of indoor cats can also present a risk of disease for humans in the household.”
What kinds of diseases? Gastrointestinal worms, giardiasis, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, plague — yes, that plague — and hantavirus infection, Maniet says. This is on top of typical allergens pet dander can create.
During the summer months, when ticks and other parasites are more active, pet professionals recommend regularly checking your cat’s fur and skin for potentially disease-spreading piggy-backers. This is good for both feline and human health.
The best way to reduce the risks of contracting these health risks from your cat, the CDC recommends, is for pet owners to regularly take their cats to the vet so they’re up to date on their immunizations.
What to consider when cuddling with a cat
While a cat’s independent nature may make it seem like it will do whatever it wants, many of our furry family members do like a cuddle. Maniet says there are a few things to consider before we do that.
The first, again, is the relatively low risk of disease transmission. One way to help mitigate that is to talk to your human doctors, including pediatricians.
“Adults and children with a compromised immune system due to certain human diseases may be at a higher risk for contracting diseases from animals,” Maniet said.
But, no matter your health status, there are some surefire signs that the cat should be left alone because it may be having its own health issues.
“Do not snuggle up to your furry friend if they are showing any signs of illness such as hair loss, skin rashes, sneezing, coughing, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea to name a few,” she said.
In cases like these, take your cat to the vet and make sure they have a clean bill of health before bringing your pet into the bedroom.
“Always have your pet checked as directed by your veterinarian to determine your pet’s overall health status and to make sure they remain disease-free,” Maniet said.
Whether they’re indoor or outdoor cats, there are many special moments that can be had with our furry family members.
Being aware of the risks that can come from sharing our beds with them can help us avoid health hazards and ensure many more purr-worthy moments with our favorite felines.