If you’ve just gotten a new puppy, you might be looking forward to snuggling up with them at bedtime. But many pet owners also wonder, is it bad to let your dog sleep with you? Or, more to the point, is it safe to sleep with dogs in your bed?
Like so many questions about pet care, this one doesn’t have a single right answer. There are a lot of safety and health factors to consider for both you and your dog before setting the habit of sleeping in the same bed. So, before you pat the comforter and invite Sparky up for the night, here’s what you need to know.
The Benefits of Sleeping with Your Dog
If you’re wondering if it is safe to sleep with dogs, you’re probably tempted to do so. There are perfectly good reasons for that desire! People have been sleeping with their pets since ancient times for protection, warmth, and companionship. Here are some of the natural benefits of sleeping with dogs:
- It strengthens your bond with your pet
- It provides natural protection and a sense of security
- It may reduce the risk of developing an allergy to pet dander
- It supports your mental health
Sleeping Together Strengthens Your Bond with Your Pet
Every moment you spend with your dog strengthens your bond with them, and that includes moments in which you’re both sleeping. Sharing a bed with your pet can be a wonderful way to make them feel included and loved in the family. Especially if you have a busy lifestyle and don’t get to spend hours with your pet each day, it can be very special and beneficial for you both to have a special nighttime routine where you sleep together.
A Dog Sleep Partner Provides a Sense of Security
Even if your pet isn’t much of a guard dog (and let’s be honest – we all know a pooch who would welcome the burglar with a happy smile and a tail wag), you still gain a sense of security from sleeping with them. Dogs have excellent hearing and they are more primal, instinctual, and attuned to the world around them.
Despite their size, your tiny, defenseless pooch is still likely to hear a disturbance in the night before you hear anything. Sleeping with your dog can make you feel more secure and safe because they are likely to alert you to any changes during the night. This sense of protection can make for much better sleep.
May Reduce the Risk of Developing Pet Allergies
Some studies have shown that early exposure to allergens like pet dander can reduce the likelihood of having those allergies later in life. Some families who also sleep with a baby in their bedroom consider this a significant benefit of sleeping with dogs. However, it’s important to note that this type of exposure will not necessarily work for all children or people with existing pet allergies.
The Mental Health Benefits of Sleep With Dogs
One of the most significant benefits of sleeping with dogs is improved mental wellness. Put simply, our pets make us happy. The more time and closeness we have with our dogs, the happier we feel.
Sleeping with dogs has been known to reduce depression, especially for individuals with emotional support animals. For some people, it also helps with insomnia and makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. The mental health benefits of having dogs in bed at night are lauded by many pet owners as the perfect reason to slumber with Buddy or Bella.
Risks and Concerns of Dogs in Bed
Now that we know the benefits of sleep with dogs, it’s time to look at the other side of the issue: the risk and concerns of this arrangement. There are, of course, some critiques of co-sleeping with your pet and some significant factors to consider before you establish this habit. These include:
- The possibility of compromised sleep
- Dirt and pet dander in the bed
- Separation issues
- Injury or illness
Compromised Sleep Quality
A variety of factors can contribute to reduced sleep quality when you sleep with your dog. The same reason you feel safe with your dog – the fact that they are sensitive to sound and changes in the nighttime environment – may also mean they’re waking you up when it’s unnecessary and interrupting your sleep. Even if your dog isn’t barking or alerting you to wake up, their consistent movement in the night might be a disruption to your sleep.
Solid, restful sleep is extremely important for your health and the health of your pet. If it feels like you would both rest better with a little separation, then co-sleeping might not be a great arrangement for you.
Dirt, Dander, and Hair in the Bed
Dogs carry dirt, dander, and hair that will be transferred to the bed if they sleep with you each night. While most pet owners don’t mind a little additional mess, this can be really irritating and even unhealthy for some folks. Even if you have a regular bath schedule with your pooch, they will likely bring additional dust, hair, and dirt into the bed if they sleep with you. This can be a deal-breaker for many pet parents – especially those who have even a mild pet allergy.
Sleep With Dogs May Contribute to Separation Stress
It’s not just about what’s healthy for you. You also have to consider whether co-sleeping is healthy for your dog.
Sometimes, having dogs in bed at night can contribute to their separation stress during other parts of the day. That closeness at night might cause them to feel clingy. But often, separation issues are part of a dog’s nature and not a result of any learned behavior. It’s unlikely that co-sleeping will cause your dog to suddenly feel separation stress, but it’s possible it could worsen an existing issue.
Co-Sleeping Increases the Risk of Injury or Illness
If you choose to sleep with dogs, some inherent risks of injury and illness are increased. You might roll over and hurt your dog if they are much smaller than you. Alternately, if you have a very large or heavy dog, they might roll over and hurt you! Most pet owners don’t worry too much about this factor unless their pet is extremely small or extremely large.
There is also an increased risk of illnesses that are transferred by germs and feces. Bacteria can be transmitted if you or your pet has an open wound or if there is some cross-contamination after the nighttime potty break.
Things to Consider When Deciding to Co-Sleep with Your Dog
Sleep with dogs has both obvious benefits and calculated risks, so it’s not for everyone. There are some specific scenarios in which you should think very carefully about whether or not to sleep with dogs. These include:
- With puppies or dogs who are not potty trained
- If you struggle with consistent sleep
- If you or your dog has unique health issues
- If your dog hasn’t adjusted to its new environment yet
Don’t Sleep with Dogs that Aren’t Potty Trained
Training your dog or puppy to use the bathroom outside is a really important process and sleeping with your pet can interrupt their learning of this skill. It’s best to start with crate training for your pet to ensure they’re fully potty trained before you decide to invite them to bed.
Light Sleepers Might Struggle to Sleep with Dogs
If you already struggle to stay asleep and tend to be woken by small movements or sounds, co-sleeping with your dog might not be a good idea. Getting a full night’s rest is an important part of your health, and if sleeping with your dog makes that impossible, it’s not healthy for either of you. You need rest and energy to chase your dog around at the park and give them the love and affection they need, so don’t compromise your sleep to bond with your dog.
Human and Pet Health Issues Might Make Co-Sleeping Impossible
Extenuating circumstances like a serious health issue for you or your pet might make co-sleeping impossible. You have to make the right decision for your individual needs and be considerate of how co-sleeping will impact sleep for both you and your pet.
This is also one of the risks of establishing a co-sleeping habit with your pet. If you or your pet experiences an injury or illness that makes it impossible for you to sleep together, it will be a hard adjustment because you are both used to being together at night. This is a risk to consider when deciding to sleep with dogs.
Don’t Sleep with Dogs Who Are Still Adjusting
If you’ve adopted a new dog who is potty trained, you should give them some time to adjust to their environment before inviting them to sleep with you in bed. Change can be hard for dogs, and your pet might just need to get used to their surroundings before they feel comfortable enough to sleep with you.
Often, with newly adopted adult dogs, their history is unknown, so it’s hard to know how they will feel about sharing a bed with a human. The best way to approach co-sleeping with a new adult dog is to put their dog bed in your bedroom and see if they express an interest in sleeping on the bed with you. Let them set their boundaries.
Tips for Safe Sleep with Dogs
If, after considering the benefits and risks, you think sleeping with your dog is a good choice for you and your family, here are some tips for doing so safely:
- Set boundaries early
- Always use the bathroom before bed
- Don’t withhold the bed as punishment
- Practice consistent hygiene
Set Boundaries Early
It’s important to establish a routine and set rules and boundaries right off the bat when you start sleeping with your dog. Make sure your dog always stays above the covers, as this reduces the spread of dirt and dander and is also a safer and more comfortable way for them to sleep. If you have a certain area of the bed you want your dog to sleep in – such as at the foot of the bed – keep them in this area from the beginning and don’t let them spread out too much.
You should use dog commands to ensure your pet understands the rules about sleeping together. It’s best to teach your dog to wait for a command to invite them up to the bed (such as “up”), so they don’t jump on the bed when they are dirty or injured.
Always Take a Bedtime Potty Visit
Your night will go more smoothly if you let your dog out for a bathroom break right before bed. It might even be good to take them for a nighttime walk so they are fully exercised and ready for sleep. Creating a consistent bedtime routine will benefit both you and your pet.
Don’t Use Bed Denial as Punishment
Once you’ve started to sleep with your dog, you have to acknowledge that the bed is a shared space. You don’t deny your dog food or water as punishment, so you shouldn’t deny them access to their sleeping area. Making your dog sleep elsewhere because they misbehaved during the day will not make sense to them and it’s unfair.
There is one circumstance where you should deny your dog access to the bed: if they are aggressive. This is the one scenario where they shouldn’t be allowed into the bed setting – if they growl or bark at you or someone in the bed with you.
Keep the Bed and Your Dog Clean
If you co-sleep with your dog, it will be extra important to consistently bathe your pet and wash your sheets. This will help mitigate some of the risks of sleep with dogs, such as illness. If you have a clean dog and clean sheets, everyone is more likely to get great rest!
Sleep with Dogs Will Be Different for Everyone
Everyone will have a different answer to the question, “Is it bad to let your dog sleep with you?” Usually, no, but sometimes – such as if your dog has separation stress or an injury – the answer might be yes. Healthy sleeping is important for both you and your pet, and you have to make a decision considering all the different factors that impact your family.