Creature comfort: Should you let your pet share your bed?

Aussies love their animals. For some, snuggling up with a fur kid for the night is a no-brainer. Here’s what the experts say about sleeping with pets.

With one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world, Australians love their furry, feathered and scaled companions.

In 2022, 69 per cent of all Aussie households owned a pet and since 1994, the pet population has grown from 17.8 million to 28.7 million as pets become more integrated into our families as much-loved companions.

The bond between Aussies and their pets has remained strong, despite the pandemic and economic instability, with 85 per cent saying their pets have positively impacted their lives; some have even gone as far as adopting “pet parenting” behaviours similar to parent-child relationships.

But should we be inviting out pets to snuggle up with us at night?

Pros and cons of sleeping with pets

It seems more and more folks are warming up to the idea of pets in their rooms, with a recent survey by a pet food company, the 2022 Great Australian Dog Survey, revealing that 65 per cent of Aussie dogs sleep in their owner’s bedroom at night, with 73 per cent of those pooches allowed on the bed, and 56 per cent under the sheets.

Vet and Pets Behaving Badly animal behaviourist Dr Kate Mornement says allowing pets to sleep on our bed is a personal choice and that most people who engage in the practice report increased feelings of comfort, security and better sleep quality.

“It’s likely that some pets, especially dogs, experience reduced anxiety when sleeping with their owner,” Dr Mornement, who is an expert on the subject, says.

Relationship and wellbeing coach Stephanie Rigg says there are pros and cons to sleeping with pets.

“Pets are great regulators for our nervous system – especially when they’re in a deep sleep and we can attune to their slow, deep breathing,” Stephanie says.

“This can be great if you typically struggle with falling asleep.”

On the flipside, she says, your wellbeing is affected by your overall sleep quality so if having a pet sleep in your bed means you’re waking up several times a night, it “will adversely affect your sleep quality and, therefore, your general sense of wellbeing.”

What about separation anxiety in dogs?

Pet psychologist and Animal Behaviour Australia founder Dr Dionna Newton says there are some important things to consider before allowing your animal to sleep in your room, or on your bed.

“From a behavioural perspective, the most important factor to consider when deciding if your pet should sleep in your room or bed is the separation anxiety potential,” Dr Newton explains.

“This depends on many factors including the breed, your family life or personal lifestyle, and your dog’s personality.

“Independence is alien to the canine species, but some domestic breeds have adapted better than others – we have to teach our domestic dogs how to be independent and feel safe when they are left alone.”

Consider the long-term consequences of sleeping with pets

Stephanie says allowing your pet to sleep in your bed can compromise privacy and alone time, which can impact on opportunities for intimacy.

“Having any sort of distraction in the surroundings can be a real libido killer for a lot of people, so be mindful of the impact your pets might be having on your sex life,” she says.

“It could also be indirectly impeding the levels of connection and intimacy in your relationship.”

Most cats are hardwired to operate on the cat-nap system, having multiple naps over 24 hours rather than one big sleep, so encouraging your feline to share your bed at night can impact your sleeping patterns.

And, as dogs are usually active for about 20 per cent of the night, co-sleeping can also cause a drop in sleep-quality.

In the end, it really does come down to personal choice, and whether you want to put the hard yards into training your pet to cause minimal disruption, or put up with compromised sleep for feelings of added security and wellbeing.

Tips for successfully sleeping with pets

Determined to let your dog or cat share your bed? SleepFoundation offers the following tips:

  • Have an adequate-sized mattress to reduce disturbances
  • Wash sheets and bedding regularly
  • Don’t let pets lick your face
  • Walk your pet before bed
  • Keep a consistent bedtime routine

It’s also important to take several precautions to maintain hygiene.

“Ensure your pet is toilet trained, up-to-date with worming and flea treatment and is clean,” Dr Mornement says.

“Regular grooming can help to ensure you remove dirt and loose fur, keeping your bed cleaner.”

Written by Andrea Beattie.