When it comes to sharing the bed, sometimes pets can get in the way of couples. Jill and Ray have been dating for five years, during which Ray’s spent many a night pouting about having to sleep with Jill’s cat Mona. His problem? Too much cat hair in the bed for one, she says. “Ray also says Mona gets more affection than he does. But of course, that’s not true,” she said.
Fortunately for Jill and Ray, the problem is not bad enough to end their relationship. But for others with cats and dogs, it can be. “Dogs are so important to their owners that they can make or break a relationship,” said Gail Miller, spokesperson for the American Kennel Club (AKC).
She and others agree that power struggles and love triangles can develop when people who are used to sleeping with their dogs (which, according to AKC research, is 21 percent of owners) bring somebody new into the picture.
“Many lovers’ spats and break-ups originate with the hurt feelings of a dog denied its usual sleeping place,” said John Rappaport, DVM, in Boca Raton, Fla.
All of this begs the question: Is it okay to sleep with your new love interest’s pet, and, if so, how and when?
Should you or shouldn’t you?
There are different schools of thought” regarding whether or not it’s good for people, in general, to sleep with their pets—something women (25 percent) are more likely to do than men (16 percent), reports the AKC.
For one, it can disrupt sleep. According to The Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, half of their patients with pets say their animals wake them during the night.
Also, there’s a good chance that if you’re dating someone with a dog, in particular, you’ll wind up sharing some sleep time with them. That’s because dogs sleep about twelve hours a day.
And while sleeping with a cat is based purely on individual preference, some vets believe sleeping with a dog isn’t always the best idea.
“If a dominant and controlling dog doesn’t like the way somebody turns or moves in bed, it could injure them,” said Susan Krebsbach, DVM, a veterinary animal behavior consultant in Oregon, Wis. “As long as you know (his or her) dog doesn’t have any of these issues, sleeping with it is perfectly okay.”
Some experts believe sleeping with your partner’s pet might actually be good for you. Research has shown that just spending time with a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce minor health problems, and improve psychological well-being.
Easing the transition
Once you’re okay with sharing your pillow, Krebsbach recommends preparing for sleep by using a three-pronged approach that involves:
Playtime. Engaging in hide and seek or fetch with a dog—or a cat—with its toys.
Exercise, like walking the dog, taking it to the beach, or playing Frisbee. Or throw a small ball under the chair and have the cat chase it.
Feeding. Hang around at mealtimes and feed the animal a few times a week.
As you do each, watch for signs that the animal is getting comfortable with you—enough so that sleeping together won’t be a problem. “If you go to feed the pet but it doesn’t approach, if you try to engage in play but it won’t come close,” she said, “these are all signs it’s not ready yet and you have to keep building the relationship.”
After all, the last thing you want to do is change things if the dog or cat is used to sleeping in the bed. In other words, it’s your job to accept that there will be a period of transition and make the concessions at first—not forcing the animal to.
“Don’t boot it off,” Krebsbach said. “Instead, be patient. Keep creating positive associations and, in time, everybody will adjust to the new arrangement.”
“Even if we push Mona off the bed at night, she jumps back on once we’re asleep,” Jill said. And Ray, she says, just hates that.
Reviewed by Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS and John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
By Jill Sherer Murray for WebVet