They give you joy. They give you loyalty. They give you sloppy kisses.
But before you allow Fido or Fluffy to climb into bed with you at night, as an increasing number of Americans are doing, know that they can also give you something else: zoonoses.
A University of California, Davis, veterinary professor claims that people who allow their pets to lick them, give them “kisses” or sleep with them are at risk for a variety of diseases known as zoonoses. The conditions can range from the mundane to the life-threatening.
Bruno Chomel and his co-author, Ben Sun, wrote the article for a scientific journal. It emphasize that pets provide many health benefits, including stress relief, and they stop short of recommending that people abstain from smooching their pooches. But in reviewing reports from several countries, they argue that such interactions carry some risk, particularly among infants and people whose immune systems have been weakened by disease, chemotherapy or other medicines.
“The risk is not huge. But the trend is that more and more people are sharing their environments with pets, allowing them in their beds, kissing them like crazy,” Chomel said in an interview. “They need to know that a risk does exist” from bacteria that live in the mouths of felines and canines.
In their article, to be published in this month’s edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, Chomel and Sun note that pets are becoming increasingly popular in urban households and “have conquered our bedrooms.”
According to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, nearly half of pet dogs and 62 percent of cats sleep with their humans.
Among the bacterial, parasitic and viral conditions they may be bringing with them are plague, cat-scratch disease and staphylococcus infections, Chomel and Sun report.
The researchers reviewed literature about diseases transmitted from animals to humans. In Japan, a study found evidence of zoonoses in pet owners who kissed their animals regularly, but not in those who abstained, according to the paper. Some of these bugs cause mild symptoms, but others can morph into daunting illnesses, such as meningitis.
In the United States, the most common parasitic zoonoses associated with dogs are caused by hookworms and roundworms, which in humans can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, anemia and other conditions. Pasteurella multocida, an infection commonly caused by pet licks, can cause everything from mild respiratory symptoms to serious conditions, including endocarditis.
None of those issues is scary enough to keep Marianna O’Hanley, of East Naples, from doting on her two Weimaraners.
O’Hanley shares her queen-size bed every night with 5-year-old Duffy and 2-year-old Lily. Her calico cat, Cali, prefers to hide under it.
The sleeping arrangements didn’t start out this way when O’Hanley brought Duffy home at 15 weeks. The dog at first slept in a gated area in her former Newport, R.I. home. It wasn’t until Lily joined the family that the two dogs began sleeping with O’Hanley, who moved to Naples in September.
“I change my sheets a lot,” O’Hanley added, despite the fact that Weimaraners are shorthaired, with minimal shedding.
While she doesn’t encourage kissing, O’Hanley doesn’t worry about catching a medical condition from them. They are current on their shots, she says, and “nobody else’s dog (is allowed) give me a kiss.”
Even her mother, Janet, considers them more like her grandchildren than dogs. “We just love them,” she stressed, adding that the pair take on human-like behaviors like communicating with their paws and watching television, albeit with Marianna sandwiched between them.
For Marianna, the benefits definitely outweigh any potential medical concerns.
“They give me unconditional love,” she said, adding that the pair are “chick dogs” because all they do is love. Sleeping with them is “like having fur blankets,” she explained.
Duffy and Lily are both affectionate dogs, but Lily is the kisser, says Marianna. Chomel advises against such behavior.
Those who do choose to share bed and lip space with animals can avoid disease transmission by hand-washing, tooth-brushing, regular veterinary care and good overall hygiene, he said.
“Certainly I am a pet lover, but my pets have never been in my bed,” said Chomel. As for doggie and kitty licks and kisses, he said, “You could do it, but I’m not sure your husband will want to kiss you after that.”
Cynthia Hubert of the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.