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When Your Pet Disturbs Your Sleep, What Should You Do?

September 25, 2014

Story at-a-glance

  • Forty-five percent of dogs, and 62 percent of cats, sleep in their owners’ beds, according to the National Pet Owners Survey
  • Up to 10 percent of pet owners who visited the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine said their pet sometimes disturbed their sleep
  • Separate research found 30 percent of pet owners who allow their pets to sleep in their beds said they woke up at least once a night due to their pets, and among those who shared their bed more than four nights a week, 63 percent reported poor sleep quality
  • To help avoid interrupted sleep, it’s important that you set a schedule for your pet that includes playtime, exercise, and feeding during daylight hours only… and stick to it
  • If you need to make a change to have your pet sleep elsewhere than your bed, it is possible – although it will take some consistence and patience (a step-by-step guide is included)

By Dr. Becker

Forty-five percent of dogs, and 62 percent of cats, sleep in their owners' beds, according to the National Pet Owners Survey.1 Other estimates suggest that more than 60 percent of pet owners let their dog or cat share their beds.2

The reasons so many of us do so are obvious… a warm, furry pet can be a perfect sleeping companion, providing you (or your children) with a feeling of security and offering endless snuggles.

One Vetstreet survey of veterinary professionals even found that 13 percent of veterinary professionals and 33 percent of Vetstreet readers who allow their pets in bed said they believe their pets help them sleep.3  

There are probably few pet owners around, however, who haven't had their sleep disrupted on more than one occasion, whether their dog or cat sleeps in their bed or not. And this appears to be more the rule rather than the exception.

A Pet in Your Bed Might Harm Your Sleep

This is probably not ground-breaking news to anyone, especially anyone with pets… but a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Arizona found that up to 10 percent of pet owners who visited the clinic said their pet sometimes disturbed their sleep.4 Among the top disturbances reported by pet owners were:

Separate research also found significant disturbances when pets share their owners' beds. In a survey of 300 people, more than half of whom let their pets sleep in their beds, 30 percent said they woke up at least once a night due to their pets.

And among those who shared their bed more than four nights a week, 63 percent reported poor sleep quality while 5 percent said they "always or almost always had trouble falling back to sleep after being disturbed by a pet."5

In some cases, pet owners, including 58 percent of those surveyed in a past Mayo Clinic study, said their sleep was interrupted simply by allowing their pets to sleep in the same room.6 That being said, some of the pet owners also reported that they felt comforted by having their pets in their bed, so do what feels right to you.

Have You Created a Monster?

Some of the reasons why pets disturb their owners during the night are easily explained. Your pet may need to be let outside to urinate. Or he may be cold and prefer sleeping under your covers to sleeping in a downstairs laundry room. Other dogs -- such as Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Pugs, Pomeranians, and Shih tzus – tend to be cuddlers by nature and will simply be happier sleeping by your side.

In other cases, however, the disturbance may present more of a mystery. A dog that wakes up frequently to urinate may have a urinary tract infection or even vaginitis. A cat that wanders aimlessly during the night and cries out for no apparent reason may have cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). If medical problems have been ruled out, there's a good chance some of your pet's nighttime behaviors may even have been created, in part, by you.

When you add a new pet to your family, this is the best time to decide where you want your pet to sleep. If your pet will be sleeping in his own space, such as a crate, start him there from day one to avoid a struggle later. If you allow your dog or cat to sleep on your bed, he will quickly learn that that is his sleeping spot, understandably so.

If you allow your pet to share your bed or your bedroom, you also need to set up some "ground rules." If your cat wants to have a play session at 3 a.m. and you indulge her, you can expect her to wake you up again the next night… likewise if your dog begs for food at midnight.

There are some proactive solutions you can take to avoid situations such as these… such as making sure your cat gets ample playtime during the day, and moving your dog's dinnertime a bit later to sustain him overnight.

Ultimately, however, if you expect to sleep through the night, it's important that you set a schedule for your pet that includes playtime, exercise and feeding during daylight hours only… and stick to it. (If you have a puppy or kitten, this doesn't apply, as you can expect them to need attention during the night.)

Transitioning Your Pet Out of Your Bedroom

For many pet owners, the comfort of having their pets close by during the night outweighs an occasional sleep disturbance. If, however, you find that your sleep is being intolerably disrupted and you need to make a change, it is possible – although it will take some consistence and patience.

If your pet is a dog:

If your pet is a cat:

I must be honest with you – this will be a much bigger project. Unlike dogs who are attached first to their pack, cats are attached to what they perceive as their territory. If she's been sleeping with you at night, make no mistake -- your bed is her territory.

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Sources and References

  • 1 The Daily Puppy
  • 2 UC Davis Veterinary Medicine January 14, 2011
  • 3 VetStreet April 23, 2014
  • 4 CBS News June 4, 2014
  • 5 Huffington Post June 5, 2014
  • 6 ABC News February 14
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