DAVIS (CBS News) — Sleeping with, kissing and being licked by your pet can make you sick. Although they are not common, documented cases show people contracting infections by getting too cozy with their animals, according to work by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

These so-called zoonoses include contracting plague from flea-infested pets, a MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection, a bacterial infection resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics originating from the canine family, and various parasitic worms.

Bruno Chomel, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, said the research was prompted by stories he heard from his students when they described their relationships with their pets, and also from pet owners in general.

“In many countries, pets have become substitutes for childbearing and child care, sometimes leading to excessive pet care,” Chomel and fellow researcher Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, wrote in the February 2011 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The authors cited surveys conducted in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, where between 14 and 45 percent of dogs sleep on or in an owners’ bed, while 45 to 62 percent of cats sleep on or in the bed. Women were more likely than men to report sleeping regularly with Fido (25 percent and 16 percent, respectively), according to a 2005 study by the American Kennel Club.

“I think pets can be very nice in the home environment, but certainly, they don’t belong on the bed,” Chomel said.

Since 1974, multiple cases of plague have been associated with people in the southwestern U.S. allowing flea-infested cats to sleep with them. (Plague is transmitted by fleas.) In a 2008 outbreak, a study found that people infected with bubonic plague were more likely to share a bed with a dog than uninfected counterparts. Dogs are the more worrisome carriers; a vet is more likely to recognize plague in cats, whose symptoms more closely resemble a human’s, than in dogs, which rare get sick from it, according to Chomel.

Several reports of pasteurellosis – bacterial infections that can be acute and involve pneumonia, abscesses or even blood infection – have been attributed to sharing a bed with pets, being licked by or kissing pets. In one case, an infant contracted pasteurellosis after two family dogs had licked the hands of the infant’s 2-year-old brother, who then let the infant suck on his little finger.

A couple was plagued by MRSA infections until the source was traced to a family dog that slept with them and licked their faces.

In multiple cases, patients acquired various infections after allowing their dogs or cats to lick wounds or damaged skin.

In the United States, the most common parasitic zoonoses linked to dogs are caused by hookworms (Ancylostoma) and roundworms (Toxocara canis), the researchers found. Some scientists have suggested the Toxocara worms get transferred to humans after contact with the eggs on a dog’s fur.

It’s not clear how often pet-to-human disease transmission occurs. This research includes only well-documented cases. Chomel emphasized that the people most at risk are young children and those with compromised immune systems.

The researchers recommended that people avoid sharing their bed with a pet, or regularly kissing the animal. Any area licked by a pet — especially if it is an open wound or on a vulnerable person — should be washed immediately with soap and water, and pets should be kept free of fleas, dewormed and taken to regular veterinary visits, they write.

(Copyright ©2011 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved.)

Comments (14)
  1. Bloodhounds says:

    My dogs have always slept with me since I was a little kid. It’s the 2 legged ones that spread the germs. I’ve never been sick from my pets.

  2. Carol says:

    This is so exaggerated – I have lived with pets; dogs, cats and horses all my life. I am one of the healthiest in my office environment. To be honest my pets have better health care than I do.

  3. Donna says:

    I agree – this is a bit exaggerated – I always heard that a dogs mouth was cleaner than ours! We have dogs and cats and have never got an illness from them – don’t believe everything you read! Do the research first.

    1. libertarianman says:

      Do the research first? Isn’t that what UC Davis just did? This was a research project. And you would rather believe something you’ve “always heard” to be true over an academic research project?
      I suppose then, I’ve always heard that Santa Claus is real. If I see a research project saying he is just a fictional character, I should say, “don’t believe everything you read – do the research first”?

  4. Crystal says:

    Oh wow this article…I laughed after reading it.
    So to be honest I don’t think what they’re warring is problem with pets that are taken good care of and monitoring what they ingest.
    The kind of pets I think they make the study of are ones that run in large areas unsupervised which makes it easier for the pets to bring home the bugs.
    My mom is very immune compromised because of her MS but she’s completely fine around our puppy. With our puppy she actually gets more exercise than before when we didn’t have the puppy.
    This article and researchers should give us under what conditions they did their study instead of just saying, DON’T LET YOUR PETS KISS/LICK and SLEEP WITH YOU!!!!!
    Also the case of the baby…I know two year olds aren’t very aware about being clean, but still aren’t you supposed to tell them/make them wash their hands before letting them near a baby? For all you know the kid could have gone outside and touched poop and fed it to the poor baby, and himself!!

    1. Diane says:

      Your mom should be taking extra precautions, because she is very much at risk. Just because she hasn’t got sick YET doesn’t negate that fact. You know, sort of like how pregnant women shouldn’t go near cat litterboxes???

      1. Crystal says:

        But the thing is our dog doesn’t go outside! If he does we’re always there with him watching what he’s doing. That’s why I don’t believe in this study. There’s not enough information in it to make me believe that just having our dog around our mom will make her sick! How can he give her anything when he’s gotten all his shots and NEVER plays out in the dirt, he’s a house dog and only eats his food, and nothing funny.

  5. libertarianman says:

    The comments here remind me of this example. A journalist goes to a movie preview and interviews 100 people. He likes the movie, but 95 people hate it and 5 people liked it. When he preps the taped interviews for TV, he only shows the 5 people who liked it. So now the world thinks 100% of the people liked the movie. So goes the comments here. It’s highly unlikely that 100% of the people who sleep with their pets in bed get sick. But if only the people who don’t get sick write a comment, now you think the article is bogus. Odds are, there is some percentage chance you will get sick from sleeping with a pet and the article is saying if you want to eliminate that chance you shouldn’t sleep with your pet. Those of you who are saying article is bogus should think of this example. Suppose the article said “don’t have unprotected sex with a prostitute or you run the risk of contracting a venereal disease”. I suppose you folks commenting would say “I sleep with prostitutes all the time and haven’t caught a disease, so it’s safe?” I didn’t think so. Sharing bodiliy fluids with any mammalian creature runs risks. Period. Some are safer than others, but there is always a risk. Don’t laugh about it.

    1. Diane says:

      Well said. It’s shocking how many people are not very bright.

    2. Jessica says:

      And how do you know you haven’t gotten sick and your pet was to blame? or that you have a parasite right now?

  6. skysky says:

    A coworker had been sick for awhile but they couldn’t figure out what it was. It was finally diagnosed as a giardia infection after it went into his heart and damaged the valves requiring open heart surgery.
    He contracted the giardia from his dog who would lick his face.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Watch & Listen LIVE