Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Feedback indicates that pets inhibit sleep, intimacy

The whole culture of sharing life with our pets has changed significantly it seems from past decades. More people do consider their pets to be one of the family, to be included in all that goes on, in and out of the home.

In the past, I've written about the topic of the caveats of sharing our beds with pets, and it was not without considerable backlash. The responses – whether they were in the form of posts or emails countering the idea that doing so might be unwise in some cases — were numerous and at times scathing. I often find myself saying, "don't shoot the messenger!" when it comes to topics like this, and the passion that people feel about them is understandable – and telling.

People want to be close to their pets not just emotionally, but physically.

This mindset benefits humans and the animals alike, but recent research indicates that in two areas of home life, pets might be contributing to some contention.

Sleep is fleeting

We all suffer from the occasional sleeplessness, but there is a substantial portion of the population that struggles with it chronically. Many of those seek help from their doctor in dealing with it, and as a result, sleep medicine clinics stay busy. Whether the root is pulmonary, neurological or otherwise, getting a background and medical testing is helpful in resolving the issue.

A 2013 study conducted at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine suggests that 10 percent of study participants indicated that they experience annoyance because their pets sometimes disturbed their sleep. Commonly cited reasons include snoring, wandering, the need to relieve themselves and medical issues. The research was compared to a study done in 2002 where only 1 percent of participants said that they felt that their pets inhibited their sleep. (Click here for more.)

“The study determined that while the majority of patients did not view their pets intolerably disturbing their sleep, a higher percentage of patients experienced irritation — this may be related to the larger number of households with multiple pets,” noted Lois Krahn, M.D., Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and author of the study.

Too close for comfort

A more complex issue because it doesn't involve an individual person (although sleep issues often affect more than one person in a family), intimacy can be a problem when it comes to pets being present. A recent article highlighted an area of home life that you won't find couples talking about as openly about as other issues where their pets are concerned. If you find it daunting to share the same space with pets while you try to have alone time with your partner, you're not alone.

Here are just a few comments from those surveyed for the article about their experiences:
"The first dog we let sleep in our bed was a dachshund and there is no negotiating with them. They make themselves right at home, under the covers, whether you want them to or not. Yes, it sometimes puts a damper on things. So we put the dogs outside of the bedroom and lock the door and they're pretty good."

"...the cat sits there and stares at us. When she starts sniffing around, my husband pushes her away. We made it work. Now, we have a second cat in the bed and he snores."

"It was never a question about them sleeping with us, that was a given. When we are getting our groove on we make sure to put the 'kids' in another room so it doesn't disrupt us and make anything feel weird."

A happy medium

While there certainly isn't anything wrong with allowing your pets to share your bedroom – or your bed for that matter — it's not out of the question to draw the line in some respects, either.

Though I don't allow my pets to sleep with me (I do have allergies & sensitivity to poison ivy), they have their own posh beds to curl up in. Because they're seniors, there are occasionally disruptions in sleep on my end because of their changing needs. Those are easily addressed by ensuring that last potty break outside and an opportunity to have a good chew session right before bed for Gretchen and some playtime and a light meal for Silver. I also use a fan to create a little white noise to mitigate any snoring. Beyond that, I know that's what I signed up for in the beginning and I just accept any disturbances that might occur.

As for intimacy, couples need to consider each other's comfort levels with regard to that and decide if they're okay with their companion animals being present, or make concessions to keep them occupied for the duration, though the latter might take a little planning if the pets are unhappy with bring kicked out of the bedroom.

For dogs, a walk, then indulging in a chew toy or frozen Kong in or out of their crate could fit the bill. As for cats, some playtime and catnip before shutting the door to burn off some energy.

Marty Klein, PhD, an author on the topic says, "Pet owners can arrange almost anything they want. If you can't train your pet to do what, you need to (teach them) to behave better. People use the uncontrollability of their pet as an excuse. When a couple says to me, 'We have no choice, we don't want to make the pet uncomfortable or we can't make the pet do what we want them to do,' what I hear is, 'We'd rather discomfort ourselves than discomfort the animal.'"

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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