Dog-Licked? Pets in Bed? You’re at Risk of Bubonic Plague, Cat-Scratch Disease, Chagas Disease, MRSA and More

United States surveys indicate that up to 56% of dog owners and 62% of cat fanciers regularly fall asleep with their pets in bed. Bruno B. Chomel, DVM, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, and Ben Sun, DVM, of the California Department of Health recently wrote about the risk in the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Humans catch bubonic plague from fleas. Dogs and cats carry fleas. Dogs often don’t show obvious signs of fleas. A boy recently caught bubonic plague, which was linked to sleeping with cats in his Arizona home. Stats of plague survivors show a link, too.


A study from Argentina suggests that people who own dogs and cats are at increased risk of Chagas Disease — a fatal disease caused by a protozoan and spread by blood-sucking bugs. Fortunately, Chagas Disease is not common in the United States, but it may be working its way up via Mexico.

In Connecticut, a study of risk factors for cat scratch disease found patients were more likely to have been scratched or licked by a kitten than matched comparison subjects that didn’t have a kitten.

Chomel and Sun reported a story of a couple that suffered from repeat MRSA infections. Their dog, that slept in bed with them, tested positive for MRSA. The dog was treated, and the couple stopped getting recurrent MRSA infections.

Bacterial infections link dogs to meningitis suffered by a baby, whose face was frequently licked by a dog.

Dogs also carry hookworms, roundworms and protozoan parasites. Eggs of some organisms have been discovered on pets’ fur.

Small children or adults with compromised immune systems should keep pets out of the bed, and avoid kissing or being licked by pets.

These infections are rare, but Chomel and Sun recommend that any body surface licked by a pet should immediately be washed with soap and water, especially if the pet licks an open wound.

See more from WebMD Pets in Bed: More Dangerous Than Bedbugs?