Safe Sleep With Your Small Dog · The Wildest

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Safe Sleep With Your Small Dog

Is there anything better than snuggling up to your pup all night? Here’s how to do it safely

by Sophie Wilkinson
19 February 2024
woman with black curly hair sleeping in bed with her long hair daschund

Small dogs bring so much joy, so why should we pause it overnight? Co-sleeping with a dog not only brings us physical warmth but some added emotional warmth. What better way for a dog to tell us that they trust us, what stronger sign of a bond between parent and dog than to share eight – or so – hours of sleepy time together every night?

If we bed down with a dog for the night, all of the normal benefits of having them in our life – reduced stress and emotional support – continue to come to us, even when we’re asleep. We could be doing so much for ourselves by keeping the bedroom door ajar for an evening, ready for our four-legged pal to scamper in and join us for a journey into the land of nod.

I certainly do that with my Cavapoo. However, while I can sleep through her snores, she has a habit of nudging herself deep under the covers. And, half-asleep, I’m suddenly struck with the worry that she’s not able to get the air she needs to breathe, and is too sleepy to realise it. And though she’s just shy of 6kg, it’s hard to move her in the middle of the night, when her limbs are all heavy. So how can I sleep safer with my small dog? How can I make sure my dog’s going to be OK if we sleep in bed together? Anna Ewers Clark, Veterinary Research & Standards Lead at national pet charity Blue Cross, spoke to The Wildest about safe sleeping with a small dog.

Is it safe for your dogs to get under the covers in bed?

It is unlikely to be a risk to dogs to sleep under the covers with their parents, however, the risk increases if they are unable to have an easy exit should they overheat. This will be a particular worry for certain dogs, Anna says, like “very small dogs, puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with mobility problems” who “might struggle to find a safe exit”.

In addition, your bedding could impact your pooch’s ability to get away, Anna explains: “Weighted blankets, which may be too heavy to allow safe exit should also be avoided.  Heated blankets may risk burns and the electrical cord poses a danger if chewed.” As well as these risks, loose weave blankets can cause dogs to “snag their nails… causing them pain or even nail damage if they panic trying to free themselves”.

Is it safe to sleep with your dog if you’ve been drinking or have taken sleeping pills?

We’re always warned that certain medication or alcohol will impact our ability to operate cars or heavy machinery. What about co-sleeping with a small animal? Anna says it’s a no-go: “We would advise you not to sleep with your pet if you have been drinking or have taken medication such as sleeping pills.”

Is your lavender pillow spray safe for your dog?

Lavender is toxic to dogs, and owing to dogs’ heightened sense of smell, they’re more likely to detect it in even smaller doses such as in essential oil sprays. Lavender pillow spray, like other essential oils, can negatively affect your dogs’ breathing, therefore “generally, it’s safest not to use essential oils or perfumes around your dog”, says Anna. She adds, that even other types of essential oil, like tea tree oil, “can be toxic and the spray or additives can be irritant to their eyes and skin“. Let the calming feeling of sleeping next to your best friend take the place of the pillow spray in your bedtime set-up.

How small is too small a dog to sleep with?

There are no strict rules or guidance on how big your dog needs to be for you to sleep safely next to them, and there are no specific sizes or breeds of dogs that are better or worse to sleep in bed next to, safety-wise. However, you must use your common sense to work out if your dog is big enough to sleep in your bed. This all comes down to making sure that “your dog has the option to move away or climb off the bed if they feel uncomfortable”. This may mean that a smaller dog should sleep over the sheets, rather than under them. 

Is there an optimum position for sleeping next to your dog? 

Luckily, our dogs are clever things, and will pick the best position for them to feel comfortable when sleeping next to us. “You may prefer to have your canine companion at the foot of your bed so you are both able to move around during the night without disturbing each other,” explains Anna. “This also reduces the chance of them getting caught under the covers.”

Also, if anyone has a dog like mine who likes to wake them up in the middle of the night to get back into bed, there are ways to help get them into position. “You may be able to help them safely get into and out of the bed by using a lower bed frame or putting in some low steps so they don’t have to jump.”

What should I do if they still want to sleep in my bed when I am not comfortable?

You may have read this and feel that no, your dog isn’t safe to sleep next to you. Perhaps you pull sheets tightly around yourself in your sleep, maybe you’re significantly larger than your dog, or maybe you just sleep through anything around you, all meaning your dog wouldn’t be able to make a safe exit. Luckily, just because your dog isn’t 100% safe in your bed doesn’t mean they can’t sleep close to you. Anna says closeness is still possible, because “you can encourage them to lie beside your bed on a comfy bed of their own. Sometimes sitting or lying on the floor beside them for a short time at the start of the night can help them feel more settled.” And as tough as it is to maintain discipline, if you stick with it, you will see results. “It can take a while for them to get into a routine where they’re not on the bed with you, but most dogs will adjust over a few weeks if you stay consistent.” 

woman with curly red hair with small cavapoo tucked in her shirt

Sophie Wilkinson

Sophie Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and broadcaster who has written for a wide range of titles including The Guardian, The Times, Grazia, Stylist, Refinery29, Vogue, The Telegraph and the Evening Standard. Through her partner, she’s become step-parent to a small Cavapoo named Roo, and they regularly bond over their shared curly ginger hair and enjoyment of runs, naps and stretches.

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