Should you sleep with your pets?

(FOX19) - A new study says a surprising number of people are allowing their pets to curl up with them, and it could actually be risky.

Chrissy Carew bunks up with her five dogs every night.

"I consider them full-fledged members of our family," she said.

A new survey shows 56 percent of dog owners in the United States let their dogs sleep next to them. And researchers point out that could lead to a real nightmare - health hazards.

Sometimes we forget that they aren't our children. They are pets and also they have their own life and there are diseases that can be transmitted," said Veterinarian Bruno Chomel

Chomel is one of the lead authors of the study, which was just published by the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers tracked people who had close contact with their dogs and cats, either sleeping next to their pet, or allowing their animal to lick and kiss them. The result was in rare instances, some caught illnesses such as the plague, rabies, bacteria resistant infections, meningitis, cat scratch fever and ringworm intestinal parasites.

Dr. Chomel says people most at risk to catch an illness from a pet are the young, the elderly and those who have a weaker immune system.

"You always think it will never happen to me, but when it happens to you it can be very sad and very bad," he said.

Eric Marlowe Garrison knows it can happen. He caught a terrible case of ringworm on his foot. The culprit was his roommate's cat.

"The experience to me was pretty awful," said Garrison.

Garrison says the ringworm changed the type of close contact he'll have with pets.

"It has certainly taught me a lesson," he said.

Medical experts say one of the most important things a pet owner can do is keep your dog or cat flea-free. The insects bite and spread disease.

"Anytime human beings have close association with animals including their pets there's some risk, but it's very, very small," said Dr. William Schaffner with Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Schaffner says his cat sleeps with him and the study results won't change that.

Chrissy makes sure she keeps her pets very clean and plans to continue her doggie sleepovers, despite the survey findings.

"My pets will continue to sleep with my husband and I forever and ever, we love it," she said.

Researchers have also found that pets have tremendously positive benefits on people's health, like reducing stress and anxiety.

But experts agree it's very important to make sure your pet does not have fleas or ticks, is healthy and gets regular check ups.

If your pet appears sick, limit close physical contact until they are better, and always wash your hands after petting or allowing an animal to lick you, especially areas where you may have wounds.