Asthma Safe Home Pets

Asthma is an acute condition in which the bronchial tubes narrow, causing difficulty breathing. Any number of things can trigger an asthma attack, including:

  • allergies
  • cigarette smoke
  • exercise
  • pet dander
  • pollution
  • temperature changes.

During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes tighten, inflammation occurs in the air tubes and the airways become blocked with increased mucus. Asthma attacks can be severe and often require hospitalization. Common symptoms of an asthma attack include a dry, hacking cough and difficulty breathing.

Ways That Pets Can Trigger Asthma

Unfortunately, one of the most common asthma triggers is a household pet. Household pets leave behind dander (flakes of dry skin) everywhere they go. This dander sticks to everything — carpet, clothes, hair — and is notorious for triggering allergies and asthma attacks.

In addition, dogs carry a protein in their saliva that can trigger asthma attacks. Pets’ tongues also contain dander from when they clean themselves. When a dog “kisses” a human, part of that protein and dander can be left behind on the skin.

Separating Fact from Fiction — Asthma and Household Pets

If you or a family member have asthma and you also have a pet, it’s important to separate myths from reality when it comes to how your household pets affect your asthma. Some people have no choice other than to give up their pets. Others manage to make do with a few lifestyle changes. If you opt to keep your pet, you’ll stand the best chance of remaining healthy if you know the truth about asthma and household pets.

  • Myth: Short-haired dogs and cats are better for asthmatic owners than long-haired pets: Some parents choose breeds like Chihuahuas for their asthmatic children because they believe that these short-haired dogs will be good pets for asthma kids. But asthma is actually triggered by dander, which all animals leave behind. Hair length doesn’t factor into the equation at all.
  • Myth: Using a HEPA filter reduces pet allergens: HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters are wonderful for some types of allergies. They are very good at eliminating dust mites, pollen and mold spores. However, they are less effective at removing pet dander.
  • Myth: You can decrease allergies with continuous exposure to pets: As much as asthmatic animal lovers would love for this to be true, it simply isn’t. Only removing the pet from the home, limiting exposure or making drastic lifestyle changes to minimize the pet dander in the home will clear up allergic reactions to pets.

Living with Asthma and Household Pets

Some people with asthma just can’t bear the thought of giving up their beloved dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig or other furry creature. If you fall into this category, be sure to take the following steps to protect your health:

  • Bathe the animal weekly to reduce the amount of dander it leaves behind. A non-asthmatic member of the household should do this task. If possible, the bath should take place outside.
  • If possible, replace carpeting in your house with hardwood floors. Most vacuum cleaners can’t clean deep enough to remove the pet dander that becomes stubbornly embedded in carpets.
  • If you own a dog, train it not to give kisses.
  • Keep animals out of the bedroom at all times.

If your asthma doesn’t get better despite taking these steps, sometimes the only unfortunate alternative is to give the pet up for adoption. This is especially true if a child is the one with the asthma. Obviously, giving up the pet should be a last resort, but studies have shown that a pet-free household cuts asthma rates among children by 45 percent.

Resources

Beattie, K. (2005).How man’s best friend can become an asthma sufferer’s biggest enemy. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Cure Your Asthma Web site: http://www.cure-your-asthma.com/articles/asthma01.htm.

Duckworth, L. (2001). Pets “double children’s risk of asthma attacks.” Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Independent Web site: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-wellbeing/health-news/pets-double-childrens-risk-of-asthma-attacks-672915.html.

Gifford-Jones, W. (1988). Asthma and household pets. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Canada Free Press Web site: http://www.canadafreepress.com/medical/psychiatry112005.htm.

Your HealthStyle (1998-2009). Pets and asthma: Myths vs. facts. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from the Best of Health Web site: http://www.bestofhealth.com/np/Previous/Jan0109/staywell.html.