Pets and Asthma - Get the Facts About Dealing With Animal Allergies

  • Pets and asthma don't necessarily go together very well. After all, animal allergies are often one of the key factors in triggering asthma symptoms. In fact, cat allergies are some of the most potent allergies around. And with millions of pet owners and millions of asthma sufferers, there is bound to be some overlap.


    So, is the answer to managing asthma triggered by animal allergies to get rid of your much loved pet? Thankfully, no, except as a last resort.


    In this post, I'll cover how to deal with animal allergies when you or a loved one has asthma. I'll answer such questions as:

    • Is there any such thing as a hypoallergenic pet?
    • Can pets and asthma co-exist successfully?
    • If you have asthma AND a pet, is there any treatment that will keep symptoms under control?

    What People Are Allergic to in Animals

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    Technically, you can be allergic to any animal with feathers or fir, but the most common culprits are our most common housepets -- cats and dogs. Most people think it's the animal's hair that triggers allergies, but it's not.


    In reality, it is the dander of an animal that those of us who are sensitive react to. Dander are tiny flakes of dead skin that are shed by all animals in the normal course of daily events. Sometimes dander is attached to hair that is shed, but not always.


    There are also allergens in animals' urine and saliva, especially in cats. Did you ever have a dog lick your face or neck and then feel itchy afterwards? If so, you're probably reacting to the saliva, not to the dander.


    If you notice that your asthma symptoms worsen when you're around cats or dogs, there's a good chance you have animal allergies.


    What's the Most Hypoallergenic Pet?


    When people ask this question, they're hoping to hear that there is some kind of pet that won't trigger allergy or asthma symptoms, even in sensitive people. Unfortunately, if the pet you're hoping for is a cat or a dog, avoiding asthma symptoms is not a realistic goal.


    Although some people claim that certain breeds are hypoallergenic, it's just not true. It doesn't matter how long their hair is, if they shed a lot or a little or even if they're hairless. All animals have dander, urine and saliva, and it is those substances that trigger asthma.


    So, if you want a truly hypo- or non-allergenic pet, go with a reptile or an insect. Sure, they might be a little creepy, but they won't set off an asthma attack! (Just kidding about the creepy part, reptile-lovers! Sort of...)


    So, What's a Pet-Loving Asthmatic to Do?


    If you love animals as much as I do, that's a great question. Should you just resign yourself to living with symptoms all the time? Or should you start looking for an adoptive home for your furry family member?


    Well, those are certainly two ways to go, and people with truly severe animal allergies may need to get rid of their pets. But another strategy if you love your pet but also desire to stay healthy is to reduce your exposure to their animal allergens as much as you possibly can. Here are few ways to do that:

    • Keep them out of the bedroom. Dust mites already rule the bedroom, what with all the nice bed linens and mattresses on your bed. And they love to feed on pet dander. So you can reduce both dust mites and animal dander by keeping your pet out of your bedroom at night. I know, neither one of you might be happy, but you spend a third or more of each day in bed, so this is a tip worth taking. If your pet must sleep in your room at night, at least keep him or her off the bed itself.
    • Keep them off the upholstered furniture. In your living areas, keep your pet off the couch or chair where you sit most often, for the same reasons as the bedroom.
    • Groom them regularly. There is some evidence that weekly brushing and bathing can help reduce the amount of dander shed into the environment in your home.
    • Clean your home frequently. This includes vacuuming with a HEPA-filter equipped vacuum, washing bed linens with hot water, vacuuming your furniture and changing furnace filters.

    Follow Your Asthma Treatment Plan

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    Finally, if you plan to have a pet in your home, then that's all the more reason to be sure you take all of your asthma medication exactly as prescribed. For most people, this means a daily/twice daily inhaled steroid. You might also have allergy medicine, some type of antihistamine.


    Every person with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan to guide them. These plans tell how to know if your asthma control is slipping... and what to do about it. Taking action quickly can mean you are able to co-exist successfully with your pets.

Published On: April 14, 2010