If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet?

Lauren loves nothing more than hanging out in her room on her shag rug petting her cat, Boris. Boris also sleeps in Lauren's bed and spends hours cleaning himself on the windowsill.

Because Lauren's asthma symptoms have been getting worse, Lauren's doctor sent her to see an allergist. The allergist did a skin test and found that Lauren is allergic to animals. In other words, Lauren's allergic to Boris.

How Fido Can Affect You

When someone is allergic to animals, it means he or she is allergic to proteins found in these animal products:

  • animal dander, or skin flakes (kind of like animal dandruff)
  • animal saliva (spit)
  • animal urine (pee)

If you have asthma, you are two to three times more likely to be allergic to your pet than someone who doesn't have asthma. Contrary to popular belief, it's not the animal's fur that's the main problem. (You can be allergic to feathered critters as well.) Aside from carrying dander, saliva, or urine, fur can collect dust mites, pollen, mold, and other allergens. And any animal that lives in a cage — such as a bird or hamster — will produce droppings that can attract mold and dust mites.

Although some people say that certain breeds of dogs or cats don't cause allergic reactions, that's not the case. All warm-blooded animals are capable of causing allergic reactions.

If your pet triggers your asthma, especially if your asthma is severe, the best bet might be to find it another home. This is difficult to do, though. So if your doctor says it's OK, you may be able to try these steps first.

  • Begin taking allergy medicine or shots in addition to your asthma medicine.
  • Keep your pet out of your room.
  • Have your pet live outside in the yard, if possible.
  • Don't hug or kiss your pet.
  • Clean your room really well and get rid of any rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting.
  • Keep your room free of dust.
  • Have someone else wash and brush your pet every week (cats as well as dogs).
  • Make sure everyone in your family washes their hands after touching the pet.

If you have a bird, gerbil, or other small caged animal, move the cage out of your room. Make sure your pet stays in its cage at all times, and have someone else clean the cage daily. Also make sure that the pet's cage isn't near any drafts. If the cage is sitting next to a heating or cooling vent, it could blow pet allergens through the room.

If It's Still a Problem

If you try all these things and are still having lots of asthma flare-ups, you might need to find another home for your pet. This is likely to be pretty upsetting for you and other members of your family. You may experience lots of different emotions — from sadness to anger. These feelings might be so strong that they make it hard to eat, sleep, or concentrate. This is a natural part of losing something that is precious to you.

How you handle these feelings depends on your personality — you may want to be so busy so that you aren't home to miss your pet, or you may want to spend time every day looking at pictures of you together. There is no right or wrong way to handle feelings of loss, although you might find it helpful to talk about it with friends, family, or a counselor.

It takes months for the animal's allergens to leave the house, so it might take a while before your symptoms improve. And even if you no longer have a pet at home, remember that you're going to be around animals from time to time. If you're going over to a friend's house where there is a pet, take any prescription allergy medicine before going and (as always) have your asthma rescue medication with you.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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