Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

The Doctor Says It’s Asthma. Can We Keep Our Pets?

Family Pets

By Kitty Hernlen, MBA, RRT

Can we keep our pets? For pet owners, this is one of the first questions asked when a child is diagnosed with asthma. In general, only 10% of the population has pet allergies. This number increases to 30% for people with asthma.

Protein is to blame

Most people think it is the fur of the animal causing the allergy, but that’s not true. It is the protein found in the pet dander (which consists of dead skin flakes), saliva, urine, and feathers of animals that causes the allergy. The protein clings to the animal’s fur when it grooms itself. The dander falls off onto carpet, flooring, and furniture. The fur or feathers can collect other asthma triggers, such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and other allergens, as well.

If you think your pet may be triggering your child’s asthma, consider having your child tested for allergies to household pets. If your child tests positive you may have to make the tough choice of finding the pet a new home. Keeping the pet out of the child’s room or outside in the yard may seem like a good solution, but this may not solve the problem. Your pet’s allergens can travel into the air conditioner/heating system of your house or be carried into the house on your clothing.

If you decide to keep the pet, there are some things you can do to limit your child’s contact with the allergens —

  • Try to teach your child not to hug or kiss the animal and keep the pet out of your child’s bedroom.
  • Encourage family members to wash their hands after petting the animal.
  • Vacuum and dust regularly. It is best to avoid rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in your child’s room.
  • You may need to buy a HEPA air filter to capture the allergens in the air.
  • Someone other than your child should wash the pet weekly.

If you decide to find another home for the pet, be sure to explain to the child that it’s not his or her fault. Make sure siblings do not blame the child for the loss of the pet. You may not see results in your child’s asthma for six months after the pet is removed. It can take that long for all of the allergens to clear your home.

Hypo-allergic pets? No such thing!

Experts agree all cats and dogs have the protein causing the allergy, so there are no hypo-allergic pets. If you choose to have a pet, experts recommend a smaller dog, which will shed less dander. The American Kennel Club suggests breeds such as poodles, soft-coated wheaten terriers, schnauzers, and the Portuguese water dog.

People with cat allergies may be able to handle some breeds, such as the Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, or the Siberian. Breeders have noticed Siberians trigger fewer allergy attacks. The hairless cat, the Sphynx, may be an option but requires daily bathing by someone without cat allergies.

Before making a choice about a pet, it’s best to discuss the decision with your child’s allergist.

Kitty Hernlen is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Georgia, where she is associate professor in the respiratory therapy program at Augusta University in Augusta.
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