Can pets worsen asthma?

Fact Checked

Animal dander from pets might be responsible for worsening asthma. In reality, all feathered and furry animals generate animal dander, thus individuals with asthma face an increased risk of worsening the condition if they are highly sensitive.

Close look on animal dander

Even though it is commonly thought that it is the hair of pets that triggers the allergy symptoms and that short-haired animals are less allergic for asthmatics, both are considered as myths.

In reality, it is the dander or the proteins present in urine, skin flakes, saliva, feces and hair responsible for triggering the asthma symptoms. Take note that these proteins are very small particles that are transported via the air and can land on any body part that comes into contact with the mouth or nose or even directly inhaled into the lungs. The symptoms can occur right away or delayed up to 8-12 hours.

In reality, it is the dander or the proteins present in urine, skin flakes, saliva, feces and hair responsible for triggering the asthma symptoms.

Take note that pets all shed a certain amount of allergen every week. With this in mind, there is no such thing as “hypoallergenic pets”, yet some are known to generate reduced allergens than others and might be a better option for those who really want to keep a pet.

Measures to minimize exposure to animal dander

The removal of the pet from the house and avoiding any form of contact is highly effective in reducing exposure to animal dander. Remember that it might take as long as 20 weeks after removal of the pet for the allergen levels to drop. If the pet is not removed from the house, it is vital to ensure to thoroughly clean all bedding, carpet, floors and other surfaces where dander can accumulate.

If getting rid of the pet is not an option, there are also measures to consider.

  • Keep the pet out of the bedroom and other areas in the house where an allergic individual stays most of the time.
  • It is recommended to bathe the pet every week to reduce allergen exposure. If possible, request another person to perform this task though. In addition, the allergic individual should not clean the living space, cage or litter box of the pet.
  • If possible, get rid of carpeting and change to tile, hardwood or linoleum flooring since these do not harbor allergens.
  • Try to keep pets away from fabric covered furniture, stuffed toys and carpets as much as possible.
  • HEPA air filters should be used to minimize exposure to the allergens.
  • When vacuuming, use a HEPA vacuum filter or double bag to reduce exposure while performing the task.

What if I do not have a pet yet?

If the individual already knows that he/she has allergy symptoms or wants to ensure that a family member will not develop symptoms from a particular pet, it is best to consider spending time with someone who has the pet you wish to acquire before buying one. Alternatively, it is recommended to consider animals that do not trigger or worsen allergies such as hermit crabs, turtles, snakes and aquarium fish.

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