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Treatment & Prevention

If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet?

Lauren loves hanging out in her room on her shag rug with her cat, Boris. Boris also sleeps in Lauren’s bed and spends hours cleaning himself on the windowsill.

Lauren’s asthma symptoms have been getting worse, though, so 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

It’s not the animal’s fur that’s the main problem. People can be allergic to birds as well. When people are allergic to animals, they’re actually allergic to proteins found in:

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

Aside from carrying dander, saliva, or urine, fur can collect dust mites, pollen, mold, and other allergens. The droppings of caged animals — like hamsters — 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 can cause allergic reactions.

What to Do

If your pet triggers your asthma, especially if your asthma is severe, the best thing 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:

  • Start taking allergy medicine or getting 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. 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 feel 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 things 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. You might find it helpful to talk about it with friends, family, or a counselor.

It takes months for an animal’s allergens to leave the house, so it might take a while before your symptoms improve. Even if you no longer have a pet at home, you’re still going to be around animals from time to time. If you go to house where there is a pet, take any prescription allergy medicine before going and have your quick-relief medicine with you.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014