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Why is Animal Dander an Asthma Trigger?

My partner and I recently went to visit my dad. The visit was brief, but unfortunately, my partner had to stay in the backyard for the majority of the time. He hung out outside because my dad has cats, and animal dander is a major trigger for his asthma.

My dad doesn’t just have 1 or 2 cats, he has a grand total of 8 cats! If animal allergies are a trigger for your asthma, my dad’s house is an absolute nightmare.

What is animal dander?

Dander consists of minuscule, dry skin flakes that can come off a pet that has either fur or feathers. Cats, dogs, rabbits, rodents, and even birds can all have dander. These skin particles are very small but can trigger major allergic reactions amongst asthmatics.

Since dander is so small, it easily sticks to furniture, carpet, and clothing. It can even float in the air with other dust particles. Since dander is so “sticky”, it can be carried into rooms that have never even had pets before. My partner has had an allergic reaction from sitting next to someone in school that had a cat at home.

Why is animal dander a trigger?

Many people believe that the hair of cats, dogs, and other furry pets is what causes the allergic reaction. This is almost true. It is not actually the hair that is a trigger, but dander that falls from the hair. Dander contains a protein that causes an allergic reaction. When you inhale these proteins, your immune systems will react. Your body releases histamine, and then all the typical symptoms of an allergic reaction start to appear. Ever had an itchy, constricted throat, and watery, red eyes?

It may seem that the furrier the animal, the more of an allergic reaction you have. This is true in a sense; if the animal has thick fur or feathers, it makes it easier for animal dander to get trapped. Everyone has different degrees of an allergic response to dander.

Can you control your exposure to dander?

The best way to avoid dander is to obviously stay away from pets, but this is not always possible! There are several ways to control your exposure to dander.

Some pets may be kept cleaner than others, resulting in a lower amount of dander on the animal. You may find that animals that have fewer baths are more of a trigger for you. If you or another person in your life has a pet, bathing the pet more frequently may help reduce your allergic reaction.

A friend or family member might also offer to put their pet outside or in another room. While this is very kind, it may not be effective at all. As previously stated, animal dander is microscopic and easily sticks to furniture. Even if a pet isn’t in the room, their dander probably still is.

A friend or family member may also offer to vacuum before you come over. Vacuuming may rid of some of the triggering dander, but it can also be hard to completely do away with it. Dander can lurk in the couch cushions, under furniture, and on windowsills. Vacuuming may actually disturb dander, and cause it to float about the room. If you are planning on coming over to someone’s house within an hour or so, ask them not to vacuum right before. Vacuuming is best done a couple of hours in advance!

In conclusion

Knowing what animal dander is and why it is a trigger might help you manage your allergic reaction to it. Dander can definitely be a tricky trigger to navigate around! Keep in mind that everyone can have different degrees of an allergic reaction to dander. My partner can be very allergic to some dogs and most cats, but be totally fine around others.

Discuss with your doctor a plan for being around dander. Additionally, communicate this plan to your friends and family so they can help accommodate you!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Asthma UK. Animals and pets as asthma triggers. Accessed November 27, 2019.


  • Katbird
    5 days ago

    It is not just dander flakes, but also saliva that can trigger asthma. Cats are such constant groomers that dried saliva is on their fur and flakes off like dander. Horses, dogs, guinea pigs and other mammals as well as birds can trigger allergies. Xolair has helped me with animal allergies most recently and in the past regular allergy shots for cats and dogs was also effective.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 days ago

    Hi Katbird – Thanks for chiming in on this. You’re right! There are so many animals that can trigger allergies, although cats do seem to top the list. It’s great to heat that you feel that Xolair has helped you.
    Allergy shots were definitely a big help for me as well. I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I realize that the 5 years of having them was well worth it.
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • sashabear
    5 days ago

    “Discuss with your doctor a plan for being around dander.”

    Seems like a silly suggestion. I HAVE had that discussion and there IS no plan other than staying away. I do get allergy shots, but they do not solve the problem. If anyone has a REAL PLAN, please post it.

  • Ashlen Weddington moderator author
    5 days ago

    Hi there! Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience. This was written in the article as a suggestion because some people have not yet spoken to their doctor about their pet allergies. A doctor may suggest that someone may get allergies shots, which work well for some people! Some people do not have the option to completely avoid pets, as their family, friends, or loved one may have a pet. In this type of situation, a doctor may recommend another type of allergy medication. We ALWAYS recommend speaking to your doctor about your allergies or new symptoms that arise. -Ashlen, community moderator

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