I have asthma, can I still have a dog?

“I have asthma, can I still have a dog?”

A few years ago, I had the worst asthma episode of my life. After several hours in the emergency room I was given a referral to see an asthma and allergy specialist, one of the best in country. During our first visit he asked lots of questions about possible triggers at home, and I mentioned I just adopted a dog. His response was quick and decisive, “Well, there you go. You had this attack because you have a new dog. Get rid of the dog.”

Gasp! I was stunned . . . I loved my newly adopted dog! I started to list all of the reasons why having a dog was actually good for me; unconditional love and companionship, walking him several times a day was good exercise for my lungs, socializing with other dog owners is good for my mental health, and on and on. I insisted that my 4-legged buddy did not trigger my asthma, after all, I grew up with dogs and worked a part-time job as a dog sitter, so there was no way it was the dog. No way.

So, what do you do when your health care provider makes a quick assumption and suggests you remove your beloved pet from your home? Here’s a few tips to help:

  1. Ask for allergy testing. 60% of those with asthma are triggered by allergies. If you’re one of them, finding out exactly what you are allergic to will help you develop a plan to reduce and avoid the things that worsen your asthma. You may find out you’re not actually allergic to your own pets!
  2. Understand the allergy. So, allergy testing says you’re allergic to your pet, but what does that mean? The protein in your pet’s saliva and dander (the dead skin that flakes off your dog or cat) that causes the allergic reaction. Some breeds of dog claim to be “hypoallergenic” because they shed less than other breeds or because their coat is different. Unfortunately, this is a myth. All dogs and cats will produce saliva and dander.
  3. Keep it clean. Keeping your home as free from dander, fur and feathers as possible will help reduce symptoms. Vacuum a minimum of twice a week, preferably using a HEPA filter in your vacuum. Try not to sweep, sweeping lets the dander and fur fly into the air and resettle around the home. Mop often, and damp dust or use microfiber cloths that will hold the dust in the cloth and keep it from getting airborne. Keep clothing and linens in closed closets or drawers.
  4. Reduce your contact with the pet. I know, cuddling and sleeping with your dog or cat is serious bonding time, but keeping your bedroom pet-free is a good strategy to reduce your allergens. If your pet does go into the bedroom, try to keep him off your bed. Wash your bed linens in hot water once a week. If possible, have a loved one or professional groomer brush your pet often and wash them once a month to reduce dander. Wash your hands immediately after petting or playing with your pet.
  5. Discuss allergy medications and immunotherapy with your doctor. Keeping your allergies well controlled will also help keep your asthma well controlled. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, actually help stop the allergic reaction from happening. Allergy shots require a financial and serious time commitment. Shots are administered once – twice a week in your allergist’s office over several years and may require an insurance co-payment for each doctor visit/injection. After you receive the injection you need to stay at the doctor’s for 30 minutes to make sure you don’t have an anaphylactic reaction. You may find your symptoms reduce quickly, but it normally takes up to 12 months of shots before you feel the effects.

PS:  Turns out I was allergic to my dog. After a long discussion of the pros and cons of owning a dog, I told my doctor the pros outweighed the cons, he was staying. I started allergy shots and found the right medication to manage my allergies and asthma, and both have improved dramatically.

How about you? How do you manage having pets and keeping your asthma and allergies under control?

Follow me on Twitter @asthmachef for tips on living with asthmaMarley Gotcha Day

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

Comments

View Comments (12)
  • Lyndab2u
    5 months ago

    I developed adult onset asthma. My allergist asked what were the chances I would give up my dog. None. My hubby vacuums and brushes the dogs. She does not sleep in our bed. Not allergic but the dirt and dust in her fur is what I am allergic too.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi again, Lyndab2u and thanks for this post as well. It’s cool that you’re actually not allergic to the dog, but rather to dust/dirt in her fur. By keeping after that (as you and your husband are aware), you are doing everything you can to reduce your own exposure to the allergens/triggers. Keep up the good work! Leon (site moderator)

  • RitaRe
    6 months ago

    I would look for a low shedding type breed. Poodles, shih tzu, maltese, etc. To say they don’t shed is kind of a misnomer. Their hair grows like most of us people. It falls out like that as well. I would also limit the number of pets too. More than one means they have a buddy, but can mean more work to stay in top of things.

  • smallrain
    7 months ago

    I have a cat. I never tested positive to cats and dogs. Even if I did I would never get rid of her unless my symptoms became very much worse. I have mild persistent asthma though I am having a lung function test to rule out COPD. I have never smoked but she is a young new GP.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi smallrain and thanks for your post. This will be something you’ll explore and discuss with your physician. Good luck with your pulmonary function test, too! Please check back and let us know how you’re doing. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • BreathlessInPittman
    10 months ago

    I have severe persistent asthma. I’ve been allergy tested so the uncontrolled part could be explained. No allergies! So we recently got a dog, a blue leopard Catahoula named Hula Hoop. She’ll be a year old next month. We got her with the hopes of training her to alert me of my triggers. I’m so bad that going out in public is terrifying to me. People stand around the entrances to buildings and cup cigarettes in their hands and by the time I realize it, it’s too late. A little whiff of cigarette smoke has sent me to the ICU a couple of times. So I’m hoping I can get Hula Hoop to give me the extra sniffing power to alert me before I am triggered! It’s a work in progress!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    10 months ago

    Hi BreathlessInPittman and thanks for your post. It sounds like you have a sound plan to assist you in ‘sniffing’ out the smoke early enough for you to avoid it completely. I do hope it all works out for you. Please check back and let us know how you’re doing. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • sheaoneil977
    12 months ago

    I was living with a dog while thinking I had my allwrgies under control with Singulair. Unfortunately Singulair was more of a mask of my symptons, and I started developing different symtoms a year after starting the Singulair and living with the dog. I started having severe asthma attacks and going to the ER and needing prednisone tapers. I was pregnant too. I talked with my primary doctor who never recommended an allergist nor told me I had extremely high allergic blood cells called eosinophils. I trued everyrhing to lower dander–had my own sleeping room. (It was my now-exes dog). Finally I said enough is enough and I mived out because he wouldnt even talk about finding a home for the dog. He brought clothes of mine that I told him I didnt need that were covered with dander into my small bedroom at my oarents home that I and our newborn son was living at and it gave me such a bad asthma attack (I thought) that my dad took me to the ER– turns out it was a heart attack at age 26 caused by allergic eosinophils surrounding my heart and choking it off. I was then hospitaluzed fir two weeks, diagnosed with a severe chronic allergic disease that nearly killed me, away from my 3 month old, given high dose chemotherapy drugs and prednisone– no longer able to breast feed. So yeah I put my life and health higher than needing a dog. My don is allergic as well and his allergist revommends also not being around dander when your allergic. We are living in our own home, away from dander, and we have two pet lizards that we are not allergic to and that we do not have to medicate for. So there is a reason allwrgists strongly recommend not living with what harms your body.

  • Lorene Alba, AE-C moderator author
    10 months ago

    Hi @sheaoneil977 – I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this! I admire you for making the best decision to take care of your health. I hope you are now breathing a little easier, and thank you for sharing your story. ~ Lorene moderator

  • grandmama
    2 years ago

    I’d never give up my dog either! I’m curious as to whether cat allergies are more prevalent than dog allergies. Or are the pet types “lumped together” when surveys are taken? In my experience, I come across many more people with cat sensitivities than dog. Also, the severity of symptoms triggered by cats seems to be worse. Nothing against feline friends, it’s just my own experience, as well as most allergy and asthma sufferers I personally know.

  • Madeleine
    2 months ago

    I have asthma and am severely allergic to cats. My chest gets tight quickly when exposed to a cat home. I never put my coat in a common area for fear a cat person will put their coat on top of mine. I’ve had birds for years…no problem. I have a Bichpoo now…no problem. No other dogs have ever made me react either. So I think we’re all different and it’s not pets in general.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi Madeleine and I agree with you. Triggers can vary amongst different patients and can even vary within the same person. Your point therefore, is well taken. Once you are tuned in to your own particular triggers, you can take care of yourself by doing everything you can to avoid them. Thanks for your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • Poll