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If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet?

Lots of kids with asthma are allergic to animals. Some can keep their pets, but others can't. It depends on the kid's asthma and if having a pet (like a dog, cat, or even a parrot!) makes symptoms worse.

What's an Animal Allergen?

Things that make asthma worse are called allergens. Some people have animal allergens, which means they're allergic to stuff animals produce. This stuff is found in an animal's:

  • dander (skin flakes that are kind of like animal dandruff)
  • spit (saliva)
  • pee

Furry animals and feathered friends can cause problems. How? Besides carrying dander, spit, or pee, animal fur or feathers also can collect other things that can make asthma symptoms worse, like:

  • dust mites (tiny bugs)
  • pollen (from plants)
  • mold

And any animal that lives in a cage — from birds to gerbils — will have droppings that get mold and dust mites on them too.

How Can I Deal With Animal Allergens?

If these things are making your asthma worse, you may need to do something about it. Your doctor might suggest that you try allergy medicine or shots first. Those, and your regular asthma medicines, can help control your asthma flare-ups (also called asthma "attacks").

You also can help keep your bedroom free of allergens and reduce the allergens in your home. Here's how:

  • Keep your pet out of your bedroom.
  • Even if it's a small pet, like a bird or gerbil, don't keep the animal in your room.
  • For caged animals, someone else should clean the cage.
  • Play with your pet, but try not to hug or kiss it.
  • Wash your hands when you're done playing with your pet.
  • Get rid of any rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting in your bedroom.
  • Clean your room so it's free of household dust.
  • Have someone else wash and brush your pet every week (cats as well as dogs).
  • If there's a pet in your classroom, let your teacher know about your allergies.

If you try all these things but still have lots of asthma flare-ups, you may need to find another home for your pet.

What If I Have to Say Goodbye to My Pet?

Saying goodbye to a pet that you love can be very hard. If you had to find a new home for your pet, you might cry or maybe you'll feel lonely or mad. All of these feelings are OK.

Talk to your parents about how you're feeling. They might be feeling sad and missing your pet too. Talking can help you start to feel better. You might decide to write a poem or make a scrapbook to remember your pet.

When you're missing your pet, it may take a long time before you want a new one. But if you do, ask your doctor about which animals (like fish) are safer bets for kids with allergies and asthma.

What About Other Animals?

Even if you don't have animals at home, you'll probably still come in contact with them from time to time. When you visit someone who has pets, be sure to take your allergy medicine before going over. Also, bring your asthma inhaler along, just in case.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: May 16, 2017

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