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Dealing With Triggers: Pets

A variety of things in the environment can make asthma or allergy symptoms worse. These are called "triggers." Your doctor can help you figure out what your child's triggers are.

Being around animals can be a trigger for many kids.

Why Are Pets a Trigger?

Pets have a protein in their saliva (spit), urine (pee), or dander (tiny flakes of dead skin) that can set off a person's asthma or allergy symptoms.

How Can I Help My Child Deal With It?

If you think being around a pet is making your child's symptoms worse, have your child tested for allergies.

If your child has an animal allergy, you'll have to decide whether to keep your pet or find it a new home. The best course is to remove the pet from your home, though this isn't usually the easiest or happiest solution. Your child, other kids in the family, and even adults may have a tough time with this decision.

In some cases, your doctor may say it's OK to keep a pet if your child takes medicine or gets allergy shots. If so, you'll still need to limit your child's exposure to the animal.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep pets out of your child's bedroom and playroom.
  • Encourage your child not to hug or kiss the animal.
  • Vacuum and dust regularly and avoid rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in your child's bedroom.
  • Have someone other than your child wash or brush your pet every week. Bathing your animal weekly may help reduce the amount of dander it spreads in the home.
  • If you have a cat, keep your child away from the litter box, and place the box away from air vents.
  • Encourage everyone in the family wash their hands after playing with your pet.
  • If you have a pet that lives in a cage, keep it in a room that your child doesn't spend time in regularly. Also, have someone other than your child clean the cage daily. Let teachers know about your child's allergies if there's a caged animal in the classroom.
  • Consider buying an air cleaner with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter for your child's bedroom or playroom. Central air filtration systems are also an option, but are much more expensive.

Sometimes, such measures may not be enough. Because animal allergens are airborne, heating and ventilation systems will spread allergens throughout the house, even if the pet is kept out of bedrooms.

What If We Can't Keep Our Pet?

If your child still has symptoms after taking medicines, including allergy shots, or needs a bunch of medicines to be around your pet, your only choice might be to find a new home for your pet.

If so, be sure to discuss this with your child. Reassure your child that this isn't his or her "fault" — and make sure siblings don't blame the child. Losing a pet, even to a friend's home, can be hard for everyone in the family.

After a pet is removed from the home, it can take several months before dander is totally gone.

When going to a house with a pet, your child should first take any prescribed allergy medicine and (as always) bring along quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine).

Reviewed by: Stephen F. Dinetz, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 1, 2022

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