For many people, their cats, dogs and other animals are considered members of the family. From quick cuddles to keeping watch, pets offer companionship to those who care for them. However, living with a furry friend and asthma or allergies can be a less than perfect partnership. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as many as three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs.
As a pulmonary nurse practitioner, I see this a lot with my patients, which is why it’s important for them to know their triggers and how to manage symptoms when they occur. Many people think pet fur causes allergies. However, the real cause are proteins found in dander, or dead skin cells, that collect on animal hair. Think about it: when a pet rubs against furniture, sits on a windowsill or hops up on the countertop, it leaves allergens directly on surfaces where you sit, play and eat. For individuals with asthma or allergies, this type of exposure may cause slight to severe sneezing, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
This is why it’s critical for you to check with your provider and get tested for pet allergies before bringing a furry friend into your home. If you already have a pet, consider the following strategies to minimize your symptoms and risk of an asthma attack.
- Clean your home. Wipe down counters and vacuum floors and furniture often; this type of cleaning is important, but it can stir up a lot of dust so remember to wear a dust mask when you do it.
- Try an air cleaner. Some of my patients use portable cleaners that contain a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. This may help remove pet dander as well as other small allergens like dust, pollen and smoke. I don’t think they’re absolutely necessary though, and they can be expensive and time consuming because you have to replace the filters regularly to ensure they work properly.
- Clean your pet. Washing your animal each week may help reduce dander and other allergens in the air. Ask someone without a pet allergy to help brush your pet and/or clean litter boxes outside, too.
- Make the bedroom a pet-free zone. The AAFA says Americans spend one-third to one-half of our time in the bedroom, which is why my number one no-no is letting your pet sleep in bed with you. Limit your pet’s access to the bedroom by always keeping the bedroom door closed. Wash your bedding regularly and consider using an allergen-free mattress cover that fits over both your mattress and box spring.
- Replace carpets with hardwood floor. Rugs harbor dust and dander. While this isn’t an affordable option for everyone, replacing wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood or synthetic flooring may help minimize the collection of allergens and make it easier to clean.
- Have an asthma action plan. Your written plan should include key details like your medical record number, your baseline number, a complete list of medications and your doctor’s contact information. You can also keep an asthma journal to track your exposure and symptoms each day. Both of these can help you avoid triggers, identify issues and know how to respond when symptoms get worse. Staying organized and knowing your symptoms are key to keeping healthy.
If you’ve exhausted all of the above tips, then the best option is to remove the pet from your home. I encourage you to consider giving your pet to a caring family member or putting it up for adoption. While this can be a difficult step, your health must take priority!
If you’re considering getting a pet, then it’s always a good idea to talk with a pulmonologist in advance of bringing one into your home.