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If I Have Asthma, Can I Keep My Pet?

Austin loves watching TV with his dog, Max. They hang out on the sofa together for hours on rainy days. Sometimes, Austin lies with his head right on Max's soft furry belly. What a pillow!

But Austin just found out he's allergic to animal allergens. That means he's allergic to stuff animals produce. This stuff is found in:

  • animal dander, or skin flakes (kind of like animal dandruff)
  • animal saliva (spit)
  • animal urine (pee)

Because he's allergic to this stuff, spending time with Max is probably making his asthma worse. Lots of kids with asthma are allergic to animals — and not just furry animals. Feathered animals, too, can cause allergic reactions.

Aside from carrying dander, saliva, or urine, animal fur or feathers also can collect:

  • dust mites (tiny bugs)
  • pollen (from plants)
  • mold (like the stuff that makes your basement smell)
  • other stuff that causes allergies

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

Finding out that you're allergic to animals can be sad because, if your asthma is really bad, you may have to find a new home for your pet. Because that's such a tough thing to do, your doctor might suggest that you try allergy medicine or shots first. Those, in addition to your regular asthma medicines, can help control your asthma flare-ups.

You also can take these steps to keep your bedroom free of allergens and reduce the allergens in your home:

  • Keep your pet out of your room. If possible, keep your pet outside.
  • Even if it's a small pet, like a bird or gerbil, don't keep the animal in your room.
  • For caged animals, have someone else clean the cage.
  • If there's a pet in your classroom, let your teacher know about your allergies.
  • Play with your pet, but try not to hug or kiss the animal.
  • Wash your hands when you're done playing with your pet.
  • Get rid of any rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting in your room.
  • 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 you try all these things and are still having lots of asthma flare-ups, you may need to find another home for your pet. This might make you feel a lot of different feelings. At first, you may feel nothing at all. Or you may feel like crying. You may feel lonely or mad. All of these feelings are OK.

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

It takes months for all of the allergens to leave the house, so your allergies might not get better right away. Even if you don't have animals at home, you'll probably still come in contact with them from time to time.

When going over to a friend's house where there is a pet, be sure to take your allergy medicine before going over. Also, bring your asthma inhaler along, just in case.

If you're missing your pet, it may take a long time before you want a new one. But if you do, consider getting a few fish, which are less likely to cause allergies.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014