Pets can often trigger asthma symptoms. Here’s why − and what you can do about it

People with asthma have also been known to have allergies, some of which may include animals. If you find that your allergies or asthma symptoms worsen around animals, it is recommended you speak with your doctor about your symptoms and perhaps further allergy testing.

Often people assume their asthma is triggered by animal hair, but if pets are a trigger for you, you may be allergic to proteins found in the animal’s flakes of skin also known as pet dander, additionally, asthma and allergy symptoms come from pet saliva, urine or even fine particles from bird feathers known as ‘feather dust’.

Lots of pets can trigger allergic asthma symptoms, from cats, dogs, and horses, to rabbits, hamsters, mice and gerbils, and birds. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have allergies to all of the above, it may just be one.

How do you know if you are experiencing symptoms of allergies

Most people with an allergy to animals react quickly – often within a few minutes. Some people might not notice symptoms until several hours later.

As well as asthma symptoms, you might have other symptoms like an itchy, watery nose and eyes, sneezing, and coughing.

If you’re highly allergic to animals, you might have severe breathing problems, as well as a fast heart rate, feeling clammy, feeling faint, and even collapsing – an extreme reaction called anaphylaxis. In which case, you would seek urgent medical assistance.

How to reduce animals triggering your asthma

If you start getting asthma symptoms that you think are caused by your pet, you may like to:

  • take your preventer medicines as prescribed.
  • speak to your doctor about your symptoms and together update a written Asthma Action Plan
  • keep pets outside as much as possible
  • bathe your pet regularly, and if you have symptoms, have someone else do it for you
  • wash your pet’s bedding and toys regularly
  • think about trying an air filter and/or a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter

If you cannot avoid exposure, reduction methods may include;

  • Washing your hands and clothing after touching animals
  • Regularly cleaning/vacuuming floors, curtains and upholstery or having a family member who is not allergic to the animals do so
  • Regularly bathing furred animals, unless this puts the animal’s health at risk
  • Keeping animals out of your bedroom and away from carpets and soft surfaces where allergens can accumulate.

Pets in the workplace and at schools

Some schools have been known to have a classroom pet, most likely guinea pigs, mice, fish, rabbits, or an animal of the small nature. It is important when keeping any pet, that they are kept clean, including where they are kept. Schools should also consider only having low-risk animals such as fish, lizards, and turtles. Animals in classrooms with highly sensitive students (students who react to very low levels of allergen) should be rehomed within the school. If you have concerns, please be sure to speak with your child’s teacher and/or school.

Pets in the workplace are becoming more common than you may think, the ‘bring your dog to work day’ is being adopted by many, however, they do not come without risk. Employers should be considerate of their employees and be made aware of any allergies or concerns that employees may have before allowing animals in the workplace.

Thinking about getting a pet?

  • consider whether you have any other allergies
  • set up a trial run by spending time with the animal you are thinking about getting

With asthma now ranking in the top five chronic conditions patients present with to their doctor, Asthma Australia welcomes new evidence that furthers its understanding of the link between animals, asthma, and allergies. A Swedish study of pet-ownership has found the more cats and dogs in the household during the first year of life, the less likely a child developed chronic conditions such as asthma, eczema and hay fever. Read more here.

Are their animals that are hypoallergenic?

Some dog breeders claim certain breeds of dogs are ‘hypoallergenic’ and less likely to trigger asthma due to the shedding of less hair. However, research shows allergen levels in these animal’s hair, coat, and owners homes is no lower compared to other breeds.

Pet dander