If you have severe asthma, your flare-ups may be more resistant to traditional asthma medications. This can make it even more important to avoid your triggers whenever possible. But if animal dander is one of your primary asthma triggers, this could include your pets.
Animal dander is made up of small skin cells shed by dogs, cats, and other pets that have fur or feathers.
It’s also possible to be allergic to your pet’s saliva, feces, and urine. These can emit microscopic dust that becomes airborne, which can then trigger your asthma and decrease your overall lung function.
If pets trigger your asthma, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- sneezing and runny nose
- nasal congestion
- itchy skin and eyes
Some experts recommend re-homing pets or refraining from adopting them at all.
But even if you make the difficult decision to find a new home for your pet, you may still experience asthma symptoms due to dander for several weeks or months after.
By taking extra precautions, it may be possible to manage your severe asthma while living with pets. Learn how you can embrace your furry loved ones without necessarily compromising your lung function.
As a general rule of thumb, your pets should stay off surfaces with fabrics on them. Animal dander can easily cling to these types of surfaces in your home.
Some of these areas include:
It can be challenging to keep your pets off of all the above surfaces, especially if your home is mostly carpeted. Instead, focus on areas you can control, such as your bedroom and any couches in your living room.
While animal dander can still be airborne, minimizing its presence from the surfaces you sit and lie down on can help reduce your exposure.
It’s especially important to keep your pets out of rooms you spend most of your time in, like your bedroom.
For added protection, you can place your mattress and pillows in allergen-proof covers. This helps to prevent any airborne animal dander from sticking to these surfaces, which helps reduce your chances of asthma flare-ups.
Designating “no-pet” zones in your home can help, but animal dander will still be in your household. This is why it’s important to clean your home regularly, especially any fabrics or upholstered furniture that dander may stick to.
At a minimum, you should do the following once a week:
- Wash your bedding in hot water.
- Vacuum all rugs and carpeting. Use a vacuum that’s equipped with a high-efficiency particular air (HEPA) filter to further trap pet dander and other allergens.
- Vacuum upholstered furniture, including underneath cushions and pillows.
- Dust mop uncarpeted floors, as well as baseboards and walls.
- Use a damp cloth to wipe down furniture and other surfaces in your home. Don’t use scented spray cleaners, as these can further exacerbate respiratory symptoms.
When you have severe asthma, it may be helpful to ask a loved one to do the dusting and vacuuming for you when you’re out of the house, if possible. This reduces your exposure to any dander that may become airborne during the cleaning process.
Aside from keeping your home clean, you can help minimize animal dander by keeping your pets clean, too. This helps to remove excess fur and skin cells that can contribute to airborne dander.
You can bathe and brush dogs and cats once per week. You may not be able to bathe hamsters, birds, rabbits, and other smaller animals. But you can minimize dander by cleaning their habitats at least once a week.
You’ll also want to clean all of your furry friend’s bedding and toys regularly. Ideally, you may want to enlist the help of a loved one to get this job done so that you can minimize your exposure as much as possible.
The only way to know if your pets are worsening your asthma symptoms is to get tested.
Allergy tests can provide insight into which animals you’re allergic to, if any. It’s possible to mistake pet allergies for other causes, such as dust mites, mold, and pollen.
Also, consider getting allergy testing before taking in any more pets. Cats and dogs are the most allergenic, but it’s also possible to be allergic to birds and rodents.
Unfortunately, nonallergenic cats and dogs don’t exist. Even certain breeds without fur emit dander.
If your pets are indeed causing asthma flare-ups, try the above steps along with following your asthma action plan. Take your medications as directed and talk to your doctor about adding antihistamines or other medications to your treatment plan.
If you find yourself needing your quick-relief medications more than 2 times per week, it may be time to adjust your treatment.
See your doctor if your asthma symptoms are also interfering with daily activities, such as walking your dog, or if flare-ups keep you up at night.
Living with pets when you have severe asthma can be challenging if you’re allergic to animal dander. But there are steps you can take to minimize exposure and prevent it from affecting your lung function as much as possible.
Aside from regular house and pet cleanings, work with your doctor to see if any adjustments to your asthma medications can help.