Can I have pets if I have asthma?
Not everyone with asthma is allergic to pets, but if you have allergic asthma you may notice your asthma symptoms get worse around animals. This is because allergens found in the animal’s skin flakes (dander), spit, or urine can all trigger allergic asthma symptoms.
Animal allergies can develop at any stage of life. Even if you had a pet when you were younger and didn’t react to it, you could be allergic to the same type of animal now.
Pets are a common asthma trigger
In our Life with a lung condition survey just under a quarter of all people who responded told us that pets triggered their asthma.
Are some pets more likely to trigger allergies than others?
Pets with fur or feathers are more likely to trigger allergic asthma. This includes cats, dogs, rabbits and birds. Scaly animals such as fish, frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes do not shed skin flakes (dander) and are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.
However, algae growing in fish tanks, and animal bedding like sawdust or wood-shavings, can trigger symptoms for some people.
What about hypoallergenic cats and dogs?
Hypoallergenic means something with little or no allergy-producing symptoms. Certain breeds of cats and dogs are sometimes thought to be hypoallergenic and less likely to cause an allergic reaction. However, cats or dogs which shed less hair can still trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. No pet is totally hypoallergenic.
How do I know if I have a pet allergy?
You could have a pet allergy if you notice symptoms when you’re around animals. These may include:
- allergy symptoms, like sneezing and itchy eyes and nose, itchy skin or a skin rash
- asthma symptoms, like coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and a tight chest.
You may get these symptoms within minutes of coming into contact with a pet. They could also start later on, perhaps even several hours later.
Ask your doctor to arrange an allergy skin prick or blood test. This is the only way to confirm whether or not your symptoms are because of a pet allergy.
Keep a symptom diary
It can be helpful to keep a diary of when you get symptoms or need to use your reliever inhaler. Note down what you were doing, and if you were around animals or pets. If you work with animals, you could be more at risk of developing occupational asthma.
A symptom diary can help you notice other things that may be triggering your symptoms too. For example, if you notice your asthma symptoms are worse at certain times of the year, it could be that you’re allergic to pollen or mould spores. Your cat or dog can bring in pollen and mould spores on their fur.
Pets with fur and feathers can also carry dust mites.
How can I lower my risk?
“The most important thing you can do to lower your risk is to use your preventer inhaler regularly, as prescribed.” Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma and Lung UK’s GP.
Use your preventer medicine
Taking your preventer medicine every day, as prescribed, will mean you’re less likely to react to any of your asthma triggers, including animals and pets.
Your preventer inhaler keeps inflammation down in your airways and makes it less likely you’ll get symptoms when you come across your triggers.
Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about allergy medicines like antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays.
Always carry your reliever inhaler
Always carry your reliever inhaler with you too, so you can use it quickly if you get asthma symptoms.
Speak to your doctor or asthma nurse
If you’ve noticed symptoms around animals, or any other trigger, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse.
They can review your asthma treatment and may be able to talk about other treatments that could help, such as montelukast.
Practical tips at home
If pets are triggering your asthma, it may help to:
- limit where your pet can go in your house
- wash your pet and any surfaces they touch regularly
- clean carpets regularly, ideally with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter
Get more practical tips on managing allergies at home.
If your symptoms are getting worse
If you’ve noticed your asthma symptoms getting worse, or that you’ve been using your reliever inhaler more often, see your doctor or asthma nurse as soon as possible.
They can review your treatment plan to make sure your asthma is as well managed as possible.
My child’s pet allergy
Animal allergens can be a big trigger in allergic childhood asthma. If your child has had allergy symptoms around animals before, ask their GP for an allergy test to confirm whether or not they have a pet allergy.
Thinking of getting your child a pet?
If you have a child with a pet allergy, think carefully before bringing a pet into your home.
BTS (British Thoracic Society) Guidelines for asthma say:
- there’s not enough evidence that owning a cat or dog when your child is very small will either increase or reduce their risk of getting asthma or wheezing later on
- owning a cat or dog in early childhood may reduce your child’s risk of being allergic or sensitive. However, parents should not decide to have a pet in the home based on preventing their child from getting asthma.
Some rescue centres may let you trial a cat, dog or other rescue pet before you agree to rehome it.
Your child could adopt or sponsor an animal. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have animals like tigers, pandas and polar bears you can sponsor. Some zoos also let you sign up to adopt zoo animals.
Pets at school
More schools now have a dog, often used as a therapy dog. This can improve children’s well-being in school, and even benefit their learning. Schools sometimes keep small animals like guinea pigs, fish and stick insects too.
If your child is going on a school trip to a petting farm or zoo, make sure the adults who are going with them know about their asthma.
Talk to the school, and your child’s teacher if you’re worried about your child’s pet allergy in school or when they go on school trips.
Find out more about keeping your child with asthma safe at school.
Other people's pets
You may have decided not to have a pet yourself, but how can you manage other people’s pets?
Visiting somebody with a pet
- If possible, avoid visiting someone with a pet at home if you or your child have a pet allergy.
- If you do need to visit someone with a pet, take an antihistamine (as a tablet or nasal spray) before you visit, to help prevent symptoms. If you cannot take an antihistamine until afterwards, it’s still worth taking it because it can stop allergic symptoms being as bad.
- Ask if they can keep their pet in another room while you’re there, but remember that pet allergens stay around on soft furnishings and clothes.
Dogs in public places
We sometimes hear from people worried about dogs being allowed into cafés and bars, and onto buses.
Here are some tips if you’re out and about:
- Think about avoiding cafés and bars that welcome dogs, if you can.
- If you know you’ll be in a café or bar where dogs are allowed, take an antihistamine beforehand.
- If you’re going out somewhere, book ahead and tell them about your allergy. They may be able to seat you away from any dog areas.
- If you’re travelling by bus, avoid sitting near anyone who has a dog with them, and open windows. Remember that pet allergens are carried on people’s clothes too.
Always carry your reliever inhaler with you
It’s not always possible to avoid coming into contact with your asthma triggers.
Using your preventer medicine as prescribed will make it less likely that you’ll react to any triggers.
But always carry your reliever inhaler with you, so you can quickly deal with symptoms as they come on.