Medical Q&As

Asthma - family pets?

A diagnosis of asthma has recently been made in my seven-year-old son. I know that pets can trigger attacks of asthma and I wonder what should we do about our family dog?

Your question about your seven-year-old and the family dog raises a dilemma for your family because you are faced with a trade off. On the one hand having a family pet can be wonderful for children but that much loved pet can also be a potent trigger for asthma. Family pets are a significant trigger factor in many cases of childhood asthma. Susceptible children become sensitised to animal dander, which consists of tiny scales or particles that fall off hair, feathers or skin. Almost all pets can cause allergies including dogs and especially cats. Small pets like birds, hamsters and guinea pigs can also cause problems. Purists would say that pets should be banned from the home. This may be necessary in cases where a child suffers from frequent severe exacerbations of asthma. If the asthma is less problematic the pet should be kept out of the bedroom of anyone with asthma. Weekly pet baths may also help to cut down the amount of dander in the home. If you have to take the unhappy step of eliminating the pet from your home you would need to be aware that pet allergens could remain in the house for many months because it can remain in house dust. This means that allergy and asthma symptoms can persist for many months after the exclusion of the pet.