Can Asthma and Animals Mix?
We won’t sugarcoat it: it can be tough having a child with asthma who also happens to be a big animal lover. The reality is, animals are carriers of all sorts of allergens that are known to trigger asthma symptoms, and these allergens can manifest in many different ways throughout your home. Animal hair can be a problematic trigger, often carrying dust, mold, or pollen from rolling around in the yard. Pet saliva and dander, also known as the tiny flakes of dead skin that pets leave around the house, are also considered leading allergy triggers. This means that even if a pet doesn’t shed hair, it could still trigger asthma.
After your child is diagnosed with asthma, navigating life with a family pet will likely need to become a bit more structured so as not to exacerbate your child’s asthma symptoms. In the same way that we recommend that you take precautions to minimize airborne triggers and remove any trigger sources from your child’s sleep space, there are a number of ways to be proactive about protecting your child from animal-related allergens. Here are four ways to get started:
Keep your pet out of your child’s bedroom -- especially off the bed. As mentioned in our prior blog post, keeping your child’s sleep space as trigger free as possible is a great way to curb asthma symptoms, as your child will likely spend many hours playing, sleeping, and/or doing homework in their room. As difficult as this can be, keeping pets outside their bedroom and off their bed can prevent dander from being left on sheets and bedspreads. If the pet is found in their room, make sure to vacuum and wash the bedding. Having dedicated space and time to play with pets can be a good way to curb any disappointment your child may feel about not having the family pet hang out in their room.
Reinforce strong hygiene habits after spending time with/or petting animals. This may go without saying, but it is important to make sure that your child scrubs his or her hands after petting or being around animals. Similar to how you would treat your child’s bathing schedule on high pollen days, it is also a good practice to wash his or her hands and face and change into new clothes before going to bed so as not to get any allergens on pillow cases or sheets. If your child is wearing a sweatshirt, jacket or any other item that typically is not washed with each use, it is a good precaution to wash the item after exposure to animals.
Make a habit of cleaning your pet and home frequently. In addition to scrubbing your child’s hands, hair, and face clean after interactions with pets, it is a good practice to keep your pet and home clean too. Making sure your pet gets brushed and shampooed regularly (either at home or professionally by a groomer) can help eliminate some of the dander and pollen that trigger asthma. For your home, keeping rugs, carpet, and upholstery vacuumed is also a great way to deter unwelcome asthma triggers from sticking around.
Put a reward system in place to encourage responsible interactions with pets. Similar to the process of settling into a routine with administering asthma medication, you may be met with some resistance to any new rules you instate around interacting with animals. Instead of framing it as a negative, you can use a reward chart to turn hand-washing and bathing routines into opportunities for your child to demonstrate responsibility and earn privileges.
For some children, even keeping the pet out of his or her room and limiting contact just isn’t enough to keep asthma symptoms under control with an animal in the house. In these cases, it may be necessary to explore alternative housing options for your pet. We realize this is a difficult step to take, however, it is important to do what you can to limit your child’s asthma triggers.