How Pet Dander Affects Your Asthma

a cat and Golden Retriever cuddling

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You may have heard that "animal dander" from your pet(s) may worsen your asthma. In fact, all furry/feathered animals produce animal dander. Thus, any pet dander puts asthmatics at an increased risk of poor asthma control if they are sensitive.

This is not a small problem. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as many as 30% of all asthmatics have an allergy to dogs or cats. While many people associate asthma-related symptoms with hair, it is actually the dander causing problems.

What Animal Dander Is

While it is commonly thought that it is the hair from pets that causes the allergic cascade leading to asthma symptoms and short-haired animals are less allergic for asthmatics, both are myths. In fact, it is dander or the proteins in skin flakes, urine, feces, saliva and hair that trigger your asthma symptoms.

These proteins are very small particles that are carried through the air and can come to land on a body part that comes into contact with your nose or mouth (like your finger) or the particles can be directly inhaled into the lung. You may notice symptoms immediately or may not develop them for 8 to 12 hours.

Symptoms of a Pet Allergy

The symptoms of asthma can include traditional asthma symptoms with exposure:

You are likely to experience these symptoms if animal dander gets to your lungs. However, you need to be aware of other symptoms too. For example, you might only experience allergic-type symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose. Likewise, you might experience a scratchy throat or watery, itchy eyes.

Finally, if you get scratched you might experience redness on the impacted area or symptoms on an area you self-inoculate (if you touch the area that was scratched or licked and rub it with a hand and then touch your hand to your nose or eyes).

If you are not terribly sensitive or you are not exposed to large amounts of dander, your reaction could occur days later making it more difficult to link the pet exposure to symptoms.

Any Pet With Fur Carries Pet Dander Around the House

Pets all shed a certain amount of allergen-producing dander per week. In this sense, there are no hypoallergenic pets but some produce less allergen than others and may be a better choice if you really want a pet.

Any pet with fur carries pet dander around your home and on you if they hop in your lap. Interestingly, it is a myth that it's the fur of animals that leads to the problems asthmatics experience. Just the same, long-haired animals may be more likely to collect and carry dander compared to animals with shorter hair.

According to the American Lung Association, while dogs are more common in homes compared to cats (32% versus 27%), cat allergies are reported twice as often than dog allergies.


The best treatment is to avoid exposure altogether. This, however, is not always optimal or possible. If your best friend has an animal you are allergic to, it just may not be possible to avoid exposure. This can be especially concerning for kids who cannot participate in certain activities resulting in social stigma or unhappiness because they are different. You may want to talk with your doctor about medicines you might be able to take beforehand for planned exposures.

How to Decrease Exposure

Removing your pet from the home and avoiding contact with the pet is the most effective way to decrease exposure to animal dander. A "trial removal" is not recommended as it may take as many as 20 weeks following removal for allergen levels to fall to levels similar to those of homes without pets. If you do remove the pet from the home, make sure you thoroughly clean all bedding products, floors, carpets and other surfaces where dander may collect.

If pet removal is going to produce depression, crying and gnashing of teeth for you or your child, making the pet an "outside only" animal is a partial solution, but will not fully decrease your exposure to animal dander. If that is also too restrictive, consider the following suggestions:

  • Keep the pet out of bedrooms and other places where you or your child spends a lot of time. You spend as much as a third of your life in the bedroom and this will decrease exposure significantly.
  • Consider bathing the animal weekly to reduce allergen exposure, but realize this may increase dander exposure if the allergic person is doing the washing.
  • Do not have the allergic person clean the animal's cage, living space, or litter box.
  • Remove wall to wall carpet if possible. Consider hardwood, tile or linoleum flooring as these products do not retain allergens like carpeting. If removing carpet is not an option, steam clean frequently. Remove the animal's favorite furniture as this is a haven for dander.
  • HEPA clean air filters may reduce your allergen exposure. You may also want to consider a HEPA filter specifically for the bedroom.
  • Keep pets away from fabric-covered furniture, carpets, and stuffed toys as much as possible.
  • Unfortunately, frequent vacuuming does not decrease dander exposure, but using a HEPA vacuum filter or double bag may decrease exposure if you must vacuum. If you are the impacted individual, wear a dust mask while vacuuming.
  • Change clothes after prolonged playing or exposure to your pet.
  • Talk to your doctor about allergy shots or immunotherapy.

What Types of Pets to Get

If you already know you have allergy symptoms or want to make sure you or your child will not develop symptoms from a particular pet, consider spending time with someone that has the pet you wish to get before purchasing. Alternatively, consider animals that typically do not cause or worsen allergies like:

  • Turtles
  • Hermit crabs
  • Aquarium fish
  • Snakes
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