Childhood asthma has become a big health concern and has been on the increase for the last few decades. It’s estimated that between 4% and 9% of children aged between 6 and 12 have been diagnosed with childhood asthma and it’s been said that there are certain factors related to asthma including some genetic markers. Scientists have also stated that there are things in the environment that cause childhood asthma, such as being regularly exposed to dogs or cats in the home or tobacco smoke.
Evidence linked to living with pets, however, has been varied and some reports have even said that pets actually decrease the chance of childhood asthma and not increase it.
Signs Dogs Can Detect an Asthma Attack
A dog has a very good sense of smell and that can alert their owner to when they may be in a situation which could induce an asthma attack. This enables the owner to be able to remove themselves out of the situation that could trigger an attack and get themselves to a safe place and also it gives the owner time to take their preventative medication.
Dogs are usually trained to behave in this way but natural signs could include; whining, nudging, barking and jumping as an alert to an impending attack.
History Behind Dogs and Asthma
Historically this wasn't an issue, as dogs were wild and not introduced into the home, however as they have domesticated and turned into the beloved pets of today, we've started to notice this inate ability. Some people with allergies can have symptoms exasperated by having dogs indoors and this is where the common misconception has come with people linking dogs to asthma.
Science Behind Dogs and Asthma
235 million people worldwide have asthma. 10% of these people are allergic to pets and 75% have allergies. It’s believed that dogs and cats are the cause of allergies but cat allergies are said to be 50% more common compared to dog allergies. That said, any animal that is warm-blooded can cause pet allergies.
When we talk about pet allergies we are referring to the flakes of skin (dander), saliva, feces and urine that is produced by warm-blooded animals. When in contact with these allergens, the immune system of those that are allergic to them releases proteins called IgE antigens. These then attach themselves to mast cells which line the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Chemical reactions then occur which causes inflammation of the cells that line the airways, throat, nose, and the eyes. This results in irritability, difficulty breathing, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, congestion, itchy throat, and watery, itchy eyes.
Even though eczema is normally found in infants, we don’t often realize that there is a natural sequence of eczema to food allergies and then to nasal allergies and asthma. Studies have therefore tried to see if there is a protective element to having a dog and if this slowed down this progress.
This study looked at mothers and their children who were exposed to a dog in the sense that they had one or more than one dog and kept the dog inside the home for at least an hour each day. The study revealed that those mothers who were pregnant and exposed to dogs in this scenario had children who were regarded as low-risk for eczema by the age of two. As we said above, this protection is reduced by the age of ten.
A different study looked at the effects of different kinds of dog exposure and their effects on children who had asthma. The first kind of exposure was allergen or protein which affects children who have an allergy to dogs. The second kind of exposure was elements i.e. bacteria that dogs may carry.
Research revealed that contact with elements that dogs carry could have this protective element with regards to symptoms related to asthma. However, contact with an allergen could increase symptoms related to asthma for those children with a dog allergy.
For those who have a dog allergy, it’s been suggested that they should work with their allergist to decrease exposure. Here are some tips if you do have a dog allergy but you keep a dog in the home:
- Bath your dog at least once a week as this helps to decrease dog allergens which are airborne.
- You can reduce allergen levels if you use a HEPA cleaner which is on continuously in areas such as the living room or the bedroom. Additionally, regularly using a central vacuum cleaner or a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner can also help to decrease levels of allergen.
- Every time that you hug or pet your dog make sure that you wash your hands with soap and water.
- Try and restrict the number of rooms that your dog has access to and keep your dog out of your bedroom.
- Remove any upholstered carpets or furniture and keep pets off these if you must have them.
Training a Dog to Detect Asthma Attacks
As we’ve mentioned above, a dog can sense when its owner is experiencing an asthma attack and a dog can be trained to press an emergency button or alert someone who is nearby.
For those who have asthma or even other respiratory conditions such as COPD, you will benefit from having a dog who has been medically trained to alert when signs of attack are present.
Dogs can be trained to remind their owner about medication, if they seem short of breath, or to remember to check their oxygen levels. Additionally, trained dogs can alert someone to seek medical help, seek help themselves, wake someone up if their breathing sounds poor and even find and bring medication. It is even worth your dog carrying asthma medication at all times so it is always within your reach.
By Charlotte Ratcliffe
Published: 04/13/2018, edited: 04/06/2020