It’s a classic battle between head and heart: Should a person with COPD have a pet?
Allow me to spoil the ending for you: there’s no right or wrong answer. Pets can provide emotional companionship that can be beneficial for anyone, especially someone managing a chronic illness. Many pet owners will tell you that pets seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to comforting pain and ailments – I swear I always get the best cuddles from my kitty when I’m not feeling well!
However, with this particular chronic illness, the individual could experience exacerbations because of the excess hair and dander in the air, not to mention pets tend to be carriers for human diseases. Our heads understand the tricky logistics, but our hearts can’t get enough of those puppy eyes and kitty purrs.
To help inform the tough decision, below is a more in-depth breakdown of the potential pros and cons of having a furry friend with COPD:
• Pets often inspire greater activity and socialization—walking one’s dog through the neighborhood not only encourages regular movement, it also sparks more conversation with neighbors than walking alone
• Pet care provides a purpose and responsibility for each day—it’s easy to feel a sense of cabin fever with COPD; having to care for a dog or a cat can help ease the sense of isolation and keep the mind active
• The presence of pets can ease the daily stress, anxiety and depression that can occur with a chronic illness. Studies show pets can reduce the stress and anxiety an individual feels when attempting difficult tasks (such as arithmetic) and also when handling a larger stressor, such as a loss of a loved one1.
• Pet dander and allergens are incredibly small—microscopic even. As such, they are very easily spread and difficult to remove
• Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as a non-allergenic dog or cat. Certain breeds shed less than others, and therefore produce less hair/fur, but dander consists of more than just hair or fur. In fact, the usual culprit for allergies is a protein found in pet saliva and urine which then sticks to their skin and fur2.
• Domesticated animals can carry germs, bacteria, viruses and parasites. While some can not be transmitted to humans, many can cause serious illness in humans, especially those with a lowered immune system.
So, obviously, the above pros and cons apply primarily to furry and feathery pets. If you have interest in a fish, your cons list is quite minimal—though the affection level might be minimized as well. But in some instances, the pros of a pet outweigh the cons. For those of you faced with that dilemma, below are some tips for managing your COPD while still enjoying your furry friends:
Tips for Managing COPD with Pets
• Try to keep your pet well-groomed and bathed regularly—brushing them daily, especially when warmer weather begins and they begin to shed their winter coat, will help minimize the dander from spreading. Better yet, have a friend or family member brush/bathe them so you can try to avoid the irritants completely.
• It’s preferable to keep pets out of the bedroom, but specifically, try to keep them away from your face—as adorable as puppy kisses can be, the closer they get to your face, the more likely they are to pass germs and fluff dander into your nose and mouth
• Be sure to vaccinate your pet and take them to the vet for regular physical exams
• Keep your home clean—dander can accumulate in dust which will disperse through the air and land on shelves, carpets, upholstery, and even window dressings.
• Invest in a high-efficiency particulate air purifier (HEPA purifier)—these generally range in price from $60-$200.
How about you? Do you have any stories or advice about caring for pets with COPD? Ultimately, the choice to get or keep a pet with COPD is up to you and your healthcare team, but familiarizing yourself with the pros and cons can help you make the best decision for you and your health!