A hand raised in a stop motion with a hairy dog across from it

Pet Allergies: What About Therapy Dogs in Hospitals?

Last updated: September 2022

Ah, the good ole days. You know, before COVID-19. Hospitals would be busy, but they didn't have patients lined up in the hallways.

My 3 kids and I all have allergies and asthma. My middle son also has food allergies. These conditions all combine to make our lives miserable. They have also caused 12 total hospitalizations among my kids.

Over the years, we have learned that controlling our allergies can control our asthma. Like many people with asthma, we all have allergic asthma. So there are A LOT of things that make our bodies and lungs cranky.

Asthma and allergies are a challenge to manage

I use a simple visual when I teach families about allergies and asthma. I use toys or painted wood blocks in the shape of dogs, cats, flowers, trees, grass, etc., and then I add them 1 by 1 to a glass container. My clients can quickly see that people can manage 1 or 2 allergens. But, adding more and more allergens can cause the glass container (a.k.a. our body) to overflow. Cue the sneezing and wheezing.

My family tries our best to avoid our allergy and asthma triggers. Our home and my kid's apartments are allergy-friendly. But other places aren't. When my kids were little, they would start sneezing and wheezing in school, even when other students had dog or cat dander on their clothing.

You would think a hospital would be a safe place for allergies and asthma, right?

Hospitalized due to an asthma flare

During a scary hospitalization for my middle son's allergy and asthma flare, he was really struggling to breathe. He was on high-flow oxygen and was worn out. We were in his room watching TV when suddenly, a woman walked into his room with a dog on a leash.

I jumped up and yelled, "What are you doing?!" She had a look of shock on her face and started to back out of the room. The nurse came running in and shouted, "What's going on here?"

I shouted back, "My son is here with an allergy and asthma attack. He's allergic to dogs. Why would you bring a dog in here?"

The nurse curtly said, "Well, it's a therapy dog. How are we supposed to know that your son is allergic to dogs?"

Therapy dogs are not suitable for all hospital patients

I put my hand on my hip, gave her my best "Mom Scowl," and replied, "By asking." I told her she couldn't assume that every sick kid wants to see a therapy dog in their hospital room.

After my heart slowed down, I told her I appreciated the gesture - I really did! However, she needs to ask for a parent's permission and check a patient's chart before bringing a dog into their room.

If a child is in the hospital with allergies and asthma and is struggling to breathe (even on high flow oxygen), it's not a good idea to bring one of their triggers directly to their bedside.

My son thought I was a mean mom. But, it's my job to protect my children - from anyone or anything.

Patients with asthma or allergies can't enjoy therapy animals

Therapy dogs would be great for a child in the hospital due to another medical reason and who needed a little love from a furry friend. But it's not a great idea if the patient has allergies and asthma and is struggling to breathe.

Don't get me wrong. We love dogs. But their dander and fur don't love us back. 2 minutes of petting a dog leave my family wheezing and sneezing.

So while therapy dogs are adorable and comforting, they're a no-go for us. And, don't tell me it's okay because there are hypoallergenic dog breeds: this is a common myth!

What are your thoughts on therapy dogs? Should they be brought into pediatric wards of hospitals?

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