Controlling Severe Asthma

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Can Service Dogs Help People With Asthma?

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Service dog helping a woman with visual impairment at a curb

Nearly 26 million people in the United States are affected by asthma, a condition in which a trigger causes your airways to swell, narrow, and produce more mucus than normal. This makes breathing difficult and can be life-threatening in severe cases. 

Living with asthma is often stressful, because it can be hard to predict when an asthma attack will hit. Once an attack begins, panic may prevent you from being relaxed enough to follow instructions and properly take medication. Stress also causes rapid breathing that constricts bronchial tubes and makes the asthma attack worse. Episodes might last a few minutes, but some asthma symptoms persist for hours or days. 

To ease these concerns, some asthma patients seek the aid of asthma services dogs, canines specially trained to support people with asthma. Having an asthma service dog by your side can help reduce stress and make it easier to manage asthma symptoms and flare-ups. This can be especially beneficial for children in school or adults who worry about asthma attacks at work. 

How Asthma Service Dogs Help Their Humans

An asthma-monitoring service dog is classified as a medical alert dog. This category of service dog monitors and assists people who have dangerous, chronic conditions. These medical alert dogs typically work with people who have an “invisible” disability, where the symptoms come on suddenly and may be hard to notice. A trained asthma service dog knows exactly how to detect physiological changes before an asthma attack occurs. 

Service dogs for asthma are trained to:

  • Notice and alert you to asthma triggers, such as dust, smoke and pollen

  • Listen for breathing changes that signal an asthma attack, such as coughing and wheezing

  • Warn their handler about an oncoming asthma attack with an alert signal like pawing or nudging

  • Wake the person up if they’re having respiratory problems during sleep

  • Fetch inhalers or medications and go for help when necessary

  • Keep their human calm during an asthma attack

In addition to alerting their handler to asthma-related issues, one of the biggest benefits asthma service dogs provide is peace of mind. Asthma sufferers report that having a four-legged helper by their side day and night gives them a feeling of comfort and safety. It relieves stress and reduces the fear of being helpless during an unexpected asthma attack or one that occurs during sleep. 

Do You Need a Service Dog for Your Asthma? 

It takes extensive and expensive training to teach a dog to care for someone with severe asthma. Which means it can be challenging to qualify for this unique type of service animal. These dogs are usually designated for people with life-threatening asthma. That said, if you have mild asthma, you may qualify for an emotional support animal. 

If you think a service dog would greatly improve your quality of life, give some thought to what breed and size of dog would be best for your lifestyle. Any breed can be trained as a medical alert service dog. You should also consider what it will be like to care for a dog throughout their lifespan. 

Once you’ve decided to apply for a medical alert dog, do your homework and find a reputable service dog trainer and provider. If you get approved, all that’s left is to pick out the perfect name and enjoy your new companion and potential lifesaver.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 29
  1. 7 chronic diseases service dogs help to manage. Chronic Disease Coalition. https://chronicdiseasecoalition.org/7-chronic-diseases-service-dogs-help-to-manage/
  2. Service Dog for Asthma | How They Can Help & How You Can Qualify. US Service Animals. https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/service-dog-for-asthma/
  3. Information About Asthma Monitoring Service DogsMy Assistance Dog Inc. http://www.myassistancedoginc.org/information-about-asthma-monitoring-service-dogs
  4. Asthma Symptoms. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-symptoms
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