Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, wheezing when exhaling, rapid breathing, and even difficulty eating, speaking, or sleeping during severe attacks. This condition is triggered by various factors, such as pollen, exercise, viral infections, and exposure to cold air.
In the United States alone, a significant portion of the population suffers from this condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 25 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, which is about 1 in 13 people. This significant number underscores the urgency for effective management strategies, including exploring the potential of service dogs for asthmatics. While common methods include the use of medications and avoiding triggers, another innovative approach has emerged: the use of service dogs in asthma care and management.
The Role of Service Dogs in Asthma Management
Service dogs are a subset of working dogs that have been trained to assist people with disabilities in their daily lives. These dogs are rigorously trained to perform specific tasks that their handlers are unable to do due to their disabilities.
In the context of asthma, service dogs can be an invaluable aid for managing and caring for this chronic condition. These dogs, often referred to as “asthma alert dogs,” are trained to recognize the early signs of an asthma attack, even before their handler may realize what’s happening.
Service dogs can help people with asthma in numerous ways;
- Early Detection: Dogs have a keen sense of smell and can be trained to detect subtle changes in their handler’s breath or body odor, which might indicate an impending asthma attack.
- Alerting Their Handler: Once a service dog detects these changes, it will alert its handler by exhibiting certain behaviors, such as pawing, barking, or fetching the inhaler.
- Fetching Medication: During an asthma attack, the individual may not be able to move or find their medication. In such cases, service dogs can fetch the needed medication or inhaler.
- Seeking Help: If the handler is unable to call for help during a severe attack, the service dog can be trained to press an emergency button or go to another person in the house to alert them.
- Providing Comfort: The presence of a service dog can also provide emotional comfort and reduce stress levels, which can be beneficial since stress can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
When is a Service Dog Necessary?
While service dogs can greatly aid in asthma management, it’s important to understand when one might be necessary. Here are some instances where having a service dog could be beneficial:
For individuals with severe, life-threatening asthma that is poorly controlled with medication, a service dog can provide an essential early warning system for impending attacks, giving them crucial extra time to take preventive measures.
If someone experiences frequent asthma attacks, especially those that require hospitalization, a service dog can help them manage their condition more effectively. The dog can also fetch medications and alert others in the event of an emergency.
Difficulty Recognizing Symptoms
Some individuals have difficulty recognizing the early signs of an asthma attack. In such cases, a service dog can provide valuable alerts, allowing the handler to take action before the condition worsens.
For those living alone with asthma, a service dog can offer not only assistance during attacks but also companionship and emotional support, which can help reduce stress—an exacerbating factor for asthma.
Children with Asthma
Children may not always understand or communicate their symptoms effectively. A service dog can help alert parents or caregivers to an impending attack and also provide comfort to the child.
Key Considerations for Getting an Asthma Service Dog
Considering a service dog to assist with asthma management is a big decision and involves several key considerations. Consider the following considerations:
Investing in a service dog comes with substantial expenses, including training and ongoing care costs like food, grooming, and veterinary bills.
In the U.S., the price of a dog varies greatly. A purebred dog from a reputable breeder can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, with some breeds commanding higher prices. Adoption fees for mixed breeds can be under $100, whereas those for purebred or designer dogs might exceed $13,000.
However, several organizations provide financial assistance or programs to mitigate these expenses, making it beneficial to explore such options.
Time and Commitment
Service dogs require time and attention. Training a service dog is a time-consuming process that requires dedication. Once trained, they require regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay healthy and sharp.
A service dog must fit into your lifestyle. These could be obstacles if you travel frequently, have allergies to dogs, or live in a place that does not allow pets.
While a service dog can alert you to impending asthma attacks, it’s not a substitute for medical treatment. It’s important to continue your prescribed asthma management plan and to regularly consult with your healthcare provider.
Choosing the Right Dog
Not all dogs will make good service dogs. The dog should be easy to train, calm, and friendly. It’s also important to consider the size of the dog, especially if you live in an apartment or have young children.
While some organizations provide trained service dogs, others may provide a puppy for you to train. It takes time, patience, and consistency to train a service dog.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
Understanding the laws surrounding service animals is crucial. In the United States, for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) permits service dogs to accompany their handlers in most public places.
Best Breeds and Caring for Your Service Dog
When you’re contemplating an asthma service dog, it’s essential to know that certain breeds stand out for their potential as alert dogs. These breeds are renowned for their intelligence, trainability, and friendly demeanor. Such breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Poodles, being hypoallergenic, can also be a good choice for those with allergies.
Knowing how to care for your service dog is also essential. Regular exercise is essential for these dogs to stay physically and mentally fit. This can be accomplished through daily walks and playtime, as well as mental stimulation from training sessions.
A healthy diet plays a crucial role in your service dog’s overall health and performance, so consulting with your veterinarian for the best diet plan is recommended. Similarly, regular check-ups are essential to ensure your service dog remains in prime health, which includes routine vaccinations, dental care, and preventive treatments for fleas, ticks, and worms.
Another important aspect to consider is grooming. Baths, brushing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning should all be part of your service dog’s routine care. While service dogs are working dogs, they also require relaxation time. Make sure they have plenty of downtime.
Lastly, like any other pet, service dogs need love and affection. It is critical for your service dog’s emotional well-being to form a strong bond with them.
Deciding to get an asthma service dog is a significant decision that can greatly help manage life with asthma. By choosing the right breed and providing proper care, a service dog can become an essential part of your healthcare routine and a cherished member of your family.