Sensitization and Exposure to Pets: The Effect on Asthma Morbidity in the US Population

J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018 Jan-Feb;6(1):101-107.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2017.05.019. Epub 2017 Jul 8.


Background: Although pets are found in more than 50% of US homes, the effect of pet allergen exposure on asthma morbidity in the US population is not well documented.

Objective: To determine the effect of dog and cat allergen exposures on asthma morbidity in the US population.

Methods: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a representative sample of civilian US population. Data on asthma, dog and cat allergen levels in bedroom dust, as well as specific IgE to dog and cat were analyzed for all participants 6 years or older.

Results: Pets are common in the United States, with more that 50% of households having a dog or a cat or both. The prevalence of allergic sensitization in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey population was similar for dog and cat, with both being approximately 12%. Among those who were sensitized, exposure to elevated levels of pet allergens was associated with an increased prevalence of asthma and asthma attacks. Indeed, 44.2% of the asthma attacks were attributable to exposure to high levels of dog allergen in the bedroom among patients with asthma sensitive to dog and 30.3% were attributable to cat allergen exposure among the comparable cat-sensitive and exposed group. Projecting these results to the US population indicates more than 1 million increased asthma attacks each year for the dog-sensitive and exposed group and more than 500,000 increased asthma attacks for the cat-sensitive and exposed population of patients with asthma.

Conclusions: Exposure to elevated levels of dog and cat allergens among those sensitized individuals with asthma is associated with excess asthma attacks. Reducing pet allergen exposures has the potential for a significant decrease in asthma morbidity.

Keywords: Allergen exposure; Allergen sensitization; Asthma; Cat; Dog; Hospitalizations; Pets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Cats
  • Child
  • Dogs
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Immunization
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Pets*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Allergens