Dealing with a chronic condition like asthma can be tough. That said, asthma is a manageable disease, and, with the proper treatment, those with mild to moderate cases generally do not suffer severe symptoms. However, severe cases can cause some serious complications. You may wonder how a service dog can help someone with a respiratory condition, but it is possible in more ways than one.
The service animal required for someone with asthma would be considered a medical alert dog. These animals are used for individuals who typically have an “invisible” disability. You can’t see the disability because it is within the individual rather than outwardly visible. Medical alert dogs notice physiological changes in people with invisible disabilities. A trained service dog for someone with asthma would be able to detect when an asthma attack is about to occur and let their owner know so that they can take the proper precautions.
In order to better understand how service animals can assist those suffering from severe asthma attacks, let’s first look at the condition and its symptoms.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects millions of Americans. The primary symptom is often referred to as an “asthma attack.” During an asthma attack, the airways are narrowed, making it extremely difficult to breathe. In most cases, a person with asthma will need to use a special inhaler to ensure that the airways return to a normal state.
While asthma attacks can happen at any time, they are more frequent at night or during exercise. In addition to the primary symptoms, asthma can also cause excessive anxiety and issues with respiratory infections. If left untreated, asthma can be a severe and even life-threatening condition.
Asthma is generally classified as mild, moderate, or severe. The necessary treatment for your condition will depend on its severity, as well as the triggers that bring on an attack. Triggers can vary from person to person, with some attacks triggered by certain foods and others triggered by overexertion. In any case, you will need to consult a medical professional to see if you have asthma, the severity of your condition, and the best treatment options for you.
While a service animal should not be the only treatment you seek, service dogs can be a beneficial part of your treatment plan. But what exactly is a service dog?
What is a Service Dog?
It is important to note the differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act both cover the legal definitions of emotional support animals. These laws help protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space or travel by air. So, if you or someone close to you suffers from asthma, but the condition is not considered to be severe, an emotional support animal may be the best option for you.
Those dealing with asthma also have the option of seeking treatment with a therapy dog, but this is a little more complicated, as therapy animals are often used exclusively in treatment facilities. To put it simply, a therapy dog is any dog that meets certain criteria required to provide psychological and emotional support to an individual. However, by this definition, most dogs would probably qualify. Many people adopt dogs for this very purpose: to provide emotional support and companionship. In reality, therapy dogs are used for specific intervention treatments for those suffering any kind of mental pain or debilitation.
Therapy dogs can be used for a variety of circumstances. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care facilities often use therapy dogs to combat loneliness and depression among the residents. When children (or adults) suffer the loss of a close family member, therapy dogs are a great way to encourage healing and help the individual cope with emotional trauma.
It is important to note that there are different kinds of therapy dogs that all serve different purposes. Generally, therapy dogs can be divided into three categories:
- Therapeutic Visitation Dogs – This is the most common type of therapy dog. These pets and their owners visit hospitals, mental health facilities, and other healthcare centers to prevent patients from feeling lonely, disconnected, or hopeless.
- Animal Assisted Therapy Dog – This type of therapy dog is generally reserved for rehabilitation clinics. Under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist, these dogs help patients regain mobility through various motor-control activities.
- Facility Therapy Dog – These dogs are often used exclusively in elderly care facilities to alert staff of any issues with the patients. They also provide companionship to the residents, many of whom do not have any living friends or relatives outside of the facility.
In short, it can be difficult for people with milder forms of asthma to qualify for a service dog, and therapy dogs are usually limited to treatment facilities. As a result, emotional support animals are usually the best choice for these situations. Nonetheless, if your asthma is severe, you can still qualify and obtain a service dog.
How Service Animals Can Help
Service animals can be trained to not only detect the onset of the attack but also help once an attack begins. Medical alert dogs can help an individual find their inhaler, seek help, or simply provide comfort. Asthma attacks are scary because you basically feel like you can’t breathe, and if your inhaler is empty, this can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation.
Imagine being alone, gasping for air, unable to ask for help. A service dog can not only help you through that panic but also give you the reassurance that you never have to go through it alone. The help a service dog provides is both direct (physical) and indirect (psychological).
Asthma attacks can occur due to a variety of triggers and environmental factors. Pollen and dust are common triggers of asthma attacks. A service dog would be able to identify these triggers in the air well before a human. They can identify these problems and inform the owner that the area is not safe, allowing the owner to change direction or come up with an alternate route to their destination.
A service dog is specially trained to help the owner tackle their disease in a way that would address their specific needs. Many people have asthma, but each case is different. It may not be the asthma attack that is the most worrisome, but rather remembering to take your medication, or even remembering where you placed your inhaler. Service animals can even help the owner keep track of their medicine or inhalers and remind him or her when it is time to be administered.
How To Qualify For A Service Dog If You Have Asthma
In order to obtain a service dog, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 12 years of age, unless a service dog is needed for a child with autism (then the age is 6-12).
- Have a diagnosed physical disability, an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting at least one limb.
- Reside in a stable home environment.
- Be physically and cognitively capable of participating in the process of training, up to one hour per day.
- Be able to independently command and handle a service dog.
- Be able to meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a service dog.
- Have no other dog in the home (other animals as pets are permitted).
Just because you have asthma does not mean you immediately qualify for a service animal. These animals require extensive training and funding for them to satisfactorily complete the service training program. Their skills are designed for those who are in the most need and will benefit the most from their companionship.
A mild case of asthma is not a reason to get a service dog. But if you have a milder form of asthma, don’t worry! You can simply obtain an emotional support animal instead! Service dogs should be assigned to individuals with severe asthma who think a service animal would greatly improve their quality of life.
Service dogs can be viewed as elite medical professionals in the animal world. Having one as your companion could be the difference between one asthma attack per year or 20. Those who struggle immensely with their disease should consider the addition of a service animal into the family. It is amazing just how much independence and security that a four-legged friend can provide!