One great way to deal with asthma is to trust in a service dog, who is allowed to travel with you wherever you go without discrimination from airlines, housing complexes, restaurants, and other public places. There are different service dogs, but as mentioned the best type for asthma is a medical alert dog.
A service dog, particularly a medical alert dog, is different than an emotional support animal or therapy dog, and in this review guide, we highlight the differences. We also discuss how a service dog for asthma is helpful and when to consider one as a way of dealing with the condition.
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.
Of course, if you or your child has not recently been diagnosed with asthma and the symptoms are mild and do not last long, then a trip to a medical professional for prompt diagnosis and treatment might not be necessary. However, anytime symptoms worsen or more serious issues such as an inability to breathe, severe chest pain or fainting occur, visit a local emergency care center(preferably emergency room) as soon as possible.
There is a good chance you do not receive a diagnosis during the initial treatment, and you may need to visit a doctor specifically to find out the underlying cause of the symptoms. To form an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will order tests, conduct a physical examination and take the patient’s previous medical history, symptoms, and family medical history into consideration.
The main goal of treatment for asthma is to prevent an asthma attack, or more mild symptoms, from occurring. To do so, the doctor will work closely to identifying triggers and ensuring the patient’s lifestyle, diet and medication minimize the risk of an episode.
As medical treatment has advanced, doctors and patients are better now than ever before at preventing asthma attacks, but the unfortunate reality is they can still occur at any time. Subsequently, it is essential to have a proper plan in place to ensure you get the treatment you need if one does occur unexpectedly.
Be sure to ask your doctor about ways to prepare for asthma attacks and ask about the benefits of a service dog for asthma. Service dogs simply make life easier, and they can detect the moments before an asthma attack develops to ensure you put yourself in a position to stay safe healthy, whether it is through retrieving your inhaler, contacting someone who can help or avoiding areas where potential triggers exist.
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 covers the legal definitions of emotional support animals. This law helps protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space. 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 from 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.
In addition to helping you stay calm, identify potential triggers and help you stay consistent with your medication and lifestyle routine, there are other practical ways a service dog for asthma can assist its owner. Of course, each person is unique, and the specific tasks he or she will need the service dog to perform varies.
One common task many service dogs often perform, however, is retrieving the phone in times of an emergency. If they suspect their owner is in trouble and unable to get up and get their phone for themself, service dogs can be trained to find the phone, pick up and bring it to the other so that they can make a call for assistance, which incredibly useful for individuals who live alone.
Service dogs are also incredibly helpful in public situations. For many, there is nothing scarier than having an asthma attack in public and not being able to get to where they need to be for help. If this occurs, the service can alert someone nearby and draw attention to its owner who is in need of medical attention.
While service dogs are trained to complete specific functions related to the condition of their owners, they also carry other indirect benefits as well. Since service dogs are required to be well behaved while in public, they are naturally more loving animals that enjoy people, and many service dog owners find the emotional support of their faithful companion to be the biggest benefit of all.
However, the benefits of making daily functions easier and emotional support are just two of the very many benefits.
Additionally, many who own service dogs for asthma naturally become more social as they are not as afraid of having an asthma attack in public and not receiving proper medical attention. Since they are great with trigger recognition, service dog owners can more confidently leave their own home and stay safe. If the service dog picks up on a situation that might increase the risk of an asthma attack, they can notify the owner and he or she can take extra precautions to ensure symptoms do not develop.
In summary, service dogs are incredibly beneficial and each in their own very unique way. Unlike therapy dogs or emotional support animals, they are specifically trained to help patients stay safe both physically and mentally.
When to Consider a Service Dog for Asthma
It is helpful to know when a service dog is required or highly recommended. The fact is not everyone with asthma needs to or should have a service dog. Of course, anyone with an animal allergy should find other ways to deal with the condition as a service dog may in and of itself be a trigger.
However, those who are able to be around pets safely and love interacting with dogs should talk to their medical professional about how a service dog can help. Many who have a service dog for asthma do so because of the recommendation by their primary doctor, and in general, service animals are quickly becoming a much more popular form of treatment for common health complications.
Along with the recommendation by a medical professional, individuals with asthma should consider the benefits of a service dog if they are diagnosed with moderate persistent or severe persistent asthma. Moderate persistent is described as symptoms that show up several days each week or more than one night a week, and severe persistent that occur most days and frequently during the night. If symptoms do not exist often, but they are rather severe when they do develop, then a service dog is likely helpful as well.
When determining if a service dog is right for you, it is also helpful to consider your living arrangements. If you live alone, then the symptoms may pose more of a threat than if you live with a significant other, roommate, or family member. For parents with children diagnosed with moderate or severe asthma that sleep in a room by themselves, a service dog is a good way to know your child has the care he or she needs throughout the night.
Along with living arrangements, individuals with asthma should consider their daily routine and what areas of their life they need assistance with due to the condition. For example, those who enjoy physical activity and exercise several times each week might increase their risk of a severe episode. However, instead of giving up the exercise routine, they can simply utilize a service dog to be there while they exercise.
In other words, there are many different reasons to consider a service dog, and each person with asthma should at least determine the benefits one can offer. While not everyone with asthma needs a service dog, there is no doubt that many have greatly benefited from having their faithful companion nearby.
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!
The first step to take is to discuss the benefits of a service dog with your primary doctor, who can help you determine the benefits of getting one. You should also consider the care the dog will need as well. After all, your service dog will be just as reliant on you as you are for it. Be sure to consider its feeding schedule, exercise needs, and health requirements.
When combined with other primary forms of prevention and treatment, a service dog is a great way to get the care you need and stay safe each day. Asthma does not have to hold you back from doing the things you love in life.
The Bottom Line
Asthma is a serious condition that affects millions of people each year. While it is sometimes scary and does require those with the condition to make certain arrangements and take certain precautions that they otherwise may not have to, it does not have to keep you from living a normal, fulfilling life, regardless of the severity level. Everyone deserves to be happy and not worry about asthma symptoms controlling their life, and you might be able to find the relief you need with a faithful companion who is trained to meet your needs each day.
Now that you are familiar with the various benefits a service dog for asthma can offer, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not getting one is right for you. If you decide to get a service dog, be sure to officially register it, and our team here at U.S. Service Animals can help you throughout each step of the registration process. The first step is to fill out our service dog registration form on our website, and are more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the registration process.