Pets and Premature Babies

Can we keep our pet when our preemie comes home?

Having a dog can increase asthma symptoms.
Having a dog can increase asthma symptoms.. Image copyright Yellow Dog Productions / Getty Images

Parents of preemies often wonder whether having pets can affect their babies as they grow. Premature babies are at risk for a number of respiratory problems, including asthma, wheezing, and trouble breathing. The babies at greatest risk are those who were born very early or who were diagnosed with chronic lung disease (also called bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD), but even moderately premature babies can have respiratory problems as they grow.

Family Pets and Your Premature Baby

As part of discharge planning, parents often ask about their pets. They wonder if the dogs and cats who are already a part of the family will increase their premature baby's risk of allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems as they grow. The answer is complicated, and scientists still aren't exactly sure how pet ownership affects allergies and asthma. But there are many things you can do to safely keep your pet at home.


I'm happy to report that exposure to pets will not increase your baby's risk of developing pet allergies. Pet allergies are the body's reaction to proteins found in pets' dander, feathers, urine, and saliva. Being around pets in the early years doesn't increase the risk of pet allergies, and may even reduce it. And out of the more than 60 percent of homes that have pets, only about 10 percent of people are allergic.


The relationship between pet ownership and asthma is less clear than that between pets and allergies.

When people who are allergic to dogs and cats are exposed to them, it can increase both the risk of asthma and asthma symptoms. It's not clear whether owning a pet increases the risk of getting asthma in the first place, but newer studies suggest that pet ownership does not increase the risk of becoming asthmatic.

If your child does have asthma, especially if he or she was born prematurely, there are many things you can do to help prevent your family pets from causing severe asthma symptoms in your children. While they're not all scientifically proven to work, these measures can help by focusing on keeping your child away from pet allergens, which can cause asthma symptoms.

  • Keep your pet out of your child's bedroom
  • Keep pets off of sofas and other upholstered furniture
  • Wash bed linens frequently, even if the pet does not go into the child's room
  • Clean, hard floors are best, especially in bedrooms
  • Keep carpeted floors clean with frequent vacuuming using a HEPA filtered vacuum
  • Invest in a good HEPA air filter
  • Keep litter boxes away from air intakes, and don't let your child change litter
  • Keep your pet well groomed

Can We Keep Our Pets?

Most families of premature babies will be able to keep their pets, as long as they follow the above tips to keep pet allergens away from children. If children develop asthma, there are many ways to reduce pet allergens in your home before you think about finding another home for your beloved pet.


Kids Health from Nemours. "If My Child Has Asthma, Can We Keep Our Pet?" Retrieved from

Stoltz, DJ, et al. (Feb. 2013). "Specific Patterns of Allergic Sensitization in Early Childhood and Asthma & Rhinitis Risk." <i>Clinical and Experimental Allergy</i>. 42(2), 233-241.

Takkouche, F-J, Gonzalez-Barcala, M., Etminan, M., & FitzGerald, M. (2008) "Exposure to Furry Pets and the Risk of Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis: A Meta-Analysis." <i>Allergy</i>: 63, 857-864.

Vrijlandt, E.J., Kerstjens, J., Duiverman, E.J., Bos, A.F., Reinjneveld, S.A. (Jun. 3013) "Moderately Preterm Children Have More Respiratory Problems During Their First 5 Years of Life Than Children Born Full Term." <i>American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care.</i> 187(11): 1234-1240.

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