It can be a tough situation when your child is allergic to the family dog or cat. However, you may be able to ease symptoms with these strategies.
It can be terribly upsetting to learn that your child is allergic to your family pet — but it’s not uncommon. Up to 30 percent of people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the pets’ hair that makes a child sneeze and wheeze. It’s the proteins found in their urine, saliva, or pet dander, according to the AAFA. The proteins can stick to surfaces of walls, furniture, and clothing and stay there, at full strength, for a long time. A pet also can bring other allergens, such as pollen, into your home.
“The first rule of allergies is, if you’re allergic to something, stay away from it,” says Mark Holbreich, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy and Asthma Consultants in Indianapolis. When it’s your pet, though, that’s hard to do. But if the allergies are severe, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, you may have to find your pet a new home.
Symptoms of children’s pet allergies include a stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes, and wheezing. Some people can have an asthma attack if their allergies flare, the AAFA says. If your child experiences these symptoms after coming in contact with your dog or cat, have your child tested.
“Testing is very important,” says Mervat Nassef, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City. If you might have to give up your pet, you want to be sure that your child isn’t allergic to something else. “Other allergies can give you similar symptoms,” Dr. Nassef says.
It’s also important to note that some animals may be more allergy-friendly than others. However, there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat or dog, according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology. “Small dogs that don’t shed produce less dander, but your child still can be allergic to them,” Dr. Holbreich says.
Strategies to Reduce Pet Allergies
If your child’s allergies aren’t too severe, you may be able to take some steps to reduce your child’s symptoms and keep your pet. For instance:
Keep pets out of the bedroom. Make your child’s room a pet-free zone and be sure to keep it clean. To keep the room pet dander- and pollen-free, install a high-efficiency air filter and air purifier. Remember to change the filters frequently.
Cover your child’s bed with extra protection. You can buy dust mite covers for your child’s pillow, blanket, and mattress. This will also help keep out dust mites, another potential allergy trigger, in addition to allergens like pet dander.
Go for hard surfaces. Where you can, replace upholstered surfaces with non-fabric or easily washable materials. Pet dander sticks to upholstery, drapes, curtains, and carpeting more easily than it does to surfaces such as wood, vinyl, or tile. Plus, the latter are easier to clean. For this reason, you also shouldn’t let your allergic child sleep with stuffed animals, Dr. Nassef adds. If you must have carpet in your child’s bedroom or elsewhere in your home, select a low-pile one and have it steam-cleaned regularly.
Bathe your pet weekly. Weekly baths can significantly reduce the amount of allergy-causing dander your pet sheds. If possible, ask a non-allergic member of your household to bathe the pet and be sure to wash that person’s clothes afterward. Wearing gloves may also help. Ask your veterinarian to recommend the best soaps and shampoos. Caution: Bathing too frequently can have the opposite effect. It can dry your pet’s skin and cause the animal to shed more dander.
Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and water after touching the pet. Washing helps prevent the spread of allergens to your child’s nose, eyes, and mouth — which is especially important if your child gets a rash from having been licked by your pet, Nassef says.
Talk to your allergist about treatment. “Medications work for allergy symptoms regardless of the trigger — pollen, pet dander, etc.,” Nassef says. “But not all medications work equally well for all symptoms.” That’s why it’s important to work with your doctor and tailor your child’s allergy medications to his or her symptoms.
Consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can recommend a diet for your pet that’s rich in vitamins and minerals, which can help your pet’s skin retain its moisture and not shed as much. Like people, pets can benefit from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, according to the Partnership for Animal Welfare in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Every family has to decide for themselves whether they can manage their children’s pet allergies with a cat or dog, Nassef says. “The best solution for pet allergies is to not have a pet,” she says, “but many people consider pets part of their family and getting rid of the pet is out of the question.”