Pets are one of the causes of allergy symptoms, but fur is not the only allergen, reminded Healthychildren.org, a website powered by pediatricians and trusted by parents. In fact, short-haired, “non-shedding” pets can also leave a trail of saliva and dander. In general, cats are more allergenic than dogs, but some dog breeds are said to be less allergenic than other breeds. However, these claims are not supported by scientific research.
The Relationship Between Pet Keeping In Childhood and Asthma and Allergy Among Children In Tianjin Area, China (2018)
Shugang Luo and colleagues of PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal, said 7,865 parents completed the questionnaire (78% response rate), with ages not reported for 204 children and 285 kids who were outside the zero to eight age boundary. The researchers then analyzed 7,366 children, and of those, 3,549 lived in the inner city, 1483 in suburban, and 1,755 in rural areas.
Overall, the health outcomes outlined in the study were “current wheeze” (4.9%), “current dry cough” (13.6%), “diagnosed asthma” (4.4%), “current rhinitis” (29.8%), “diagnosed rhinitis” (9.5%), “current eczema” (14.9%), and “diagnosed eczema” (39.1%). At the time of the survey, the following pets were kept cat (4%), dog (14.7%), rodent (2%), bird (2.5%), and fish (5.9%). The authors also noted that the respondents kept the following pets in the first year of life: cat (3.2%), dog (13.7%), rodent (1%), bird (1.5%), and fish (3.2%).
In rural areas, the most commonly kept pets in the first year of life were dog (28.8%), cat (7.5%), and bird (2.3%). In suburban areas, dogs (14.6%) were the most frequently kept pet followed by fish (3.4%), and cat (2.9%). Dogs were also kept in urban areas (6.6%) along with fish (3.5%), and cat (1.7%)
In Group I (never had pets), which is one of the pet-keeping statuses, “current rhinitis” (30.2%), “diagnosed eczema” (40.4%), and “current eczema” were the most prevalent complications among kids. “Diagnosed eczema” (35.8%), “current rhinitis” (29.1%), and “current dry cough” (19.5%) were prevalent in group II (having pets at current, but not early). “Diagnosed eczema” (42%), “current rhinitis” (30.4%) and “current eczema” (18.4%) were more frequent for children belonging to Group III (having pets at an early age, but not currently). In group IV (having pets all the time), “Diagnosed eczema” (39.2%), “current rhinitis” (26.1%), and “current dry cough” (11.8%), were the most prevalent.
While asthma and allergies were more reported by respondents living in a city, pet ownership revealed a different trend as keeping a pet in childhood was positively correlated with asthma and allergy. Children who had pets at their current residence were two to three times at risk of being diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and eczema.
What Is Pet Allergy?
It is an allergic reaction to proteins found in your pet’s skin cells, saliva, or urine, explained Mayo Clinic, an American non-profit academic medical center. It is triggered when an individual is exposed to the dander their pet sheds. Any animal with fur can cause an allergy, but pet allergies are usually associated with dogs and cats.
Symptoms of pet allergy can include sneezing, runny nose, itchy, red, or watery eyes, nasal congestion, cough, and frequent upward rubbing of the nose in children. If pet allergy contributes to asthma, the symptoms are trouble breathing, chest pain or tightness, trouble sleeping (caused by wheezing, shortness of breath, or coughing), and audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling.
Some individuals with pet allergy may cause skin symptoms to manifest, which is known as allergic dermatitis. It is the immune system’s reaction that causes skin inflammation. Direct contact with an allergy-causing pet may cause allergic dermatitis, leading to hives, itchy skin, or eczema.
What If My Child Is Allergic to Pets?
It’s hard to give up a beloved pet if one of your family members is allergic to an animal they have bonded with. Many families choose to keep the animal and fight against allergy symptoms. But if you don’t want to part with your pet, be sure to keep it out of your allergic child’s bedroom. Don’t forget to sweep, dust, and vacuum your house frequently.
Another alternative is to keep your cat or dog permanently outdoors. Provide it with adequate shelter and bathe it with tepid water every week, as this has been shown to reduce a pet’s potential allergens. Weekly bathing includes pets that don’t go outside, but bathing them regularly and consistently is usually not realistic. If your family has a history of allergies, it would not be a viable option to bring home a pet. Infants and young children are more likely to develop allergies in this case. Hence, it is wiser to wait for a few years to consider getting a pet. See if there are no signs of trouble and ensure that your child’s allergy tests are clear before looking into pet ownership.
To see if your child has any allergic symptoms, try exposing them to the pet a few times before bringing it home, which would indicate whether you are making the right move for your child. In some cases, symptoms that appear to be caused by an animal may be triggered by other allergens like pollen or mold.
Are Small Pets Like Hamsters Good Options?
Assess whether your child is allergic to the animal’s fur, food items like hay, or bedding (pine or cedar), recommended Lisa Granshaw of parenting website Parents. Katherine Quesenberry, an exotic-pets expert at New York City's Animal Medical Center said, “More kids seem allergic to the fur of rabbits and guinea pigs than to smaller rodents."
The reaction may be more severe as rabbits and guinea pigs are bigger than other small animals and shed more. The more they shed, the more children are exposed to allergens. Other options are a hamster, rat, or gerbil. However, some people can gradually develop allergies to any pet rodent. Birds shed dander and can cause allergies similar to that of mammals. While smaller birds shed less dander and cause fewer reactions, it is wise to have your child tested for allergies before getting a pet bird.
Pet allergy occurs when a person is exposed to dander. Symptoms range from sneezing to nasal congestion. Children and any allergic family member should be tested for allergies before getting a pet to minimize reactions.