Pets for Allergic Children
Around 10% of people have allergies to animals, rising to 25% in people who also have asthma. Pet allergies are usually allergies to the animal’s saliva or urine rather than to its fur. The saliva and urine sticks to the dead flakes of skin that the animal sheds (dander). Symptoms include coughing and sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itching eyes, nose, throat, roof of the mouth and skin, puffy eyes and skin rashes. Some people can be allergic to feathers, or to the mould in animal bedding.
Early exposure to animals may reduce the risk of a child developing allergies, but this hasn’t yet been proved – it may just be that people without a family history of allergy (and so who are less prone to allergies) are more likely to have pets. Before getting any pet, it’s a good idea to expose the children to that type of animal, perhaps at a friend’s house.
Cats and DogsThere is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic animal, but some types of dogs and cats are less likely to cause a reaction. Dogs with short coats that do not shed as much fur also do not shed as much dander. Labradoodles (Labrador/poodle crosses) or dogs with short coats such as wheaten terriers may be a good choice.
Cats can cause more allergies than dogs, as they lick themselves more often. Female cats seem to produce less of the protein that causes allergies, as do Siberian cats, and some people find that they are less allergic to the Rex breeds of cats than other cats.
Smaller AnimalsRabbits and guinea pigs may not shed as much dander as cats and dogs, but some children may be allergic to their urine. Because rabbits and guinea pigs live outside, this reduces the levels of allergens in the house.
FishFish make good pets for children with allergies, as they are not handled. Fish come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and include cold water, tropical and marine fish. Some fish will even breed in captivity, and can be kept with snails, shellfish and a variety of plants. Other low-allergen pets include reptiles such as lizards, turtles and terrapins. Be aware that reptiles can carry Salmonella.
Reducing AllergensSome children will grow out of pet allergies. If the child does not grow out of it and still wants to keep a pet that he or she is allergic to, there are some ways around it. Smaller animals will shed less dander, and, if possible, should be groomed regularly and bathed weekly to reduce the amount that they do shed. Keep animals out of bedrooms and do not let them sleep on beds. Washing hands after handling pets will also help.
Change from carpets to hard flooring and sweep regularly, or shampoo and vacuum carpets regularly. Frequent dusting with a damp cloth will reduce the dander levels in the house, as will regular vacuuming of furniture and mattresses and regular washing of bedding, curtains and other soft furnishings. Blinds will harbour fewer allergens than curtains. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, including in vacuum cleaners, will reduce the pet allergens in the air. Antihistamines will reduce the symptoms of allergies.