Only about 10% of the general population has pet allergies, but at least 30% of people with asthma are allergic to animals. So if your child has asthma, consider whether your pet could be producing allergens that are triggering asthma symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, your animal's fur probably isn't the culprit. Allergies are caused by the body's reaction to a protein found in the animal's dander (dead skin flakes), saliva, urine, and feathers. Though pet hair itself isn't the problem, this protein can cling to the fur when an animal licks itself.
Also, an animal's fur can collect dust mites, pollen, mold, and other allergens. And any animal that lives in a cage (from birds to gerbils) will produce droppings that can attract mold and dust mites.
You may hear people say that certain breeds of dogs or cats, particularly those that don't shed, won't trigger asthma, but all warm-blooded animals shed allergy-causing proteins and are capable of causing an allergic reaction.
If you're wondering whether your child is allergic to a pet, consider having him or her tested for allergies. If your child turns out to be allergic to your pet, you'll have to decide whether to keep it or find it a new home. The best course is to remove the pet from your home, though this isn't usually the easiest or happiest solution. Your child, other kids in the family, and even adults in the family may have a tough time with this decision.
In some cases, your doctor may say that it's OK to keep a pet if your child receives medicine or allergy shots. If you go this route, you'll still want to limit your child's exposure to the animal, such as by keeping the pet out of your child's bedroom and play areas. Hard as this is to enforce, try to teach your child not to hug or kiss the animal. Vacuum and dust regularly and avoid rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in your child's room.
Unfortunately, such measures may not be enough — because animal allergens are airborne, heating and ventilation systems will spread allergens throughout the house, even if the pet is confined to one room. Keeping the pet in the yard may not be a total solution either because some allergens will eventually be carried in on clothing.
If you decide to keep your pet, you might want to:
If you have a bird, gerbil, or other small caged animal, keep the cage in a room other than your child's bedroom. Make sure the pet stays in its cage at all times, and clean the cage daily — without your child's assistance. You'll also want to let teachers know about your child's allergies if there's a caged pet in the classroom.
If you do decide to find another home for your pet, be sure to discuss this with your child. Assure your child it's not his or her "fault" — and make sure siblings don't blame the child. Losing a pet, even if just to another home, can be difficult for everyone in the family.
Remember, too, that even if you remove the pet from your home, you may not see improvements in asthma symptoms for a while. It can take up to 6 months to reduce the allergen levels to those of a home without pets. Even if the pet is removed, your child might still need the asthma or allergy medications used previously.
When going to a house with a pet, your child should first take any prescribed allergy medicine and (as always) bring along his or her asthma rescue medication.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
|National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) conducts and supports basic and applied research to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases.|
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology|
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
|American Lung Association The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association|
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
NY, NY 10006
|Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AAN-MA) Through education, advocacy, community outreach, and research, AAN-MA hopes to eliminate suffering and fatalities due to asthma and allergies. AAN-MA offers news, drug recall information, tips, and more for treating allergies and asthma. Call: (800) 878-4403|
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|Allergy Shots Many kids battle allergies year-round, and some can't control their symptoms with medications. For them, allergy shots (or allergen immunotherapy) can be beneficial.|
|All About Allergies Up to 50 million Americans, including millions of kids, have an allergy. Find out how allergies are diagnosed and how to keep them under control.|
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|Handling an Asthma Flare-Up How can you prepare for an asthma flare-up? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Managing Asthma Asthma control can take a little time and energy to master, but it's worth the effort. Learn more about ways to manage your child's asthma.|
|Creating an Asthma-Safe Home If your child has asthma, you can create the best home environment possible by knowing about asthma triggers and eliminating or minimizing exposure to them.|
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