How to Protect Children from Pet Allergies

Pet allergies can be a serious problem for kids, but with the right approach, you can help your child maintain excellent health for years.


boy with pet allergies

What are Pet Allergies?

Pet allergies are an allergic reaction to a pet’s dander, not necessarily the animal’s fur. (Fur is not actually an allergen; it does not cause allergies.) Instead, a child is reacting to the pet’s dander, which are tiny skin cells shed by the animal. Animal dander is essentially the same as our own dandruff, but people can be allergic to dander from various animals, including horses, rabbits, cats, dogs, and virtually any other mammal. Birds can also shed dander and cause allergies. When your child is having an allergic reaction to pet dander, their body’s immune system is working in overdrive. Allergic reactions are the immune system attacking substances that are otherwise harmless, and often go unnoticed by other people’s immune systems. The body releases histamines and other chemicals to fight the otherwise harmless allergen, much in the same way the body attacks viruses or harmful intruders. Because of the immune system attack, the body can have reactions like a runny nose, watery eyes, and coughing.


child playing with cat

Pet Allergy Symptoms

Most pet allergies are generally considered a form of allergic rhinitis. These types of allergies are caused by airborne substances, so they can include many of the same symptoms you would find in hay fever such as sneezing. You may experience similar symptoms from dust mite allergens. Pet allergies can, however, be triggered by non-airborne substances, such as a dog’s saliva. In this case the allergies would take a different form, such as skin irritation or rashes.

Cat or dog dander can land in the eyes and nose, causing a wide variety of symptoms. This includes swelling and itching in these areas, as well as a stuffy nose or inflamed eyes. If a pet scratches or licks someone with pet allergies, the skin may become irritated and red. Many people who are allergic to pets develop itchy eyes if they pet an animal.

While most pet allergies occur quickly, it’s possible that symptoms may not appear for a few days. This usually happens to people with low sensitivity who have experienced light levels of allergens.

Pet dander is an airborne substance that may be small enough to reach the lungs, causing significant allergies in children. If someone has strong allergies, this can cause significant breathing problems. Highly sensitive individuals will begin coughing, wheezing, and have shortness of breath, symptoms that usually come within 15 minutes of exposure to the allergen.

If the allergic person also has asthma, the symptoms can look very much like an asthma attack. If you have pet allergies and are exposed to the substance on a long-term basis, it’s possible to have chronic symptoms that include prolonged nasal congestion, as well as symptoms that come and go suddenly. This may make it appear as if the pet is not the cause of the issue, so to know for sure you must have proper testing from a doctor or immunologist.


Is Your Child Allergic to Cats, Dogs, or Other Animals?

The symptoms can often point you in the right direction, but to know for sure whether your child has pet allergies, you have to have a proper diagnosis from a doctor or immunologist, also called an allergist.

Depending on the nature of the symptoms, the doctor will likely recommend appropriate testing to determine the exact root of your child’s issue. This can be used to guide future treatment, including avoidance strategies and medication. To determine the exact allergen affecting your child, a doctor will generally prescribe one of two tests. (There is a third allergy test, called “elimination diet tests,” but this only applies to suspected food allergies.)


Skin Tests

Skin tests are used to determine which substance is causing the child’s allergies. They essentially place a small, diluted amount of allergen onto the skin and wait for a reaction. They can be applied directly to the skin or administered on a small skin prick, and they can usually be given to children as young as six months old.


Blood Tests

The other type of test is a blood test, which is done by extracting a sample of blood for testing at a lab. This can be needed for many reasons, but it usually takes a few days to get the final results. However, they can be effective because they involve a single needle prick and don’t place the allergen on the patient. Medicine will also not interfere with the results of a blood tests, which can be beneficial if the child is already on antihistamines or other medications.

With these tests, you and your doctor should be able to find the allergen that is giving your child so much trouble. You’ll then have the knowledge needed to make choices for proper treatment. If it is determined that the child is suffering from allergies to cats or dogs, you can begin making changes that will help them stay healthy.


Best Way to Treat Pet Allergies

The best treatment, by far, is avoidance. This is unfortunately one of the toughest lifestyle changes to make, especially if you have pets in the home. You’ll need to do your best to limit contact between the child and the pet. If possible, keep the pet out of the house, and never let the animal into the child’s bedroom.

If you are insistent on keeping the pet (and we certainly won’t blame you), you’ll need to take steps to clean and remove pet dander as much as possible. Even when the pet is not allowed in the child’s bedroom, pet dander can make its way into the room. For this reason, you’ll want to wash bedding and dust and vacuum often. Wash covers, blankets, sheets, at least once a week in hot water, and regularly clean the drapes and vacuum the carpet.

Around the house, apply the same cleaning techniques. Constant cleaning will ensure that less pet dander is floating around the home and should help increase your child’s health.

Clean and bathe the pet as well. Washing the pet will remove many of the dander cells before they have a chance to be released. Once-a-week washing is good for the pet and your family’s health.

Even if you don’t have pets in the home, pet allergies can make social life difficult for children. Visiting friends and family with pets can be difficult, and you may find that your child will miss out on many events like birthday parties. To avoid this, talk to your child’s doctor about using medication before these events so your child can remain active and healthy.

In some cases, over-the-counter antihistamines may be able to help relieve symptoms. However, these can have side effects like drowsiness, so you must always talk with your doctor before giving a child these medications. These are also not choices for long-term treatment.

In some case, immunotherapy may be recommended. With immunotherapy, the patient is given a steadily-increasing dose of allergen with the hopes that the immune system will eventually become used to the substance. The treatment starts with a tiny amount and works its way to a full dosage. Once the full dosage is reached, shots will still need to be administered to maintain the treatment. This is a long-term solution that can be effective for many types of airborne allergies, including pet allergies.

Best Pets for Kids with Allergies

Life with pets just seems better, so it can be tough if a child has pet allergies. However, there are some animals that may be better for you home.

Dogs

While there are no 100% hypoallergenic dogs (they still shed dander), there are a few dog breeds that shed less dander than others, allowing you to enjoy man’s best friend with fewer chances for severe allergy symptoms. Dogs for people with allergies include some breeds of spaniels, schnauzers, and terriers.

Cats

Similar to dogs, there are no cats that are completely hypoallergenic. However, there are some breeds that are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms.

Small Animals

Because they are smaller, pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits will shed less dander. This makes them ideal for homes with allergic children, and can also make them ideal for smaller apartments and areas where a cat or dog may not be reasonable. Be careful with rabbits and guinea pigs, however, as these animals have a reputation for causing allergies in children.

Fish

Although you can’t hold and these pets like other animals, fish are some of the best options for kids with allergies. They stay in the water, so there is no chance of airborne allergens, creating a cleaner environment for your children. You will, however, need to regularly clean and maintain the fish tank, which can be a hassle depending on the size.

Reptiles

If you want something unique and memorable in your home, a reptile is one of the best hypoallergenic animals, and they are also a strong option for kids with allergies. These animals will shed their skin, but they lack the proteins that are often behind pet allergies.

No matter what animal you choose, be sure to talk with your doctor so you understand any risks and health implications, as well as a pet expert so you know about proper care for your animals.


High Quality Air Purifiers for Your Home

If you want to remove airborne pet dander from your home, an air purifier from Oransi is a great choice to breathe clean, fresh air.

Browse our full selection and you’ll find options for rooms of all sizes, from open living rooms to children’s bedrooms, we have the right air purifier for your needs.