Furry friends are often an important part of family life. After all, more than 70 percent of households have at least one pet, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
But what’s to be done when Fido or Whiskers causes sneezing or coughing for your little one?
Allergy symptoms from pets are the same as symptoms caused by other allergen triggers. Your child may experience sneezing, coughing, chest tightness or wheezing, runny/stuffy nose, facial pain (from congestion), watery, red, itchy eyes and skin rash or hives.
Before blaming your pet, make sure there aren’t any other possible triggers, such as mold, pollen or dust mite allergy. Schedule an appointment with an allergist to have allergy testing and make sure the pet is the problem. If your child is allergic to your pet, you may have to consider getting rid of the pet. But there are some other options to reduce the amount of allergen in the home.
The most effective option is to remove the pet from the home. However, saying good-bye to a fur-baby is simply not an option for many families. Therefore, strategies to reduce the amount of pet allergen in the home are key to keeping the paws in the picture.
If possible, transition your pet to live outdoors full-time. Make sure he or she has warm shelter, food and water available outside. Consider fencing in your yard if it isn’t already, and if you’re worried about nighttime dangers, explore the idea of keeping Garfield outside during the day and inside one room or the garage at night.
If you don’t feel comfortable sending your pet outside, restrict the pet to certain areas of the house as much as possible. Do not allow him or her access to the bedroom of the allergic child. It can also be helpful to keep Spot out of the laundry room as well, so dander doesn’t end up on the clean clothes.
Bathe your pet in tepid water weekly. This may cut back on the amount of dander and hair your pet drops as he or she wanders around. While it may be difficult to make this a consistent practice, it can be very helpful.
Install a HEPA filter on your furnace or use an air purifier to remove pet dander and hair from the air as it circulates in your house. While this won’t prevent all allergens from making their way to your allergic child, it can significantly cut back on the amount.
Make sure your child avoids kissing, hugging or petting the pet. If your child does interact with your pet, make sure your child washes his or her hands immediately after.
Inform family, friends and daycare about your child’s allergy, especially if they have pets in the house. Let them know some easy methods to remove allergens, such as vacuuming before your child visits or leaving the pet outside.
Allergy shots may help make your child more comfortable with pets by alleviating symptoms over the long-run.
Keep in mind that “hypo-allergenic pets” are not 100 percent allergen-free. While they may have less hair, the allergen is still found in the skin and no pet is skin-free! And if you would like a pet but are afraid of how this might affect your child’s allergies, consider making a reptile such as a turtle a part of your family instead.
Dr. Jill Hanson is a pediatrician for Boys Town, specializing in allergy, asthma, immunology and pediatric pulmonology. Read more about her here.