Animal allergy is a tough area. Pets are important as companions. They help children develop responsibility and express emotion. What do you do with a pet that a child is allergic to? How can you find an appropriate pet for a child with allergies?
Dander—very small skin scales from the animal—and not hair is the substance that causes allergy. In cats, saliva also contains the allergen. In rodents, protein in the urine contains the allergen. Animal hair, whether it’s long or short, can collect dust, pollens and spores and can also act as an irritant.
- No defined differences in allergens exist between the major cat breeds.
- A cat sheds allergens in different amounts at different times.
- Male cats shed more than females.
WHAT IS THE BEST SOLUTION?
- Avoid cats.
- Bathing the cat was thought to work, but it has been found that it may in fact make no difference.
- Sprays may work.
- Remove the allergen. It may take up to 20 weeks of regular cleaning to fully remove the last traces of cat allergen.
- A hypoallergenic cat breed exists, but is expensive.
Skin tests help to identify sensitivity to cat dander. A trial of patient removal from the environment may show that symptoms go away when the patient is in a cat-free place for a while.
There is also a unique tool that may help determine cat (or other animal) allergy in children with asthma. This test is called exhaled nitric oxide. If the child is old enough and can perform this test, it measures allergic inflammation in the airway. If the level is high, if the child has frequent exposure to a cat and there is a positive allergy test for cat, then all that provides good evidence of a cause-effect relationship.
Studies have put to rest the notion of a hypoallergenic, non-hair-shedding breed. It is not hair but dander—skin scales—that causes allergy.
- It is uncertain if fresh feathers contain allergens.
- Old feathers are allergens.
- Droppings are a source of bacteria and mold.
Cattle and horse allergens can be found in:
- Rug pads
- Chair stuffing
Goat allergens can be found in:
- Waterproof fibers
POSSIBLE PET OPTIONS FOR A CHILD WITH ANIMAL ALLERGY
The best pet for a child with animal allergy is no pet. However, the following pets are possible options:
- Fish—the tank, however, may be a mold source.
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE BRINGING A PET INTO YOUR HOME
Should you consider getting a pet when someone in your home has other allergies? Remember this: In a person prone to develop allergy, it takes exposure for the person to become allergic. Sensitization may occur with exposure. The person may not be allergic at first, but may become allergic later. Before bringing a pet into a home of someone prone to allergy, consider what you will do with the pet if an allergy develops.