Can a Pet Help Prevent Allergies?

Raising kids in a pet-friendly home may help ward off allergies

Getting a new pet is probably the last thing on your mind when you have a baby on the way, but it could be your child’s best defense against allergies.

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As counter-intuitive as it may sound, having a family pet may help keep your little ones from developing allergies to dogs or cats later in life.

The proteins animals shed in dander, and to a lesser extent the proteins in their saliva, can cause allergic reactions in some people. Research suggests that children who are exposed to animals before age 1 are less likely to encounter allergies later. What’s more, pregnant women with pooches are 50 percent more likely to get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise — thanks to Fido’s inexhaustible energy and bladder.

What if your child is already allergic?

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No avoidance measures can compare with removing the pet from the home. However, because many people are reluctant to let pets go, second-best measures include restricting the pet from the child’s bedroom, using air cleaners with HEPA filtration, and washing the dog or cat frequently.

Treatment may include medications to control nasal, eye and chest symptoms. Your doctor may recommend immunotherapy if symptoms are not adequately controlled using other methods.

What are the symptoms of allergies?

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  • Mild reactions include symptoms affecting a specific area of the body, such as a rash or hives, itchiness, watery or red eyes, hay fever, and runny nose. Mild reactions do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Moderate reactions include symptoms that spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms may include itchiness, hives, swelling and breathing difficulties.
  • A severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, is a rare, life-threatening emergency in which the body’s response is sudden and affects the whole body. Anaphylaxis may begin with severe itching of the eyes or face. Within minutes, more serious symptoms appear, including throat swelling (which could result in difficulty swallowing and breathing); abdominal pain; cramps; vomiting; diarrhea; hives; and swelling. Mental confusion or dizziness may also result, since anaphylaxis may cause a drop in blood pressure.

If you think you or your child has allergies to a pet, don’t wait to see if your symptoms will go away. When your symptoms last longer than a week or two and tend to recur, make an appointment with an allergy or immunology specialist.

Are you a pet owner with pet allergies? What do you do to control or prevent symptoms?

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