Can Having a Pet Help Prevent Allergies?
Having a pet in the home has been shown to reduce allergies later in life for children under 1. An allergist explains why.
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 future allergies.
Some research suggests that children who are exposed to animals before age 1 are less likely to encounter these allergies later in life as adults, says allergist Sandra Hong, MD.
What’s more, pregnant women with dogs are 50% more likely to get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise — thanks to Fido’s inexhaustible energy (and bladder).
Plus there’s evidence that having a dog (or pet of any kind) can actually make you happier and healthier.
All seems like great news for pets, right? But what if your child is already allergic?
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Most people believe that pet allergies are caused by the pet’s hair, but that’s actually not quite true. The proteins animals shed in dander, and to a lesser extent the proteins in their saliva and also their urine, cause the allergic reactions in some people. These proteins make their way onto furniture, clothing and carpets and can stay there for a long time. Sometimes our pets can even track other allergies, like pollen, into the home.
“No avoidance measure can compare with removing the pet entirely from the home,” says Dr. Hong, “But most often people are reluctant to let go of their pets. Some other measures you can take 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 also recommend immunotherapy if symptoms are not adequately controlled using other methods.
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 to discuss what you can do to help.