Can Having a Pet Help Prevent Allergies?

Raising kids in a pet-friendly home may help ward off allergies
Older sister with baby and family dog

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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What to do if your child is allergic to your pet

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.

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What are the symptoms of allergies?

  • 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. (Severe allergies and anaphylaxis are unlikely due to animals.)

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.

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