Animal allergies in children
Pet and animal allergies in children can be a difficult problem to navigate. This is especially true if you or close family and friends have pets at home. Thankfully, there are things you can do to prevent and treat an allergic reaction in your child.
What is animal dander allergy?
Animal dander allergy is an allergic reaction that causes sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. Your child can be allergic to a wide range of animals, including cats, dogs, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, rodents, and birds.
Animal allergies are common in children, especially in those who also have asthma or hay fever. Allergies to dogs and cats are particularly common, with an allergy to cats being twice as common as an allergy to dogs.
What causes animal dander allergies?
As with any allergic reaction, pet allergies are caused by the overreaction of the immune system to an allergen.
It is commonly thought that the allergenic reaction in pet allergies is due to the hair or fur of the animal, but this isn’t the case. The true cause is often a protein that is in the saliva — or, more rarely, the urine of the animal.
This protein sticks to the dead, dried flakes (dander) of the animal’s skin when the animal licks itself. When the animal moults or if your child is petting the animal, this protein touches their skin or is breathed in, causing an allergic reaction.
If the pet has less fur to shed, the allergy-causing dander that sticks to their fur doesn’t get released into the air as much as it would with a moulting cat or dog. Because of this, some breeds are marketed as better for allergy sufferers, although there is no truly hypoallergenic pet.
What are pet allergy symptoms in children?
If your child has animal allergies, you may notice they have one or more of the following symptoms:
- A runny or blocked nose
- An itchy throat, mouth and nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Sneezing and coughing
- Redness or hives when licked by an animal
- Itchy skin or eczema
- Wheezing (particularly with cats and horses)
- Difficulty breathing
- Anaphylaxis (in severe cases of animal allergy)
Can you test for animal allergies?
Working out which animal(s) your child is allergic to is an important part of managing and treating their symptoms.
Comprehensive animal and pet allergy testing can be done to determine which allergens are affecting your child. This is usually done through a blood test and/or skin prick testing.
Preventing and treating animal allergies in children
The most effective treatment for animal allergies is avoiding the allergy-causing animal as much as possible. In some cases, this isn’t always easy – if someone you visit often has a pet in their home, or you already have a pet you can’t bear to part with, for example.
Treating animal allergies
If your child’s reaction is mild, their symptoms can be managed and treated with over-the-counter treatments. Antihistamines can help reduce overall symptoms, while eye drops can help relieve itchy eyes, and saline nasal rinses can help with a runny or blocked nose.
If an animal cannot be avoided or symptoms are severe, immunotherapy may help reduce your child’s symptoms. Immunotherapy, also known as animal dander desensitisation, can be highly effective. This is a treatment that involves small but increasing doses of pet allergen to ‘train’ the immune system to tolerate the allergen and be less reactive.
Managing pet allergy symptoms
If you have a pet at home, things that may help to reduce your child’s symptoms include:
- Teaching them to wash their hands after touching a pet
- Encouraging them to not hug and kiss the pet
- Keeping the pet outside as much as possible
- Washing and grooming the pet regularly to keep down the amount of saliva on their fur
- Creating pet-free zones in your home – pets should not be allowed in your child’s bedroom or on any soft furnishings in your home, for example
- Cleaning your home regularly to reduce allergen levels
- Washing bedding, cushion covers and sofa covers regularly
- Using an air purifier and vacuum with a HEPA filter to help keep the air free of allergens
If your child’s animal allergy is severe, your pet will, unfortunately, need to be rehomed. This will be difficult for the whole family and your child may feel that it’s their fault that the pet has to go. Make sure you talk to your child about why it’s best that the pet is rehomed and reassure them that it’s not their fault.
It’s important to know that your child may continue to have symptoms for several months after the pet has gone, as dander may still be lingering in your home. Regular cleaning should help reduce allergen levels over time until you reach a point where your child no longer has symptoms.
If your child has animal allergies, it’s important to inform their nursery or school, and any clubs they attend. You should also speak to anyone who looks after them, such as friends and family, so they know to avoid putting your child around animals.
How Children’s Allergy Doctors can help
Children’s Allergy Doctors provides comprehensive allergy testing for a wide range of animal allergens, as well as advice on how to reduce allergic symptoms and treatment for allergies.
If you think your child might have an animal allergy, or if you’re not sure which animal they are allergic to, get in touch to book a consultation.
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