Watching a child snuggle up with a warm puppy or kitten is one of the most heartwarming moments life has to offer. There’s a reason that 62 percent of U.S. households have pets, and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs. Our furriest friends are so lovable! But in a cruel twist of fate, many kids who are the most obsessed with animals are also the most allergic to them.
So how do you balance your child’s desire to care for a fluffy creature and the real danger of an allergic reaction? Put your child in a hazmat suit? Keep your cat in a glass cage? Shave your dog bald?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic breed of cat or dog, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. It’s not the length of the animal’s hair, nor the amount of shedding that brings on the allergic reaction, according to the organization. The true offender is the protein found in the pet's dander, skin flakes, oil glands, saliva and urine. When a person with allergies is exposed to these triggers, their immune system overreacts, producing irritating symptoms including sniffling, sneezing, itchiness and watery eyes, hives and even asthma.
Does this mean your child can never experience the joy of animal rearing? Not necessarily. Local experts at the Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center say that there are many workarounds available to the determined allergic pet owner.
Cats are kept as pets in more than a quarter of homes nationwide, and dogs are found in nearly one-third. However, roughly twice as many people say they’re allergic to cats, compared to dogs, reports the American Lung Association.
If your kid loves cats, but struggles to breathe when they’re in the room, here are a few suggestions from the Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center to mitigate the allergic effects of your precious kitty — but be warned. This won’t necessarily be easy, and you may want to start with a feline pedicure to reduce scratching:
- Keep your cat primarily in one room of the house, preferably an uncarpeted space.
- Shampoo your cat once a week to reduce the amount of allergens.
- If you feel extra ambitious, blow-dry the cat’s fur to remove excess water.
It can take a few months of this routine before you start to notice a difference in dander; hopefully you’ll be able to stick with the program that long.
Even with a cleaner kitty, you can further reduce allergen exposure by removing carpeting and upholstered furniture, and washing the walls every few months if you plan on keeping your cat indoors. Despite your best efforts, your child could still be exposed to other kids at school who bring cat dander from home on their clothes.
Another option is investing in a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter, which can reduce the level of airborne cat allergens by approximately 50 percent. This is an especially good option if you live in an energy-optimized home. These airtight dwellings are great for the planet, but can trap animal dander inside.
If you or your child loves dogs, the Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center also has a few tips to help keep canine-induced sneezing and itching to a minimum.
You can pick a breed that tends to cause fewer problems for allergy sufferers, including poodles and Labradoodles, schnauzers, Portuguese Water Dogs, Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Maltese, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus, Irish Water Spaniels and Kerry Blue Terriers.
As with felines, cleanliness will help reduce canine-triggered allergic reactions. It’s a good idea to wash the dog once a week and clean your child’s hands after extended petting sessions. A little soap and water can go a long way toward keeping pet dander from traveling from under your child’s fingernails to their clothes and food.
Regarding décor, choosing leather furniture over upholstered couches and hardwood instead of carpet can make your canine friend less offensive to your child’s sinuses. Carpets are reservoirs for pet dander and oils. Strongly consider having them removed if you want to make your child’s relationship with their dog a mutually beneficial one.
If you suspect your kids are allergic to the cats or dogs they love so much, don’t invest in an iguana just yet. An allergist or immunologist can accurately diagnose your child’s symptoms and develop a treatment plan that works best for your lifestyle.