My Child With Asthma Is Also Allergic To Our Family Pet

How important is it for us to find a new home for our pet?

It is crucially important that you relocate your pet to a new home. If your child is allergic to the family pet, and especially if the pet allergy is a trigger for your child’s asthma, it is in your child’s medical best interest for you to relocate the animal.

A fundamental principle of allergy control is known as allergen avoidance. After an individual has been diagnosed with a clinical allergy to a specific allergen, the goal of allergen avoidance is the elimination of any and all exposures to that specific allergen. Allergen avoidance, if successful, is a highly effective measure in allergy treatment.

Some allergens, such as dust mites or molds, are so ubiquitous that it can be nearly impossible to completely remove them from the home environment. Others, such as pet dander, are far easier to address. If you remove the family pet from your home, and you are then able to rid your home of any pet allergen left behind, your child will likely have a significant lessening in allergy and asthma symptoms, as well as decreased medication requirements.

Although parents understand and comply with the concept of decreasing the level of indoor allergens by controlling dust mites or eliminating roaches, it is an entirely different situation when the family pet is the source of the allergen. When doctors recommend removing a pet from the household, they somehow instantly morph into a kind of enemy or ogre.

Unfortunately, many children have significant asthma problems triggered by household pets like cats, dogs, ferrets, rabbits, hamsters, and gerbils. The relationship between a newly acquired pet and your child’s asthma (or allergy) symptoms may become obvious very rapidly or may develop more insidiously. A tricky situation arises when an animal has been in the home for months or even years before symptoms appear. Parents and children alike have a difficult time understanding how the child could have lived with a pet for such a long time before developing symptoms. The fact is that the time it takes to become sensitized to any allergen, including a pet, can vary from days to years.

Much to the dismay of allergists, pulmonologists, and pediatricians, most people generally will not relocate a pet who has become a member of the family. Second-best (and we truly mean second-best) recommendations include keeping the animal out of your child’s bedroom at all times, even when your child is at school or away from home.

Dogs can be trained to avoid certain rooms or areas relatively easily, but with cats—animals notorious for their curiosity and lack of obedience—you and your child must make a habit of keeping the child’s room strictly secured from the cat’s access at all times. Another measure applies if your home has forced air heating.

Make sure that the vents in your child’s room are covered with appropriate filters. An allergist can provide you with specific recommendations depending on what type of pet you have and the layout of your home. If your cat or dog will cooperate, a weekly bath will help lower the level of animal allergen in your home. These steps may be helpful, but they are truly a distant second best to not having a pet at all.

Gemma’s comment:

Obviously, it’s best to relocate your pet or never get one in the first place. But your child may feel very strongly about having a pet, especially in the early school years when show-and-tell sessions often turn on stories about house-hold members, including pets, family trips, etc. I’ve known nursery school teachers who insist that every child should have a pet (turtles or fish won’t do!).