If your child starts to experience common allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes or a runny nose after spending time around pets and other animals, he or she may have an animal allergy. For some children, allergy symptoms may even occur when an animal is not present. Animal dander on clothing, bedding, toys or furniture may trigger a reaction.
Dander (very small skin scales from the animal) is usually the cause of animal allergy. In some cases, the proteins contained in animal saliva or urine may also cause allergy symptoms. While animal hair does not directly cause an allergy, it can collect dust, pollens and spores and can also be an irritant.
Common symptoms of animal allergy include:
If you do not already have a pet, carefully think about how likely your child is to develop an allergy if you bring an animal home. If your child has other types of allergies, he or she may also be allergic to animal dander.
Along with being an important part of the family, pets can be great companions for children and can help teach responsibility. If your child wants a pet but has an animal allergy, these pets are possible options:
Since these animals do not have dander, they may be a good choice for your child.
A type of allergy test called a skin test helps show whether a child is sensitive to animal dander. You may also notice that your child’s symptoms go away when he or she is in an animal-free environment.
There is also a unique tool that may help determine animal allergy in children with asthma. This test is called exhaled nitric oxide. If your child is old enough and can perform this test, it measures allergic inflammation in the airway. If the level is high, your child has a lot of contact with an animal and there is a positive allergy test for animal dander. This test suggests a cause-effect relationship: being around an animal is causing an allergic reaction. This is not a perfect test—it can be positive if there are other allergies, like pollen allergy, that affect your child’s airways.
The best treatment for animal allergy is for your child to stay away from animals and materials that may contain the animal allergens (dander) that trigger symptoms. These materials may include:
An animal allergy usually takes repeated contact to develop, meaning that it builds slowly over time. It can be challenging if your child develops an allergy to the family pet. If this happens to your child, environmental control and allergy treatments may help relieve his or her symptoms. In extreme cases, you may want to ask your child’s doctor if you need to find a new home for your pet.
These trusted resources provide more information about animal allergy.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
Learn more about the symptoms of pet allergies and treatment options.
This website from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology provides information about the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and management of pet allergies.