If your child starts to experience common allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, coughing, wheezing or itchy skin 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. Recent research shows that being around animals during infancy may actually prevent allergy. However, 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, the following pets are possible options:
Since these animals do not have dander, they may be a good choice for your child.
You may notice your child’s symptoms go away when he or she is in an animal-free environment. This is an early clue regarding animal allergy. Further diagnosis would involve allergy testing.
The best allergy test for animal allergy is a skin test. This test shows whether a child is sensitive to animal dander. Allergy specialists at Riley at IU Health use the skin test and your child’s medical history to determine whether your child is allergic to an animal—a skin test result alone is not enough to confirm whether your child has an animal allergy.
Exhaled nitric oxide (eNO) is another unique allergy test that can help determine animal allergy in children with asthma. The test measures allergic inflammation in the airway. If the inflammation level is high, it means your child has a lot of contact with an animal and the allergy test is positive for animal dander. The test suggests a cause-effect relationship: being around an animal is causing an allergic reaction.
Doctors typically reserve the exhaled nitric oxide test for children who are old enough and able to perform the test. It is not a perfect test—it can be positive if there are other allergies such as pollen allergy affecting your child’s airways.
The best treatment for animal allergy is avoidance of animal allergens that trigger symptoms. If your child has been diagnosed with animal allergy, he or she should try to stay away from animals and materials that may contain animal allergens (dander).
Materials that may contain dander 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, environmental control and allergy treatments may help relieve your child's 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.