Animals and Pets
Your furry or feathered pets may be a trigger for your child's asthma. But, it's not — as most people think — the hair or feathers that may cause the symptoms but rather dander or dead skin particles from the animal, proteins found in the saliva, or urine.
Sometimes, a child's symptoms can occur within minutes after exposure to the animal. Other times, the symptoms may build up and become most severe up to twelve hours following contact with the animal.
One of the most surprising findings from the National Survey of Lead and Allergens in Housing was that 100 percent of homes reviewed had detectable levels of dog and cat allergens. This was despite the fact that while dogs were present in only 32 percent of the surveyed homes and cats were in 24 percent, their allergens were still in the homes — often tracked in on shoes and clothing.
All cats or dogs produce a certain amount of allergens per week — specifically through dander and saliva. While some breeds produce more than others, all are capable of triggering symptoms — even so-called “hypoallergenic” breeds of cats or dogs.
These dander levels are usually highest in the winter in areas where the temperatures are cold and dogs and cats spend more time indoors. In new homes, built with a higher level of energy efficiency, the amount of inside air exchanged with outside air drops, causing people to breathe in the same air with the dander and other allergens.
While dander and saliva are the source of cat and dog allergens, urine is the source of allergens from rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs, so be sure to ask a non-allergic family member to clean the animal's cage.
At home, the most effective way to address triggers related to furry or feathered animals is to avoid contact with them and remove the pet from home — maybe giving it to a friend or relative. This, of course, may be a difficult decision, but it will help your child in the long run. You could possibly suggest other animals for your child such as fish, hermit crabs, or turtles.
Moving a furry pet to the outside may only partially address the problem since homes with pets in the yard still have higher concentrations of animal allergens.
If the decision is made to keep the furry or feathered pets in the home, try to make sure that your child minimizes contact. This means keeping a pet out of the bedroom or other rooms where your child spends a great deal of time. Some studies have indicated that weekly bathing of dogs or cats could reduce some of the allergens they produce. If you have removed the pet from the home, replacing bedding and carpeting that contains animal dander may be advisable because it may take weeks or months to remove it from fabrics.
In school, the most effective method to controlling exposure to animal allergens is to keep it free of feathered or furry animals. For some children, isolation measures may be sufficiently effective. They include keeping animals in localized areas; locating animals away from ventilation system vents to avoid circulating allergens throughout a room or building; keeping animals away from upholstered furniture, carpets, and stuffed toys; and keeping sensitive individuals away from animals as much as possible.