Research indicates that the incidence of allergies in children is increasing from year to year. This includes allergies to pets. A large percentage of households now include a family member who is allergic to animals.

Children can be allergic to all of the common pet species – birds, dogs, cats and small mammals such as rats and mice. They react to not only the hair, but to sloughed skin cells, or dander, and to urine and feces. These allergens are either inhaled into the body, or contact the skin, and the result is an allergic reaction. More children are reported to be allergic to dogs and cats than to rats and birds.

The symptoms of pet allergy in children fall into two categories. Firstly, there are hay fever symptoms such as sneezing, and a runny nose and eyes. Secondly, their skin can react to contact with the allergens from their pet, and it can become red, inflamed and itchy. If they are allergic to birds, they may develop a more severe reaction which is an inflammation of the lung. Over time, they may become fatigued, and short of breath.

If you have a child who is allergic to animals, and you still want to share your life with a pet, there are several things you can do to manage their symptoms.

If you’re a dog lover, choose a breed that’s considered to be less allergenic than other dogs. Breeds such as Poodles or Labradoodles shed less hair, and are thought to be less likely to trigger a reaction in sensitive children. Having said that, they do still shed, and will still cause some symptoms.

For any type of allergy to animals, reducing the amount of allergens that circulate in the air is vital. Use an air filter to clean the air in your home. Unless you own a bird, wash your animal weekly with a gentle shampoo to reduce the shedding of hair into the environment..

Minimize an allergic child’s exposure to hair and dander. A non allergic person should be responsible for cleaning bird or rat cages, and bathing your pet. Make sure the cleaning is done outdoors so there are less allergens released into the house.

It’s important that everyone washes their hands after handling their pet; this is even more important if your child is allergic to that pet.

In most cases, children are allergic to more than one thing – a child who is allergic to pets is often also sensitive to perfumes and smoke, or to something in their diet. They can often reduce the symptoms of their pet allergies by minimizing their exposure to anything else they are allergic to.

To reduce your child’s symptoms, the pharmacist can recommend an over the counter antihistamine or decongestant. These don’t stop a child being allergic, they just stop the itching, sneezing and runny eyes that are often associated with a reaction.

In severe cases, allergies to animals may mean you need to find a new home for your pet. However, in many cases, careful management will mean your child won’t have to give up their best friend.