Most kids beg for a pet at some point in childhood, and pets can play a valuable role in your family. Pets offer companionship and comfort and teach children responsibility and empathy. But, for a child prone to allergies, the potential drawbacks might outweigh the positive benefits of pets. The most common pets that cause allergies include cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and dogs, but almost any pet can cause a reaction.
When it comes to low-allergen pets, fish top the list. They have no fur or dander, and children won't be handling them. They're interesting to learn about and soothing to watch. Expenses and maintenance can vary considerably. A single betta fish costs only a few dollars and requires less than one hour of maintenance per week, while a large salt water tank with tropical fish can cost thousands of dollars and require several hours of maintenance weekly.
Reptiles aren't warm and fuzzy, but they are one of the best pet choices for a child with allergies. Snakes, lizards, turtles, salamanders and tortoises all fit the bill, according to the Texas Regional Allergy and Asthma Center. Some reptiles require more care than others, so be sure to do your research before bringing a reptile home. Many snakes, for example, eat live mice, although they eat infrequently. Because reptiles are cold-blooded, they need a heat source, such as a heat pad or lamp.
The idea that some dog breeds are hypo-allergenic is a common misconception, says Dr. Jules Benson, a veterinarian and vice president of Veterinary Services at Petplan Pet Insurance in Philadelphia. All dogs shed skin and have allergens in their urine and saliva. However, some dogs with fast-growing hair, rather than fur, seem to cause fewer allergies and might be appropriate for kids with mild allergies. Dr. Benson recommends the following dog breeds to minimize the risk of allergic reactions: poodle, Shih Tzu, Lhasa apso, Yorkshire terrier, Maltese, Chinese crested, schnauzer, Airedale and Portuguese water dog.
A child with pet allergies can have a dog or cat if you take a few precautions, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Talk to your pediatrician or an allergist about your child's allergies before bringing home a pet. Your doctor can help you determine which type of animal is best for your child and family. Bathe your pet weekly, using a shampoo specifically made for dogs or cats to remove skin flakes and hair. Install HEPA air cleaners in your home and dust, vacuum and mop frequently. Finally, keep pets out of your child's room and bedding.
Choosing a Pet
Depending on the type of animal you buy, your pet will be part of your family for many years to come. Think carefully about your decision. Your child might beg for a dog, but if he has severe allergies, consider an alternative. Think about your goals in getting a pet, advises Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family care physician in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and author of "Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch." By articulating what you hope to gain from a pet, you might find alternatives. "If you want a pet to stroke or teach tricks, perhaps you might consider a bird," notes Gilboa.