By: Robert W. Sugerman, MD | Contributor
Here’s a lesson that I learned very early in my career as an allergist: If the allergist advises the family to get rid of their dog (or other beloved warm-blooded creature), the family will usually get rid of the allergist instead.
My youthful enthusiasm for helping allergic children was immediately confronted by some stark realities of dog ownership, starting with the fact that the four-legged member of the family had often preceded the arrival of the first human child by several years.
So, is it possible for children who are allergic to dogs to live in harmony with canines? The answer, as is typical for many medical questions, begins with “It depends…” In the end, there are really only three ways to deal with an environmental allergy, usually undertaken in the following order:
No 1. | Avoid the thing(s) to which you are allergic. In this case, make a conscious decision not to keep dogs in your home.
No 2. | Take medications on a daily basis to prevent and treat allergic symptoms caused by exposure to dogs.
No 3. | Allergen immunotherapy or desensitization (“allergy shot”) is a long-term treatment recommended for environmental allergens.
Depending on the severity of your child’s allergic symptoms and how much time and effort you are willing to invest, it may be possible for you to keep your dog. Please also consult your trusted medical professional, but here is the advice I give to parents of children who are allergic to dogs:
No 1. | The dog’s hair or fur is not the issue. Allergenic proteins originate from the dog’s skin secretions (dander) and saliva. Thus, even a hairless dog emits plenty of allergenic proteins.
No 2. | Large “indoor-outdoor” dogs may emit more dander, track outdoor allergens into the home, and are generally more difficult to bathe and groom.
No 3. | Smaller dogs are easier to keep indoors, emit less dander, and are easier to bathe. Washing the dog on a weekly basis helps reduce dander production.
No 4. | Make the child’s bedroom a dog-free sanctuary and, if possible, confine the dog to sleep in the utility room or similar part of the house.
No 5. | A child who is allergic to dogs should wash hands after petting dogs in order to avoid introducing allergens directly into the eyes.
No 6. | Allergy medications may need to be taken on a daily basis to permit the child to cohabitate comfortably with a dog or even to visit other homes where dogs reside.
Chronic eczema or asthma driven by dog dander allergy poses additional problems that may not be solvable with the measures outlined above. When these conditions improve substantially during a vacation to a dog-free environment and then worsen within 24 hours of returning home without any other apparent cause, then the parents would be best advised to start looking for a new home for the dog. After the dog is removed from the home, a deep cleaning of all carpets and upholstered furniture will quickly help reduce the level of dog allergen.
When should you see an allergist for additional help?
No 1. | Allergy symptoms are not satisfactorily controlled with reasonable avoidance measures and judicious use of medications.
No 2. | Environmental allergies leading to secondary complications such as eczema, asthma, or recurrent respiratory tract infections requiring antibiotics.
Editor’s Note: Robert W. Sugerman, M.D. can be reached at Allergy Partners of North Texas where he and the other physicians and staff are dedicated to advancing the delivery of quality care to patients with complex problems. To find an allergist, visit www.acaai.org/locate-an-allergist.