Pets and Childhood Eczema: what Parents Need to Know

Can Kids With Eczema Have a Pet?

The difficult answer is "maybe," and it largely depends on the severity of their symptoms and how well they can be controlled. That’s because reactions are variable. “Some kids can have eczema and be okay with a pet, while for others it causes symptom flares,” says Edidiong Kaminska, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Kaminska Dermatology in Chicago.

The culprit is not the fur but the dander, says Dr. Kaminska. Pet dander, as defined by the American Lung Association, is the tiny skin particles that are shed by animals with fur or feathers. While animals can bring pollen in from the outside via their fur, it’s not the hair itself that usually presents a problem.

In addition to dander, bacterial debris from the pet’s saliva can also cause allergy issues, says Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, associate professor, dermatology, and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and VP of education and career development at the Society for Pediatric Dermatology.

Benefits of Having a Pet When Your Child Has Eczema

Some data suggests that having a dog in infancy or before starting a family can be protective against allergies, says Maguiness. (More on that below.) Yet bringing a dog into a home with someone who has allergies or eczema won’t treat the problem or cure the condition.

Despite the fact that it’s the dander and saliva that are the true culprits (not the fur), “eczema is not directly caused by dander contacting the skin. Dermatitis in the skin is due to a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, something that’s commonly misunderstood,” she explains. (If contact with dander is causing hives — big, circular, red welts — this is referred to as an immediate hypersensitivity reaction.)

Choosing a Pet When Your Child Has Eczema

It’s often assumed that people who have allergies who want a dog should choose a “hypoallergenic” dog. Unfortunately, “no breed of dog is truly hypoallergenic,” says Maguiness. These pets will still produce dander and saliva that trigger allergy. While there’s no perfect breed, she says, if you are choosing a pet, your best option is to find one that sheds less.

That said, if your child experiences a lot of facial symptoms during eczema flares (such as around the mouth or eyelids), Maguiness would advise parents to bring their child to an allergist for skin prick testing to see if they are truly sensitized to the pet. Even in that scenario, you can work with an allergist to use antihistamines and minimize your child’s exposure to dander. “There are minimal families who actually need to rehome their dog due to their child’s eczema,” says Maguiness.

Tips for Pet Care When Managing Eczema

Minimize dander shedding from your pet. You can do that with frequent cleaning and choice of finishings, advises Maguiness:

  • Hardwood floors are preferable to carpet, as they’re easier to keep clean and won’t harbor dander like carpet can.
  • Vacuum frequently.
  • Use an air filtration system.
  • Frequently brush your pet, ideally outdoors.
  • Take your pet to the groomer regularly.
FDA Approves a First-of-Its-Kind Eczema Cream, Opzelura (Ruxolitinib)

The medication, which belongs to a class of drugs called JAK inhibitors, may help people with mild or moderate atopic dermatitis who aren’t getting enough...

Is It Time to Change Your Atopic Dermatitis Treatment?

When to check in with your doctor and how to get your symptoms back under control.

6 Tips for Safe Hair Removal With Atopic Dermatitis

Shaving and hair removal can be challenging when you have eczema. Follow these tips to make it easier.

5 Home Remedies for Managing the Itch of Atopic Dermatitis

Try these alternative therapies as a complement to your treatment plan for eczema.

Designing a Vibrant Life With Atopic Dermatitis: Joanne’s Story

Frustrated by severe eczema, the fashion designer hopes that newer treatments can offer safe, sustainable relief.

Read more on: eczema