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The best pets for kids with allergies

Children who suffer pet allergies have unique triggers, and will suffer allergic reactions to varying degrees. Those who have undergone allergy testing will have a good idea which pets to avoid. For others, there are some guidelines to finding the best pet — and avoiding the worst.

Pet turtle in a tank

No cats, please

In a report by Allergy Canada, allergist Dr. Sai Nimmagadda is quoted as saying, “With cats, all bets are off.” The explanation is cat saliva is a major allergen, and since cats are self-groomers and lick themselves much of the time, this creates a big allergy issue. They also have dander (shed, dead skin), of course, which means cats pose a double threat to kids with allergies.

Bye-bye, birdie

Birds are a veritable hotbed of potential allergy triggers, due to the combination of feathers, dander and droppings. Allergy Canada also warns, “Bacteria, dust, fungi, and mould lurk within and around their cages.”

Doggie dilemma

We’ve all heard of hypoallergenic dogs, but the bottom line is that no pooch is completely allergen-free. They all have secretions and dander (dead skin) that can trigger reactions — even if they don’t have hair at all. Breeds with longer hair certainly pose more of a problem to allergy sufferers because more of their dander is carried into the air on their hair when they shed. The good news is that kids with allergies may be able to tolerate certain types of dogs. Dr. Nimmagadda notes that small or medium-sized dogs have a smaller surface area for dander to settle, and dogs that require regular grooming may also be a better bet for decreased amounts of dander. Since undercoat shedding triggers allergic reactions, single-coated dog breeds such as poodles, bichons frises and some terriers are also lower-risk choices.

Guinea pigs and hamsters

As with dogs, the dander and secretions of rodents, including their urine, can trigger allergies. Though these animals are small and may have less dander, they live in cages that can harbour additional allergens, just as with birds. Some children who are allergic to other animals may be able to tolerate this type of pet if the cage is cleaned thoroughly and often.

Cold-blooded creatures

Ultimately, kids who suffer from allergies may have varying degrees of reaction to any hot-blooded animal, because they all produce dander. Therefore, a cold-blooded animal such as a frog, turtle, lizard, snake or fish may be the best choice of pet, because these avoid the issue of dander altogether. As always, terrariums and aquariums should be cleaned regularly and kept up according to guidelines to avoid build-up of other possible irritants.

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