FAQs: Pet Allergens

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Is it safe to have pets around young children?

Pets are lovable, and pet care often provides youth an excellent opportunity to learn compassion and empathy while fostering nurturing and responsibility. The companionship that some pets offer has proven benefits to human health, both physically and mentally.

However, pets can pose some hazards to young children. In addition to the possibility of injury from bites or scratches, the exacerbation of asthma from pet dander and saliva, and the irritation of fleas, there is also the possibility of contracting diseases, called zoonoses --diseases that can be transmitted from infected animals to humans. The potential causative agents are bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi (from pets).

Whereas the likelihood of contracting diseases from pets is rather small, allergies and asthma are serious concerns for young children, and childhood asthma prevalence continues to grow worldwide. Serious consideration should be undertaken prior to bringing pets into the childcare setting.

How should I choose a pet for my child care setting?

Check your state’s laws and childcare licensing standards with regard to animals on the premises. Some states require that pets are immunized, free from disease, and clean, and that parents are notified in writing of all animals on the premises.

Make sure to check with your municipality or county for any existing or pending BSLs (breed-specific legislations). There are several counties in the US that have banned specific pets, such as pit bulls.

Consider the age and health status of people who will come into regular contact with the pets when making a selection of the species, breed, age, and personality of the animal. Be especially mindful with respect to children under the age of five, those with severe pet allergies, those with asthma, and people who have impaired or weakened immune systems.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of the following are bad pet choices for kids under the age of five:

  • reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards, iguanas)
  • rodents (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, mice, rats)
  • amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders)
  • Ferrets
  • baby poultry (chicks, ducklings, goslings, turkeys)
  • Monkeys
  • illegal exotic animals

Ensure that the pets are suitably child-friendly, in other words, well-trained, gentle, and tolerant.

Keep in mind that young puppies and kittens shed more pathogens than mature animals when they become infected. They are also more excitable and may not yet be house-trained.

Stick with traditional domestic pets to lessen the risk of exposure to the more exotic diseases associated with fad pets, such as ferrets or hedgehogs. Also, wild animals do not make good pets.

Obtain the pet from a reputable source, and ensure it received a bill of good health from a licensed veterinarian.

How can I reduce pet allergens in my home or child care setting?

  1. If a child is known to be allergic to the pet, at a minimum, keep the pet out of the home.
  2. Keep pets off of furniture, especially upholstered furniture where animal dander can be transferred.
  3. Bathe and groom pets like dogs weekly, but do not groom the pet in the presence of the allergic or asthmatic. Remove clothing worn after grooming or playing with pets, but keep it out of the bedrooms or sleeping areas, and wash clothing with an allergen wash.
  4. Use air purifiers with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters throughout the house.
  5. Use HEPA vacuum cleaners or high efficiency vacuum cleaner bags. These dramatically reduce the amount of dust, allergen and pollens pumped back into the air by the vacuum cleaner.
  6. Litter boxes should be placed in an area unconnected to the air supply for the rest of the home, and should be avoided by allergic individuals.
  7. Keep the home or facility clean - frequent vacuuming, dusting, and laundering - to prevent allergen buildup. Wet moping and wet dusting is preferred.

How can I reduce disease transmission from my pets?

Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonoses. They range from skin conditions like ringworm to gastrointestinal diseases caused by microorganisms such as Salmonella or Campylobacter, to more exotic and health-threatening ailments like toxoplasmosis and leptospirosis.

To minimize disease transmission:

  1. Keep your pet up-to-date on all pertinent vaccinations.
  2. Keep your pet free of fleas and ticks. Both fleas and ticks are capable of feeding on people and thereby passing on disease.
  3. Establish a “No licking and no kissing” rule. Kissing the animals or letting them lick people, especially on the face, should not be allowed. This can lead to exposure to pathogens and allergens.
  4. Establish firm hand-washing rules. Children and their care-takers should wash up after handling pets (especially reptiles and those with allergens), after handling pet food and treats (pig ear chews are often contaminated with Salmonella), and after cleaning up after them.
  5. Do not feed your pet raw meat. Feeding your pet raw meat can lead to infection with Salmonella, Campylobacter and other microorganisms that your pet can then spread around the household.
  6. Keep sandboxes covered to prevent cats from using it as a litter box.
  7. Do not allow pets on counters or other surfaces where food is prepared, and do not let the pet lick tableware or silverware that people use as well.
  8. If you have a garden, do not allow pets to relieve themselves there. Pick up animal droppings in your yard and dispose of them immediately. Children should always wear shoes outdoors.