A pet for a gift? Not a great idea - Strefa Alergii
Strefa Alergii | Allergy trends

A pet for a gift? Not a great idea

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Is an animal suitable as a Christmas gift for a child? Every true lover of four-legged creatures will confirm that a 'living gift' is one of the worst ideas one can come up with. An animal is not an object and should not be cast in the role of a gift or toy. In addition to ethical arguments, health issues should also be considered. What if the child turns out to be allergic? Allergies to animals are not limited to just cats and dogs but also include hamsters, rabbits, or guinea pigs. One can even be allergic to birds, such as canaries and parrots, and even aquarium fish...

Animal at home – a serious commitment

zwierzę na prezent, dzieci głaskają psa

The decision to take in any animal should always be well-thought-out and taken in full knowledge of the consequences. Deciding for someone on this aspect is a risk that can do more harm than good. A pet at home is a commitment for many years. It requires many resources (knowledge, time, patience) and financial outlay. Not every child is ready to take on such a responsibility. Even if they initially declare with full confidence that they will look after a pet. When enthusiasm wanes, the animal often becomes a problem. Volunteers and foster carers at shelters are well aware of this. Getting rid of a pet from the home sometimes proves to be a necessity, but it carries a huge cost – both socially and emotionally [1]. Regularly in the run-up to Christmas, therefore, there are social campaigns with a clear message: ‘a pet is not a gift’. It is especially worth taking it to heart if your child is or may be allergic.

What animals can you be allergic to?

Researchers’ findings so far suggest that animal allergy affects between 2.5 and 10% of the general population [1]. What are the statistics in our country? An average of 13.5% of Poles are allergic to cat allergens and 9.7% to dog allergens [4]. Although cats and dogs are the most frequently reported, they are by no means the only sources of animal allergens. Moreover, despite common knowledge, it is not the fur but the exfoliated skin that is the main source of these allergens [1]. Relevant allergenic proteins are also found in the salivary, sweat and sebaceous glands, as well as in urine and plasma [1].

Pets that cause allergies – apart from cats and dogs – are hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats, fish, aquarium fish, birds, and reptiles [1,2]. Even … fish food can be allergenic [8]. In addition, farm animals such as cows, pigs, horses, goats, sheep, and poultry cause allergy symptoms [2,7]. Although there are various theories about this, there are no “hypoallergenic” pets. Or at least, no reliable research results indicate this [3,6,9]. However, a distinction can be made between dog and cat breeds with lower and higher allergenic potential [6].

Among the dog breeds considered as “allergy-friendly breeds” are the Mexican nude, the Chinese mane and the American hairless terrier [9]. However, the absence of hair does not mean that contact with the animal is 100% safe for allergy sufferers. All breeds – although in varying concentrations – secrete the main canine allergen, Can f 1 [9]. The same is for cats. Every representative of this species secretes the allergen Fel d 1 [6]. Furthermore, it has been shown that allergen concentration in saliva is characterised by considerable variability – even within a single breed. It is related to factors such as time of day or season [6].

Attention: allergy to an animal! Symptoms

mężczyzna z kobietą siedzą na kanapie. Kobieta kaszle i ma katar

Allergy to an animal most often manifests itself through nasal and ocular mucosal symptoms. It is also manifested by skin and subcutaneous tissue lesions [1]. In people sensitive to animal allergens, contact with a pet can cause or exacerbate complaints related to:

  • bronchial asthma
  • allergic rhinitis,
  • contact dermatitis,
  • atopic dermatitis [4].

The type and severity of symptoms is an individual issue. On the one hand, a violent reaction is possible, directly life-threatening [1]. On the other hand, even in sensitised children (with positive skin tests), contact with the allergen does not always produce any symptoms [4].

A pet for a gift. Before you take a pet under your roof

So, what can be done to prepare well for the addition of an animal to the household? It is a good idea to start by initiating contact between the child and the pet, e.g. at a shelter, with family or friends. This will not only help to teach the child how to treat the animal properly, but also to check whether the child will develop an allergic reaction [3]. It is important to bear in mind that up to 50% of people who are allergic to a pet allergy do not develop symptoms immediately, but over time. In children, on the other hand, a negative allergy test does not mean that sensitisation to animals will not develop later [5].

If you experience any allergy symptoms, it is a good idea to perform a basic diagnostic to identify the specific allergens that triggered the reaction. Diagnosis helps to dispel doubts whether it is the pet – and not another agent – that is causing the allergy symptoms.

Your doctor can confirm or dismiss your suspicions with skin tests or blood tests that determine allergen-specific IgE antibodies [5]. Confirmation of allergy by testing allows, among other things, preparation for the risk of future cross-reactions [5]. In patients diagnosed with allergy, allergen avoidance is often the only way to eliminate symptoms and prevent their occurrence. Qualification for immunotherapy in animal allergy is more problematic than in pollen allergy [1].

Aleksandra Lipiec

translation: Julia Majsiak

[1] Krauze A., Lange J., Kulus M., Alergia na zwierzęta (2011). Alergoprofil, 7(1), 16–23. Online: [https://www.journalsmededu.pl/index.php/alergoprofil/article/view/250/218].

[2] Gawlik R., Charakterystyka wybranych alergenów zwierząt (2008). Terapia, 4, 18–20. Online: [http://alergia.org.pl/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Charakterystyka-wybranych-alergen%C3%B3w-zwierz%C4%85t.pdf].

[3] Durska G., Czy alergik może mieć psa? (2012). Medycyna Praktyczna. Online: [https://www.mp.pl/pacjent/alergie/lista/63990,czy-alergik-moze-miec-psa].

[4] Sybilski A.J., Czy pozbywać się zwierząt po rozpoznaniu alergii? (2016). Medycyna po Dyplomie. Online: [https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Adam-Sybilski/publication/303662465_Czy_pozbywac_sie_zwierzat_po_rozpoznaniu_alergii/links/574bdb0108ae5f7899ba217e/Czy-pozbywac-sie-zwierzat-po-rozpoznaniu-alergii.pdf].

[5] Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Pet allergy. Information for patients, consumers and carers (2015). Online: [https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/allergy/ASCIA_Petallergy.pdf].

[6] Lis K., Bartuzi Z., Hipoalergiczny kot – czy to możliwe? (2020). Alergia Astma Immunologia, 25(2), 70–81. Online: [https://www.alergia-astma-immunologia.pl/2020_25_2/AAI_02_2020_1385_lis.pdf].

[7] Śpiewak R., Sensitization to cow and pig allergens among farmers in Eastern Poland (2001). Medycyna Pracy, 52(5), 351–354. Online: [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11531261_Sensitization_to_cow_and_pig_allergens_among_farmers_in_Eastern_Poland].

[8] Durska G., Czy można być uczulonym na cokolwiek, co jest związane z hodowlą ryb akwariowych? (2014). Medycyna Praktyczna. Online: [https://www.mp.pl/pacjent/alergie/lista/98616,czy-mozna-byc-uczulonym-na-cokolwiek-co-jest-zwiazane-z-hodowla-ryb-akwariowych].

[9] Kraus-Kolon H., Gawlik R., Pies hipoalergiczny – fakt czy mit? (2015). Alergoprofil, 11(2), 34–40. Online: [https://www.journalsmededu.pl/index.php/alergoprofil/article/view/835/781].