How Pets Can Affect Your Eczema

Some people with eczema can live in a house full of pets with no problems. Others can’t bear any animal contact without scratching themselves like a cat clawing an armchair.

So are Fido and Fluffy good or bad for people with eczema -- specifically atopic dermatitis, the most common type? Will growing up with pets make kids less likely to get eczema later in life? And if you own dogs or cats and have eczema symptoms, will giving them up lessen your itch?

The answers aren’t always simple. But there are easy steps you can take to live in more comfort with your furry friends.

Eczema and Pets

First of all, pets don’t cause eczema directly. Experts still don’t know why you get it. They suspect a mix of things:

  • Genes that make your skin more apt to lose moisture
  • The world around you
  • A faulty immune system

But if you already have eczema and you’re allergic to certain animals, pets can set off your symptoms. About 30% of people in the U.S. who have allergies react to cats and dogs. Pet dander, or flakes of dead skin cells, is a common trigger for eczema and related conditions, like asthma. Proteins in pet saliva or urine also can set off eczema symptoms.

Eczema and Kids

The condition most often appears in babies and young children. Studies show that kids who grow up with a pet are less likely to get eczema when they’re older. Doctors call this the hygiene hypothesis. They think being exposed to germs when you’re young strengthens your immune system.

Researchers found this is true for dogs, but they’re less clear whether cats can help. If your baby is allergic to cats, living with one could actually make him more likely to get eczema.

The bottom line: Experts say we need more research into the pros and cons of life with pets. But for now, don’t get a pet or get rid of one just to help your baby avoid eczema or allergies.

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How to Pick a Pet

If you want a pet but you or your child has eczema, keep these things in mind:

Talk to your doctor. Ask what type of pet might be best. Remember that any animal with fur or feathers can cause eczema flare-ups. If you or your child has a strong allergic reaction to any critter, especially if you have trouble breathing, a pet may not be the right choice.

Don’t buy the hype. There’s no proof that so-called hypoallergenic cats, dogs, or other animals are better for people with allergies or eczema. That’s because dander, not hair or fur, usually triggers the allergy. So choosing a shorthaired or hairless animal won’t help.

Expand your options. A goldfish won’t roll over on command and a gecko can’t curl up in your lap and purr. But if you want a pet that’s unlikely to trigger allergies or eczema, fish, reptiles, and amphibians may be best.

Take a test drive. Spend time with the type of pet you’re considering. Visit friends or relatives with a cat, dog, or gerbil. See if you notice any changes in symptoms.

Living With Pets

If you think your pet’s making your eczema symptoms worse, take these steps before you call it quits:

Make sure it’s really a pet allergy. Ask your doctor if you need tests. You could have a problem with something else, like dust mites or cockroaches.

Ask about treatment options. Medication could help get your eczema symptoms under control and allow you to keep your pet.

Keep your distance. Limit contact with your pet. Keep Fido out of your bedroom or any part of the house where you spend a lot of time.

Clean up. Pet dander is sticky. It gets everywhere. Vacuum your carpets and furniture often. Look into a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. It’ll catch dander better.

Get help. If you’re the one with eczema, ask someone without allergies to wash your pooch or clean the litter box.

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Keep your pet outside. This will cut the amount of dander in your home. But make sure it’s safe and practical.

Wait and see. Pet allergies can get better over time. If yours aren’t too bad, ask the doctor if it’s OK to hang tight in case they improve.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on July 26, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Pets in the Home -- Impact on allergic disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Atopic dermatitis (eczema): Causes,” “Pet allergy: Self-management,” “Pet allergy: Symptoms and Causes.”

National Eczema Association: “Understanding Your Atopic Dermatitis,” “What Causes Eczema to Get Better or Worse?”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Atopic dermatitis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Journal of Pediatrics: “Opposing Effects of Cat and Dog Ownership and Allergic Sensitization on Eczema in an Atopic Birth Cohort.”

World Journal of Pediatrics: “Controversial role of pets in the development of atopy in children.”

American Lung Association: “Pet Dander.”

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