Like, some animals are hypoallergenic

Pets and allergies: Pets despite allergies: These animals are suitable for allergy sufferers

Choosing a pet if you have an allergy is not easy. Cat, rabbit, camel or chameleon? Six-year-old Jana doesn't really care. The main thing is that she finally gets a pet. For months she has been in her parents' ears with it. But the family has a problem: Jana's two-year-old brother has several food allergies and suffers from severe neurodermatitis. Which animal can the family get without their symptoms worsening?

Just a few years ago, pets would have been strictly advised against a family with allergies like this one. It seemed clear that animals in allergy-free households can make the problems even worse. The situation is no longer that clear. "Pets, especially dogs, can also protect against allergies," says Professor Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, chief physician for environmental medicine at the Augsburg Clinic and director of the Institute for Environmental Medicine at the Technical University of Munich. She refers to recent studies that have shown that keeping a dog has a positive effect on children at risk. But it is not yet clear which recommendations for practice can be derived from this. Affected families should therefore seek advice from an allergist before purchasing an animal.

Pets for allergy sufferers: Cats are taboo if they have an allergy

It plays a major role whether children already have symptoms of an allergy or are only considered to be at risk because allergic diseases occur more frequently in the family. The tendency to allergies (atopy) is largely inherited. Anyone who already has an allergy has no choice but to avoid the trigger as much as possible. Other allergies often arise when atopic people are exposed to aggressive allergens such as cat hair for a long time. Therefore, experts usually advise against fur-bearing pets such as cats, rabbits and guinea pigs if a family member suffers from allergic diseases such as asthma, neurodermatitis or allergic rhinitis.

"There is a high probability that a child with neurodermatitis will develop an animal hair allergy if it comes into constant contact with these allergens," says Professor Thomas Fuchs, Vice President of the Medical Association of German Allergologists and Head of Allergology at the University Medical Center Göttingen. “Cats, guinea pigs and hamsters are particularly dangerous, and in precisely that order.” He therefore advises great caution - also because it would be tragic if children had to give up their animals in the event of an allergy. The Immenstadt dermatologist and allergist Professor Torsten Schäfer says: "Especially small rodents with fur are unsuitable for atopic dermatitis." The same applies to asthmatics. In contrast, the risk of allergies is low in animals without fur, such as turtles or fish. At most, it sometimes happens that allergies to fish food develop.

Pets are even good if they are at risk for an allergy

If children have no complaints, other recommendations apply. You don't have to do without a pet - on the contrary. Apparently it even has a positive effect when allergy-prone children grow up with dogs. “Basically, the idea that you can prevent allergies by keeping children away from allergens is now out of date. This applies to both animal husbandry and nutrition, ”says Traidl-Hoffmann. For example, the international LEAP study (“Learning Early About Peanut Allergy”) published a year ago showed that children with a high risk of allergies are less likely to develop peanut allergies if they were fed peanut-containing food regularly as a baby. "Today we know that early exposure to allergens can contribute to the development of tolerance," says the expert. Years ago, researchers found fewer allergies in children who grew up on the farm. Living with cows in particular has a positive effect, says Traidl-Hoffmann: "Traditional animal husbandry, where animals and humans live under one roof, seem to have a protective effect, especially for children at risk."

This can hardly be done for city dwellers. But you could think about a dog: According to the current “Allergy Prevention” guideline, children who grow up with a dog are less likely to develop neurodermatitis, and sometimes also asthma. “Owning a dog is not associated with an increased risk. It may even have a preventive effect, ”summarizes the dermatologist Schäfer, lead author of the guideline. The reasons for this are unclear. "Dogs carry a lot into the house that can stimulate the children's immune system," says Schäfer. And an early immune stimulation, it is assumed today, can protect against allergies. However, this mechanism does not work in cats. With them there was no protective effect; Some studies have even shown that keeping cats has a negative effect on children at risk. Therefore, affected families should not buy a cat, it says in the guideline.

It is unclear why keeping cats is associated with risks. Cat allergens found in the saliva, tear fluid and skin flakes of animals are considered to be particularly stable and aggressive. The dermatologist Fuchs explains: "These allergens are tiny particles that penetrate very deeply into the mucous membranes." The particles adhere to dust particles and are then distributed throughout the house. They can be proven for years.

So a cat would be nothing for Jana's family. On the other hand, according to Traidl-Hoffmann, “they should get a dog”. The dermatologist Fuchs is more cautious: "A dog might go," he says. He really does not want to advise such a purchase. The situation is easier to assess if an animal already lives in the household: According to the guideline, the pet does not have to be given away just because a baby has an increased risk of allergies - and this usually also applies to cats. Because the study situation with regard to cats is contradictory, the authors have dispensed with a general “recommendation to abolish”.

Hypoallergenic pets can also trigger allergies

And what about hypoallergenic cat and dog breeds that should also be suitable for those allergic to animal hair? Unfortunately little, that's what the German Allergy and Asthma Association (DAAB) says. "The animals are not free from allergens and can also have different amounts of allergens," explains Anja Schwalfenberg from the DAAB. Obviously, how many allergens an animal produces does not depend on the breed, but on individual factors.

In any case, Jana managed to convince her parents to have a pet. The family has chosen quite exotic animals: namely two white-bellied hedgehogs. So far, they have not caused the children any health problems. But: The animals are nocturnal and rather unsuitable for cuddling.