Some children with eczema may experience a flare-up of symptoms when around a pet. However, pets do not cause this reaction in every child.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis (AD), is an inflammatory skin condition that can have many potential triggers. Children whose eczema symptoms worsen when interacting with pets may have an allergy, such as a cat or dog allergy.

This article looks at whether pets can trigger eczema, if pets can cause eczema to develop, or whether a pet protects a child from developing eczema.

It also discusses what pets experts do and do not recommend for a child with eczema and how to manage eczema with pets.

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Pets can be a trigger for flare-ups in some children with eczema, as well as some adults. However, this does not affect everyone.

The National Eczema Society discusses how animal dander, saliva, and fur can be irritants for people with eczema. People with AD have an impaired skin barrier, so contact with potentially irritating substances can lead to more inflammation, which may then cause itchiness.

This reaction could also be the result of an allergy. A person could be allergic to the pet itself or to the substances pet dander can carry, including dust mites, mold, or pollen.

Some children may experience fewer eczema symptoms over time, but others may have more severe reactions after each exposure to a pet.

It is unclear if pets play any role in the development of childhood eczema.

According to an older 2010 review, previous research from the 1980s and 1990s concluded that close contact with furred pets, such as cats, could have links to allergic sensitization. This means people become more sensitive and more likely to react to a specific allergen, such as cat hair.

However, more recent research has contradicted this. There are also many risk factors for eczema, including having dry skin, stress, and a family history of eczema or related allergic conditions.

More research is necessary to confirm if having a pet can contribute to a person’s risk for childhood eczema.

While some older studies found that contact with pets may increase the chances of developing childhood eczema, other studies have found the opposite.

A 2020 study of pregnant people and their children from Shanghai suggested that although early life exposure to dogs may increase the risk of sensitization to dogs, it significantly decreases the risk of eczema.

An older 2013 meta-analysis also reported a positive effect of exposure to dogs on the risk of eczema in children, but they did not find the same association with exposure to cats.

As such, there is currently no consensus on whether pets are beneficial or harmful overall with regard to eczema, allergy, or asthma risk.

All animals have the potential to trigger allergies or eczema. Which pets are suitable will depend on the child’s individual response to the animal.

There are no animals that are universally good for all children with eczema. However, some animals and breeds may be better than others.

Pets with no fur or hair, such as reptiles and fish, may be lower risk.

Hypoallergenic breeds

Although some people claim certain cat or dog breeds are hypoallergenic, meaning they are very unlikely to cause allergies, there is no breed that is truly hypoallergenic.

The main allergens in cats and dogs come from proteins in their saliva. In cats, this is Felis domesticus allergen one (Fel d 1) and in dogs, it is known as canis familiaris allergen one (Can f 1).

All cats and dogs produce these proteins to some degree. Since animals lick themselves, these substances can be present on their coat and around the home, even if the animal is hairless or low-shedding.

Some people report that dog breeds with wiry hair are better for them. This includes:

  • poodles
  • Yorkshire terriers
  • bichon frise
  • Maltese
  • schnauzers

However, a 2012 study found that some of these breeds, such as poodles, had higher amounts of Can f 1 in their coat than breeds that shed, such as Labradors.

Similarly, some claim that some cat breeds are hypoallergenic, either because they have no hair, or because they produce less Fel d 1 than other breeds. Examples of these breeds include:

  • Siberian
  • Balinese
  • Sphynx

However, a 2019 study notes there is little evidence supporting this. The researchers found that shorthair cats had significant variation in Fel d 1 despite being the same breed, suggesting the levels may vary depending on the cat.

Children with eczema may still be able to have a pet. Caregivers who are thinking of welcoming a pet into their family should:

  • Ask a doctor about allergy testing before getting a pet.
  • Have the child spend some time with the animal, or the animal’s parents, to see how they react.
  • Speak with an allergist or dermatologist for advice.

If a household already has a pet that may be causing eczema symptoms, there may be ways to reduce allergen exposure. The National Eczema Society suggest people try:

  • training cats or dogs to sit in their own bed or basket rather than on couches or beds
  • placing pet blankets in places where the animal likes to sit, and washing the blankets regularly
  • damp dusting and vacuuming regularly, ideally with a vacuum that has a built-in allergen filter
  • brushing pets regularly to remove loose fur
  • washing dogs weekly when the child is not present
  • regularly cleaning pet cages, beds, toys, or litter boxes
  • having allergen-free rooms where pets are not allowed, such as bedrooms

Having appointments with a doctor to review skin care regimen and medications may help decrease or prevent symptoms, too.

If a child’s eczema or allergies worsen over time, some doctors may recommend immunotherapy to help desensitize them from their pet, especially for those with moderate-to-severe symptoms. In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to rehome the pet.

Animal dander, saliva, and fur may trigger eczema symptoms in some children with the condition. Dander may also carry other allergens, such as dust and pollen, which can also be a trigger in some individuals.

It is unclear if contact with pets can play a role in causing, or protecting against, eczema. Though some studies have found that many children have sensitization to their pets, this does not always mean they develop eczema.

The only way to determine if a pet is likely to cause a reaction is to spend time with them before adopting. If eczema symptoms are causing significant discomfort even with measures to reduce allergen exposure, contact a doctor.