Guest post by Dana Wilkosz of KIWI magazine. The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the ASPCA.
I’ve been an allergy-sufferer for almost my entire life. Dogs, dust mites, grass—you name it, I’m probably allergic to it. (As my allergist put it to me at the tender age of five: “You probably shouldn’t have any animals in the house…But you can still hug the trees!” I was devastated.) So I can relate to parents who may be hesitant to introduce a pet to their young child—especially if they themselves have ever suffered from being around animals (itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat—so much itching.)
However, you may want to think twice before deciding against four-legged companions completely. A recent study suggests that it is unlikely that being around a dog or a cat for most of the childhood years will increase a child’s chances of developing allergies, and early exposure could actually lower the risk.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit studied 565 18-year-olds who had been followed from birth. They found that teens who had cats during their first year of life had 50 percent less chance of developing pet allergies later, compared to babies born into cat-free homes. Boys who lived with a dog during the first year of life had about half the risk of developing allergies as compared to those without a dog in the house, though, oddly, this wasn’t true for girls—a fact that researchers were unable to explain.
In fact, being exposed to pets anytime after the first year of life seemed to have no effect on allergy risk at all, which, researchers feel indicates that a baby’s first year is a critical time when it comes to the possibility of a child developing pet allergies. The reason for this? Researchers believe it may lie in the “hygiene theory”—the idea that early exposure to certain environmental factors, like dust or animal dander, might trigger the immune system to develop a tolerance for common allergens, therefore reducing the likelihood of a child developing sensitivities.
Still, researchers are quick to point out that even though the study indicates that having pets early in life could help protect kids from allergies, this doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship—meaning you probably shouldn’t rush out to get a pet in the hopes that it’ll make your child immune to pet allergies. However, if you’re planning on getting a pet, it might be better to get one sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for me, my allergies have never been life threatening, and my mom agreed to keeping pets in the house so long as my symptoms didn’t get out of hand. To this day, I live quite happily with a cat of my own, and though I still take a pill everyday to help relieve some of that awful itching, I’m an animal lover and a pet owner, and I wouldn’t have grown up any other way.
What about you? Did you grow up with animals and allergies? Do you think exposing your child early in life to common allergens could prevent them from developing allergy symptoms later in life? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in Development at the ASPCA.
Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the whole baby thing, your little ones change the game as they become mobile.
A crawling, standing and cruising baby turns formerly harmless items into hazards. Children have an uncanny ability to find things you didn’t even know were on the floor—and shove them into their mouths. Pet toys, cat hair and other odds and ends became increasingly difficult to keep away from our little ones.
Then there was the litter box. I could tolerate my children eating a bit of sand at the playground, or sampling the odd fistful of cat hair (it builds immunity, right?), but the thought of baby’s hands anywhere near a litter box was too much. Our family lives in an apartment, so we don’t have the option of putting the box in the basement or elsewhere—we needed to be a bit more creative.
Our solution was probably best summed up as “out of sight, out of mind,” and it was quite effective. While renovating our apartment, we created a special space within a low cabinet for the litter box. Pointing away from the living room, you don’t know it’s there unless you see a cat entering or exiting. The box is located near our little “mud” area where we also keep shoes, coats and the stroller. We initially put up a baby gate to keep the whole area out of bounds to our toddler, and the cat quickly learned how to get around the gate when she needed access to the box. I’ve seen other variations of this in catalogs: litter boxes disguised as end tables, for example, that keep most of the box covered so access from most sides is limited. Some even have pet doors to cover the entrance.
As my son got older, we removed the gate but kept a watchful eye on him. We explained that the litter box is the cat’s potty to help him learn that it is definitely not a sandbox. So far, so good.
Do you share a small space with kids and pets? If so, how do you handle the challenge of keeping kids away from your pets’…personal items? Share your experiences in the comments.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in the Development department at the ASPCA.
Play dates: your little guy or girl, a friend…and your pet? Playtime for three is not always welcome by friend or feline. Here’s how I ensure everyone has a good time during play dates:
My son Sam is three-and-a-half and our cat, Polly, is approaching 14. Sam is getting to an age where he wants to have his friends over more often. So far, these children tend to fall into two camps when it comes to meeting our cat: They either can’t get enough of her or they are frightened of her— especially if they have never interacted with a cat before.
In both scenarios, I find an introduction with treats for the cat gets everyone comfortable. For an excited child, it slows them down and prevents them from approaching the cat with a loud voice or really animated movements, both of which make the cat—a somewhat cranky senior kitty—a little nervous. Placing a treat on the floor lets the more timid children approach the cat on their terms, but they do not actually have to pet her or get too close.
Sometimes I’ll provide the cat dancer toy so kids can play with her without using their hands. A short, supervised time with kitty is usually enough to satisfy everyone’s interest, and then child and kitty both move on to something else. If anyone gets too carried away with the cat, or I can see her cornered, she’s airlifted out of the situation to safety. The key for cats is to designate a safe place where they can get out of reach of inquisitive or persistent little hands.
I realize dogs are a little different. Some dogs may jump up and knock over a little one in the process; dog toys and kid toys are easily confused, too! My neighbors have three little kids and two dogs, and often they just move the dogs upstairs when friends are over to avoid the issue altogether. For helpful pet tips, check out our guide to teaching dogs to behave around children as well as our cat behavior section.
How do you keep your pets safe during play dates? Tell us in the comments!
Summer travel season is in full swing, and we think family trips are always more fun when you bring your furry friends along. If you’re planning to hit the road this summer with your pets in tow, be sure to check out these travel safety tips before you go:
In the car:
Thinking about taking a road trip? It’s a good idea to practice having your pet ride along for a series of short rides leading up to your big trip. Keep your pets safe and secure in the car by having them ride in a well-ventilated crate or carrier. The crate should be large enough for your pet to stand, sit, lie down and turn around in. Be sure to pack plenty of water, and avoid feeding your pet in a moving vehicle. For a full list of car travel safety tips, visit our Pet Care section.
Traveling by plane:
Unless your furry friend is small enough to ride under your seat on a plane, the ASPCA suggests avoiding air travel with pets. However, if you must bring your pet along on your flight, it’s best to plan ahead. First, make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date and that your pet has been microchipped for identification purposes. Book a direct flight if possible, and purchase a USDA-approved shipping crate that is large enough for your pet to stand, sit and turn around in comfortably. Be sure to mark the crate with the words “Live Animal,” as well as your contact information and a photo of your pet. Attach a pouch of your pet’s food to the outside of her crate, and freeze water in a dish for your pet to drink as it melts throughout the flight. For more air travel safety tips, visit our Pet Care section.
No matter where you’re headed this summer, please be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag at all times. We’re wishing you many happy trails and safe travels. Don’t forget to send us a postcard of Fluffy soaking up the sun during your family’s vacation!
Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter orFacebook.
I’ve heard one too many stories of pet parents saying, “My dog is really friendly; he loves kids,” followed by utter shock and disbelief when their dog nips or bites a child. They wonder, “How could this happen? My dog has never bitten a child before.” In that situation, it’s natural to feel mortified, and all you can do is apologize profusely and scold your dog for behaving poorly.
That was me a few years ago, when my dog had a negative interaction with a child who was fortunately left unharmed, though maybe slightly traumatized and wary of dogs. When I had my son Jaden, I wasn’t confident since we had several close calls when our dog Mikey acted up around kids. My husband was also worried and wondered whether having a dog like Mikey was a good fit for our family. Gulp.
Did you know that 50 percent of children in the U.S. will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday, and that the majority of dog bites are from a dog the child knows? In conjunction with National Dog Bite Prevention Week May 18-24, here are some tips I’ve implemented so my son and dogs can live in harmony:
Keep dog and kid toys separate. It’s easy for your dog to confuse his toy with a child’s toy because they look similar. Separate the two to avoid problems—I keep my son’s toys in his room, and bring out a few toys for the dogs to play with in the living room.
Always supervise playtime. Even if your pets are good with kids, it’s important to keep an eye on your child and pet because accidents happen when you least expect it.
Time flies when you’re changing diapers, cleaning dirty bibs and washing a million pieces of a bottle—all on virtually no sleep. My son is a toddler now, and he’s feeling very independent—now that he can run, drive his toy car, and say, “my toy!” And while my husband and I consulted animal behavior experts to address Mikey’s issues, it’s important as parents—especially if you have both—to be extra mindful when your child is interacting with your pets or other dogs.