In almost 50% of cases of allergies to animals, the culprit is the cat. It is often believed that people who suffer from pet allergies react to the animal’s hair, but this is not true. People who have pet allergies react to a protein produced by pets. This protein can be found in the animal’s saliva, urine or dander (dead skin cells). The symptoms involved in pet allergies are very similar to hay fever: sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes. Some people might have a severe allergic reaction and experience signs of asthma: wheezing and difficulty breathing. All of these symptoms are the result of an allergic reaction, caused by allergens.
In the case of cat allergy, the allergen is a protein called Fel d1 which triggers allergic reactions. This protein is found in the cat’s saliva, urine and dander, therefore when the cat rubs himself against a sofa, walls, furnitures, he drops off this protein.
Cat allergy: can babies be affected?
Babies can show signs of a cat allergy at an early age (cough, runny nose, bursts of sneezing, etc.). But because toddlers tend to have rhinitis and nasopharyngitis, it is difficult to diagnose cat allergies. Indeed, babies often have symptoms that closely resemble respiratory allergies.
With that being said, specialists do agree that if a baby has more than three bronchiolitis in the winter, the child could possibly have asthma. Likewise, if the child has recurrent rhinitis, if he coughs repeatedly at night but doesn’t have fever, this may suggest allergic asthma. If you have any doubt, it is important to consult your pediatrician.
At what age do cat allergies develop?
Although it is twice as common to have cat allergies than dog allergies, pet allergies can develop at any age, but the symptoms usually start around 2 years old. Anyone can develop pet allergy, and it can happen suddenly for some people. However, a child is more at risk of developing allergies if it has a family history of allergies/asthma or has other allergies or allergy related diseases like asthma or eczema.
Can babies outgrow cat allergies?
There are a few reports of children who outgrow pet allergies over time. Some studies have shown that the immune system eliminated allergic reactions when the child was exposed to a high level of allergens. This doesn’t happen for everyone, and the chances that a child outgrows cat allergies isn’t clear, but as long as the allergic reactions are manageable and the child doesn’t have any difficulties breathing or develops severe asthma, it’s best to wait and see how cat allergies develop.
If you have any doubts or if you notice your child’s allergic reactions are developing, make sure you talk to your child’s doctor.
Cat allergy symptoms: How do you know if your baby is allergic to pets?
As a parent, there are certain symptoms that should alert you and prompt you to consult an allergist. Here are the most common cat allergy symptoms that can occur in a baby:
- runny nose
- serial sneezing
- itchy eyes
- skin rash
- coughing or wheezing during the night or naps
- development of asthma
Generally, all of these symptoms will be triggered immediately when the cat and the baby have been in contact, during playtime or cuddle time for example. Some children might be more sensitive and they may show signs of allergy as soon as they enter a room where the animal has been. Others will even react if they are in contact with someone who owns a cat.
Cat allergy: prevention first and foremost
In case of a proven allergy or if you suspect your baby to be allergic to cats, it is important to make sure his environment is as anti-allergenic as possible. Here are a few tips you can follow to do so:
- Limit any contact between your baby and your pet
- Install an air purifier with an activated carbon filter
- If the baby comes in contact with the cat, wash his hands carefully
- Air out your house on a daily basis, 5 to 10 minutes a day
- Vacuum your home frequently with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA outlet filter
- Prevent your cat from entering the nursery
- Wash the bed where your pet sleeps regularly (once a week)
- Brush your pet as often as possible to remove dead hair, its coat being a reservoir of allergens
- Apply an anti-allergic lotion to the animal to neutralize the Fel d1. On sale in pet stores or at your veterinarian's, this product will effectively help you remove the allergens present in your pet's coat
- Try to make your environment as pure as possible. Remove rugs and carpets, and opt for washable materials instead.
My baby is allergic to cats: what treatments to administer?
If your pediatrician suspects your baby is allergic to your cat, there are chances that your baby will have to see an allergist and have some tests done.
The latter can perform skin tests using "prick testing". Using a micro needle, he or she will push a drop of allergen under your child's skin to see if a reaction appears within minutes. Prick testing can be done at birth but most of the time they will be done at 6 months old.
Once the diagnosis is made, an adapted treatment will be put in place for your baby. The specialist may prescribe:
- Nasal sprays or eye drops: this will relieve the baby's nasal congestion and would be enough if your child has only a mild reaction to cats.
- Antihistamines or other allergy medicines: it can be found in the form of syrup and will probably need to be given once or twice a day. This might be recommended for more severe symptoms.
- Allergy shots: This option would be best suited if your child is older and if the symptoms persist even after allergy medications. Allergy shots are given to gradually build the child’s immune system.
In the case of a confirmed cat allergy, there are therefore preventive actions and different treatments to help your little one live with your pet.
Is it bad for babies to be around cats?
The presence of an animal at home is beneficial for the whole family. When it comes to children, pets play several roles. They help them learn what it means to have some responsibilities and they are also good friends and will help boost children’s confidence.
Scientific studies also proved that growing up with a dog or a cat is beneficial for the health of toddlers. A Swedish study has revealed that an animal’s company during the first year of a toddler’s life strengthens the immune system, prevents allergies and reduces the risk of developing asthma as they grow up. Indeed, babies who are in daily contact with a pet are 33% less likely to develop allergies, 30% less likely to suffer from respiratory infections and 15% less likely to suffer from asthma.
With that being said, there are no ways to guarantee pet allergy prevention. If you do have a pet, your baby might not show any signs of allergies right away. It could take a few months or years of exposure to an animal for the symptoms to start appearing. Also, if one of the parents (or both) have allergic reactions, there is a chance that the child may genetically develop the same allergy.