Pets & eczema

Written by marion sipe
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Pets & eczema
There are several types of eczema, and they respond differently to stimuli. (boy and his pet image by Renata Osinska from Fotolia.com)

Pets can provide companionship and are a source of interaction and stress relief, especially for children. However, for sufferers of eczema, it's not always possible to keep a pet or to know how to deal with issues that cause eczema flare-ups. Knowing more about the types of pets that cause flare-ups can help you make an informed choice.

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What Eczema Is

Eczema is a type of chronic dermatitis, a skin condition with symptoms such as intense itching, swelling, rashes and redness of the skin. Further swelling and redness are often caused by scratching, which can also lead to cracking, crusting or scaling of the skin. While the cause of eczema is unknown, it has been linked to allergies and abnormal responses from the immune system. Allergens, skin irritants and stress are other causes.

Though there are different types of eczema, the American Academy of Dermatology states, "Ten to 20 per cent of children and 1 to 3 per cent of adults develop atopic dermatitis, making it the most common type of eczema."

Eczema in Children

The American Academy of Dermatology states, "For 60 per cent or more, atopic dermatitis begins during the first year of life, and at least 80 per cent have the condition before age 5. While rare, atopic dermatitis can first appear at puberty or later."

However, most children grow out of eczema. Many show improvement by age 5, and eczema tends to clear up as they grow to teenagers. While eczema is not caused by particular allergies, children with this condition have hypersensitive skin and may react to environment allergens. These include pollen, dust mites and dander from cats, dogs and feathers.

How Pets Affect Eczema

Pets can cause eczema flare-ups in some sufferers because of their fur and the shed skin (dander), which adds to the amount of household dust. All furred animals are a possible source of eczema flare-ups, as are bird feathers or droppings.

Some people find that their pets don't cause symptoms, but contact with another dog or cat can cause flare-ups. If your flare-ups increase around pets, there are some things you can do to prevent or decrease your symptoms.

How to Keep a Pet

Cleaning your bedding, clothing, furnishings, carpets and shampooing your pet weekly can all reduce or eliminate flare-ups. However, in severe cases this may not be enough. Some people find that having a short-haired animal such as a poodle doesn't affect their eczema. This may also hold true for the "hairless" cat breed the Sphynx. However, Sphynx cats need routine bathing because their lack of fur means that potential eczema-triggering proteins build up on their skin. Without fur, this needs to be washed away by hand.

No Reaction

There are pets that don't cause a reaction in eczema sufferers, such as fish, tortoises, lizards, frogs, snakes and spiders. However, such pets often need specific environmental care (heat lamps, live feeding animals/insects or frequent tank cleaning) and some people may be reluctant to bring these non-traditional pets into the home.

Staff at your local pet store may help to relieve your worries. Small snakes are rarely dangerous and frogs and tortoises can be fun to watch, although interaction is usually best kept to a minimum for the pet's health. Lizards are a good choice because they are interactive (especially the larger varieties) and usually harmless. Some species, however, produce salmonella around their mouths.

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