01/24/2013 01:44 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Would You Get Rid of Your Pet if Your Baby Was Allergic?


When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents had a Great Dane named Lucifer. Don't let the name fool you; Lucifer was anything but the devil. He was a loving, gentle dog. As her due date approached, many people expected her to "get rid" of the dog. That wasn't an option: Lucifer was a member of the family.

After I was born, my mom would joke that Lucifer believed HE was my mother. He was by my side day in and day out. He loved me, protected me and made sure my mom and dad always knew when I needed them. He was as in love with me as my parents were.

Growing up, our animals -- dogs and cats alike -- were always a huge part of our family. This held true even after my pet allergies revealed their ugly head. Our animals provided us with joy, happiness, love, companionship and emotional support that was indispensable. I couldn't imagine growing up without pets, and hope to provide my child with the same experience.

As a mom-to-be, I've been privy to many parenting forums about various topics, and most recently, I read one that discussed getting rid of pets when a child is allergic. I was saddened by some of the harsh criticism and "quick-to-dispense" attitudes of some of the participants. Some of those who believed getting rid of their pets was the only right option sounded as if their pets were merely accessories and were only worth having around when it was convenient.

Unless you, a family member or your child suffer from extreme asthma or respiratory conditions as a result of your pet, throwing away an animal due to allergies is like saying you would toss away or divorce a spouse if they smoked. Smoking is just as detrimental to the respiratory system as a pet's dander, yet many parents don't give up the habit.

Having pet allergies myself, I realize how uncomfortable they can be, but the good news is that getting rid of your animal doesn't have to be the automatic go-to solution. There are so many things we can do today to naturally help alleviate most allergies. First, it pays to understand that pet allergies are not caused by the animal's hair, they are caused by the pet's dander, or the dead skin cells that are contained in the hair when it sheds. As a result, minimizing or decreasing the amount of dander in and around your home is key.

If your baby is prone to pet allergies, consider some of these highly effective solutions before giving away your pet.

  1. Air Purifiers: Air purifiers are highly effective in removing allergens from your home's air. Choose one that states it removes airborne pet dander. In many cases, those that use HEPA (High-efficiency particulate air) filters are optimal, as they cut down on the amount of pet dander in the air and reduce the severity of allergies. A great resource and buying guide is the Air Purifier Buying Guide by Achoo Allergy. Depending on the square footage the purifier covers, you may want to buy more than one for your home.
  2. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Systems: Choose HEPA filters for your HVAC systems. You might even want to consider installing air purifying systems into your HVAC systems which would provide built-in air cleaning for your home.
  3. Keep Pets Outside of the Nursery and Bedrooms: Designate bedrooms as "pet-free" zones. This will help to keep your linens, carpeting and clean clothing dander-free, and will provide an allergen-free sleeping environment.
  4. Regular Grooming: At least once a week, brush and bathe your pet, preferably outside. Frequent grooming will diminish the amount of pet dander your pet carries and sheds.
  5. Daily Vacuuming and Damp Dusting: Vacuuming and damp dusting will help to prevent pet dander and dust from accumulating in carpets, and in or on your furniture. The less it accumulates, the less it will impact you or your child. Buy a vacuum that uses a HEPA filter for extra filtration.
  6. Visit an Allergist or Herbalist: There are many natural herbs that can help diminish allergic reactions, not only to pets, but food and other allergens as well. Choose an allergist or herbalist with a solid reputation and consult your pediatrician before giving your child any herbal remedies.
  7. Regular Hand Washing: Many allergic reactions can be caused from touching eyes and skin after touching an animal. Whenever you spend time petting, playing or touching your animal, wash your hands immediately when done.
  8. Minimize "Soft Finishes": Pet dander gets trapped in the fibers of fabric and other "soft finishes," such as carpeting, fabric drapes and upholstery. If your budget allows or if you are moving to a new home, replace soft finishes with harder finishes, such as plastic, vinyl or wood blinds over drapes for your windows; tile or wood for floors; and leather and wood for furniture.
  9. Make Your Pet an Outside Pet: If you live in an area that allows for it, keep your pet outdoors in temperate weather. The less time they spend indoors, the less they will shed and slough off dead skin cells inside your home.
And if none of the above work, and giving away the animal is the only solution you think will work, please consider the following:
  1. Place Your Pet in a Loving Home: The most important thing you can do is ensure your pet is loved. Giving your pet to a family member or friend that has already bonded with your pet will not only ensure you know the pet is going to a loving home, but you'll likely be able to stay "in touch" with your pet so there is some sort of continuity for them.
  2. ALWAYS Choose a No-kill Shelter: Giving your animal to a shelter should be your last resort. If you choose this route, realize that many people who drop their pets off at shelters don't realize that there is a solid chance, especially if the pet is an older pet, that the pet won't be adopted and might be put to sleep as a result. Choosing a shelter that has a no-kill policy will help keep your pet alive and will give them a better chance of a decent life after your home.

Although pets can cause allergies, pets can also provide wonderful benefits to a child and family.

What would you do if you find out your newborn or young child is allergic to your pet?