Deciding on the right family pet can be a tough thing to do if anyone in your household has allergies or sensitivities to animals. Which pet pal would be the best fit for your family? Continue reading our suggestions below to learn more!
The good news is that even if you are quite allergic to one pet, it is highly unlikely to be allergic to them all - according to Mitchell Grayson, M.D., an allergist in Milwaukee. A great first step would be speaking to your primary physician to see whether a skin test with an allergist might be a good idea for you. After you narrow down the culprits, this list should help you find an allergy-friendly pet that might work for most families with sensitivities.
BEST FISH PICK
BETTAS OR GOLDFISH
Friendliness: Both fish can recognize their owners
Lifespan: 4-10 years
Reason: Fish are almost a no-brainer choice in most cases since you rarely need to interact with them on a physical level. There is a tank and plenty of water between this pet and other household members - making them mesmerizing to watch without touching being involved.
Care: Provide a tank that is at least 5 gallons per fish with a good filter setup and aeration system installed. Use a lid to prevent bettas from attempting to jump out of the tank. For fish to swim around and hide - which helps the fish to be less anxious in a home with hands-on little ones, include some fish tank objects such as underwater foliage or decorations that your local pet store deems suitable for the tank and needs of the fish. Follow the instructions for keeping the tank clean and take note of dietary needs and availability at your local stores.
Downside: No cuddles with this pet pal! It's also very important to keep the tank squeaky clean to prevent the buildup of mold or mildew which can release spores into the air and then might trigger a reaction to those with mold allergies. A great way to help combat this would be aquatic plants in your tank which help both the water and the plant to be healthier!
NOTE: Bettas and goldfish should not share a tank together since they require different water conditions. Bettas do best as a single fish in one tank since they are territorial and aggressive so unless you want your kids to witness a gruesome battle that will likely result in a sad goodbye, please only keep one betta in each tank. They won't be lonely if they have you!
BEST REPTILE PICK
Friendliness: Enjoys human interaction; can be easily trained with positive reinforcement
Lifespan: 7-10 years
Reason: One of the main causes of most allergy symptoms can be attributed to dander - which isn't something that reptiles generate since they don't have the skin cells that other animals do. "And they don't have hair that can further trigger allergies," says Dr. Grayson. The bearded dragon is a kid-friendly favorite since "they are interactive with people and can be trained to enjoy touching as well," according to Susan A. Brown, D.V.M. and owner of Rosehaven Exotic Animal Veterinary Service.
Care: Needs a large tank with a heated basking area. Remove the feces from the tank on a daily basis and give the cage a thorough clean at least once per month. Diet consists of live insects, fruit and vegetables. Be sure to do research for more detailed dietary needs.
Downside: Reptiles can carry salmonella so it is important to consider this and limit interactions with children under the age of 5, women who are pregnant, elderly individuals and any other individuals who might have a compromised immune system.
NOTE: As with all animals, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling.
BEST BIRD PICK
PARAKEETS, CANARIES & FINCHES
Friendliness: They love to socialize and might be best in pairs or small groups since they enjoy playing together and will sing or mimic sounds in their environment together.
Lifespan: 10-15 years
Reason: There is so much to love about keeping small birds! Not only are they incredibly smart and playful as they fly around the house, but they are also very allergy-friendly! Dr. Grayson says that even those who are typically sensitive to cats and dogs rarely have a reaction of any kind with birds - especially of these species. These types of birds do not produce the sneeze-inducing powder on their wings that some larger birds often do.
Care: Provide a large cage and replace their bottom liner daily as the birds will soil it all day long. Weekly thorough cleanings of the cage are also recommended since these birds will become sick if you don't keep their food and water dishes very clean. Allowing the birds exercise by opening their cage daily for flight time will help keep them happy and healthy.
Downside: For tiny little birds, the feathers that might litter the floor around your cage can become a big mess if you allow it to collect over a few days. These small birds drop small feathers, which are sometimes difficult to sweep up because the wind will kick them around. A small vacuum or hose attachment can help with daily tidying beneath their cages.
BEST RODENT PICK
RATS, MICE, GERBILS & HAMSTERS
Friendliness: Highly intelligent, very social, easily trained with positive reinforcement
Lifespan: 1-3 years
Reason: Rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters make great choices for pets. For kids who want to cuddle their pet pal but have someone in the house who is sensitive or allergy-prone to pet dander, this could still work as an option. These rodents don't mind being handled by people.
Care: Clean their cage and replace the bedding at least once per week - more if someone in the household appears to be sensitive to dander. Allow them out of the cage once per week inside of a sphere or wheel for exercise and fun interaction with their human friends. Feed these rodents pellet food per the store or vet instruction, as well as seeds, fruit, and veggies.
Downside: While it is true that they are mammals and therefore produce similar allergy potentials to kittens and puppies, they are considerably smaller and therefore produce significantly less allergens in their environment, according to Dr. Brown. In addition to this, they don't often have free range of the house (or else they might get lost) so keeping them contained to one area truly helps to minimize the spread of potential allergens.
NOTE: The larger the rodent, the more production of allergens and therefore the less likely it will cohabitate well with someone who has sensitivity issues to this type of animal. These smaller rodents are a much safer choice than a guinea pig or chinchilla for this reason.
Pro tip: The myth of the hypoallergenic dog & cat
"Realistically, there are no good choices for allergy-free dogs or cats. They all can cause symptoms," says Dr. Grayson. The reason is that people react to proteins in dog and cat saliva, sweat, dander, and urine - and there is no single protein to which most allergies can be attributed to. "That's why certain so-called hypoallergenic cats and dogs may cause fewer problems for some people, but others may suffer just the same," added Dr. Grayson.
While we cannot guarantee that any of these pets would be a perfect fit for you, we hope you have learned something - since we sure did along the way! There are plenty of non-living "pets" that exist today for your child to practice the care and keeping of - many toy brands have created some incredibly lifelike options. You might also consider non-traditional pets such as pet rocks or pet stuffed animals which have significantly easier "care" instructions. We also have a blog of 7 "easy" houseplant varieties that your child could learn to care for.
Whichever pet it is that you decide on, we hope you use this opportunity to teach your child how to care for their new companion and their habitat. MHP would love to see pictures of your animal friends, find us on Facebook or Instagram @montcohomepros and tag us in your post or send us a direct message for a chance to have your pet featured on our profile!