Boy's best friend, perhaps, but not the best friend to his immune system.

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Pet Allergies in Children

Many parents get their feet wet raising kids by first raising pets. However, when the real thing comes along, sometimes the two just don't mix. Pet allergies in children can cause wheezing, runny noses, sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, itching and rashes. This can present a heart-breaking dilemma for many parents, who must choose whether to find a new home for the pet, or a new home for the child. Even if there's no pet in the family home, pet allergies can cause lots of problems for children who will be around animals when they're out and about or visiting the homes of relatives and friends.

Interestingly, it's not really the pet hair that causes allergic reaction in children -- it's the saliva, feces, dead skin cells and urine contained on that hair that does (or, more specifically, a certain protein found within the animal matter).

Not all animals will trigger an allergic reaction. Some kids are more allergic to cats, or to dogs (or to hamsters, or to guinea pigs). However, all breeds have the potential to cause an allergic reaction -- there's no "allergy-free" type of cat or dog.

If you suspect one of your pets is causing an allergic reaction, your best option is to have your kid checked out by an allergist immediately. If a doctor determines your son or daughter definitely has pet allergies, the best thing to do is keep the kid but find a new home for the pet. Understandably, the family's (or specifically the child's) attachment to the pet makes this a traumatic option. Nonetheless, it's the best thing to do for your child's health.

If, for any reason, the pet remains with the family, don't allow the animal into or near the child's bedroom. It's far more preferable to keep the pet out of the house entirely. Either way, since dander gets tracked into the house on clothes, hands and shoes, be sure to clean frequently, getting rid of all dander, hair and dust. Bathe the pet frequently, the more often the better -- weekly washing of pet can reduce allergic reactions by 84 percent [source: Humane Society]. Children can also be given allergy treatments, from allergy shots and nose sprays to antihistamine pills.

Next: Kids like their sports extreme, not their allergies.