Jewish World Review April 9, 2003 / 7 Nisan, 5763

FAMILY HEALTH: Your pet can affect your family's health

By Kathy Sena | The number of kids ages 6 and younger who have asthma could drop nearly 40 percent in the United States if these children didn't have pets or other allergy triggers in the home, according to a study of more than 8,000 children published in the journal Pediatrics. The study found that kids with pet allergies were 24 times more likely to have asthma than those without such allergies.

But that doesn't necessarily mean a beloved family pet has to go. The American Lung Association has these suggestions for reducing levels of pet-related allergens in the home:

-- No sleeping with Fluffy. Better yet, keep pets out of the bedroom all the time. Because so many hours are spent sleeping, this reduces a child's exposure to allergens.

-- Lather up. Bathe your dog or cat weekly to help remove much of the dander that accumulates on a pet's fur.

-- Cover sofas. If you can't keep your pet off of the couch, cover it (the couch -- not the pet!) with a removable, washable slipcover.

-- Control pet hair. Have a non-allergic family member brush your pet outdoors regularly to reduce the amount of allergens that are brought indoors.

-- Filter allergens. Use a high-efficiency furnace filter and replace it every two to three months. Such filters can capture up to 30 times more pet dander and other allergens than standard fiberglass filters can.

-- Vacuum frequently. To remove more pet dander, try a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency filtration system.

-- Wash up. Teach your children to wash their hands after handling the family pet and to wear a face mask when changing the cat's litter box.

Of course, if these suggestions don't provide enough relief for your child's allergy or asthma symptoms, you'll want to talk with her doctor.


If you have a child under age 5 at home, you may want to wait a few years to get that pet lizard he's been begging for. Pet reptiles -- including all types of lizards, snakes and turtles -- can be a source of life-threatening salmonella infections in young children and don't belong in homes with children under age 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They also should not be kept as pets in day-care centers and preschools. Young children may not yet have a strong-enough immune system to fight off the infection.

Reptile-related salmonella infections are on the rise, and that has health officials concerned. Most cases of salmonella are caused by food contamination, but reptiles account for about 93,000 cases per year in the United States, or about 7 percent of the total. Reptiles carry salmonella in their digestive tracts and frequently shed the bacteria in their feces, even though they're not sick themselves.

The sale of small turtles as pets was banned in 1975 because of the problem. But consumers, and even pet-store owners, are just now learning that snakes and lizards can also transmit salmonella.

Touching the reptile isn't necessary for contracting the infection. Simply handling objects contaminated by the reptile's feces can transmit salmonella. The CDC says some infants have even contracted the infection from family members who touched a reptile before touching the baby.


Kids and dogs. They just seem to naturally go together. Unfortunately, dogs and common parasites, such as hookworms and heartworms, also can get rather chummy. But there are steps you can take to help keep your dog free of parasites - and to protect your family. Here are some suggestions, courtesy of the Novartis Animal Health company:

-- Promptly dispose of your dog's waste, and keep children from playing where soil may be contaminated.

-- Practice good hygiene, and encourage children to wash their hands regularly, especially after playing in dirt or sandboxes. And cover sandboxes when not in use.

-- Take your dog for regular veterinary exams. Your vet can prescribe a parasite preventive, usually in the form of a monthly tablet.

-- Bathe and groom your dog regularly.


Kids are more likely than adults to be bitten by domesticated animals, including your own family pet, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. So if you're considering getting a pet as a companion for your child, wait until the youngster is mature enough to handle and care for the animal, usually around age 5 or 6. Younger children have difficulty distinguishing an animal from a toy, so they may inadvertently provoke a bite through teasing or mistreatment.

When choosing a pet, take the following precautions:

-- Look for a pet with a gentle disposition. An older animal is often a good choice for a child because a puppy or kitten may bite out of sheer friskiness. Avoid older pets raised in a home without children, however.

-- Never leave a young child alone with an animal. Many bites occur during periods of playful roughhousing because the child doesn't realize when the animal gets overly excited.

-- Teach your child not to put his face close to an animal.

-- Don't allow your child to tease your pet by pulling its tail or taking away a toy or a bone. Make sure he doesn't disturb the animal when it's sleeping or eating.

-- Have both dogs and cats immunized against rabies.

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