Can pets cause eczema to worsen in a child?

Q: Will a house pet, such as a cat or dog, cause eczema to worsen in a child?

Can pets cause eczema to worsen in a child?
Can pets cause eczema to worsen in a child?

A: Nancy Snyderman, M.D., F.A.C.SO: It could, if the child is allergic to the pet’s dander. For eczema that is moderate to severe, you may want to ask your pediatrician whether a referral to a pediatric allergist or dermatologist is in order.

There are several types of eczema, the most common of which is called atopic dermatitis. It is a chronic disease that may cause redness, dryness, swelling, itching, cracking and weeping on parts of the skin. Atopic dermatitis is fairly common and affects children more often than adults. Children often outgrow the eczema as they get older.

We do not know exactly what causes atopic dermatitis, but we do know that it is often hereditary and can be linked to allergies and asthma (both of which can also be inherited). When children get eczema as infants or toddlers, it sometimes goes away only to be replaced by asthma or allergies.

Many things can exacerbate, or worsen, atopic dermatitis. The National Institutes of Health divides these into two general categories — allergens and irritants. Atopic dermatitis works like an immune system reaction in the skin. So a child who is allergic to animal dander may have an eczema flare-up when exposed to the allergen. And scratching the itch makes everything worse.

Children with eczema who are not allergic to the dander should be OK when they are around pets, but there could be some problematic scenarios. If your dog was treated with an insecticidal powder or shampoo that left a residue on the fur or if a harsh chemical of that sort got on the child’s skin, it could act as an irritant and exacerbate the eczema.

Of course, this does not mean that all children with eczema should be kept away from pets. It does mean that the family may have to take precautionary measures and, with the physician’s help, do some sleuthing to flesh out triggers and exacerbating factors for the eczema.