photo of toodler girl petting a dog who is eating it's foodBy Michael Pistiner, MD

Some pet foods and treats may contain allergens that can be transferred to people by pet saliva, or even direct ingestion by infants and toddlers.

Ingredients of pet food will vary depending on the animal being fed – it could be dogs, cats, rodents, birds, fish and reptiles. Common ingredients in pet foods include dairy, wheat and soy. Also look for peanuts, fish, shellfish, egg and other potential allergens.

Keep in mind that labeling of pet food products is difficult as the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) does not apply to pet food. If you’re looking for specific food allergens and you are uncertain after reading a pet food label, call the manufacturer.

When thinking about allergens in pet food, consider ways that your child could come in contact with it.


Saliva, food allergens and pets

Knowing food allergens can be transferred by saliva is helpful when considering how to deal with pet licking and “kissing” in certain circumstances.

A recent study examining peanut allergen exposure through human saliva showed that soon after eating peanut, saliva levels of peanut protein were high enough to cause a reaction in some people.

Researchers looked at different methods to try to reduce allergen levels, such as brushing teeth or using mouthwash, and found they didn’t completely get rid of the peanut allergen. The only method that they found effective was to eat a peanut-free meal several hours after the initial meal that contained peanut.


She ate what?!

Did you know children 1 to 2 years old put their hands or objects in their mouths up to 80 times an hour? And ages 2 to 5 years put their hands in the mouths up to 40 times an hour?

For toddlers who are still putting objects in their mouths and possibly eating things they find on the floor, it’s important to find ways to prevent direct ingestion of a pet food that contains allergens.

Think about where you place your pet’s food bowls, knowing that anything within reach of little hands can easily wind up in a child’s mouth.


Other animals

Children will come in contact with animals in settings typically not under a parent’s control, such as other people’s homes, in the neighborhood, or at daycare. Petting zoos can be a particular concern as sometimes the food that is available to feed animals is dusted with dairy products or contains nuts or nut products.

Make sure that a child’s hands are cleaned after contact with animals or animal saliva, and before hands go in the mouth, eyes or nose.


A version of this article was originally published on Editorial support provided by David Tubman, DVM, associate veterinarian.


Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc, is a board-certified pediatric allergist and immunologist. He is director of food allergy advocacy, education and prevention at the Food Allergy Center, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Boston.