Processing the feelings associated with having food allergies can be difficult for a young child, so I want to share something that has been a big emotional support for our daughter. Back when she was 3, our daughter really had a hard time with having different foods than my husband and I. She has the rare food allergy condition food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). Any new foods have to be added through a very detailed two week process, and can only happen when she is doing well.
There are over 50 ingredients that she can not have, and we also have to avoid anything she has never tried before. Our daughter’s safe foods are very hard to source and it’s not possible to get enough to feed our whole family her foods (although we do sometimes share a treat like freeze dried fruit). We spent a lot of time researching animals and diets, to make sure we could feed them a healthy diet without making our daughter sick. Fortunately despite her many food and environmental allergies, she doesn’t have any animal allergies.
Eventually we got a guinea pig and it ate our daughter’s safe fruits and vegetables, plus hay and pellets free of all her allergens. We had conversations many times a day about what was safe and not safe for a guinea pig to eat. We talked about keeping the guinea pig healthy, and making its tummy feel happy. Over the last few years it has been really helpful for our daughter to realize she can share some foods with the guinea pig, but other safe foods for her like meat and nuts would hurt it. The guinea pig eats grass and hay, but we explained to her that those are not good for people to eat. We talked about the foods our daughter and the guinea pig could both eat, and encouraged her to feed the guinea pig those foods often.
Having to respect the food restrictions for a pet has helped our daughter understand that we are helping her by not sharing our foods, and not trying to make her feel bad. Within a month of getting our guinea pig, she stopped asking to eat our food. Getting a pet was the most helpful thing we have ever done for helping her deal with the emotional aspect of FPIES.
Even though we settled on a guinea pig, this same lesson could work with any pet and any type of food allergies. Each species has its own dietary requirements. Having a daily, ongoing conversation about dietary needs, cross contamination, and keeping everyone’s body healthy really helps the lessons sink in for a child.
Do you have a pet that has been helpful to your family? Tell us about in the comments.